One of the byproducts of President Trump’s norm-busting presidency is that things that used to be regarded as beyond the pale are suddenly normalized. With the envelope being pushed so far and the larger provocations dominating the news, lesser ones slip by largely unnoticed.
Such is the case with Trump’s “go back” rhetoric and the “send her back” chants it spawned. While our focus has been trained on whether it’s okay to hint that political opponents should leave the country, Trump and his fellow Republicans have sneaked a Trojan horse of a talking point into the 2020 debate.
That talking point: that their Democratic opponents are anti-American.
One of the first members to criticize the “send her back” chants about Somali American Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) Wednesday night in North Carolina was Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.). But even while he tweeted that the chants were “painful to our friends in the minority communities,” he qualified it by saying that Omar’s “history, words & actions reveal her great disdain for both America & Israel.”
Calling for the deportation of lawful American citizens who have committed no crimes? That’s bad. Saying they hate this country? That’s apparently okay — even in the same breath.
The Walker tweet, better than anything, shows just how concerted the GOP effort is to insert this once-eschewed attack line into the 2020 debate.
Trump laid the groundwork in his tweets Sunday that launched the current controversy, labeling the four nonwhite Democratic freshman congresswomen “anti-Semitic” and “anti-America.” By Monday morning, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) suggested Trump should “aim higher” and not attack people personally, but he also said these members “hate our own country” and are “anti-America.” (Nothing personal about that, apparently.)
Some have been more careful to label the members comments and positions as anti-American, rather than them personally. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said “many of the things that has come out of the mouths of these four freshman congresswomen is offensive, it is anti-American.” Rep. Sean P. Duffy (R-Wis.) caused a stir on the House floor by mentioning the “anti-American” portion of Trump’s tweet, which Democrats argued violated rules against personal attacks. He later clarified that he was referring to “anti-American comments.” “I’ve never called them anti-American,” Duffy assured.
But others haven’t been so shy.
“The people of Alabama have had enough watching the anti-Semitic, anti-American, socialist Dems degrade our nation,” Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) tweeted.
“Montanans are sick and tired of listening to anti-American, anti-Semite, radical Democrats trash our country and our ideals,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) added in a tweet that earned a retweet from Trump.
A member of House Republican leadership, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), even referred to the “anti-American and anti-Semitic wing of” the Democratic Party.
This is the kind of thing politicians used to not say. Whatever your policy disagreements, you didn’t suggest your opponents were unpatriotic or opposed to their country. That’s not to say nobody ever uttered such phrases, but when they did, it wasn’t just glossed over like it is now.
Back in 2008, then-Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) suggested Barack Obama “may have anti-American views.” It was such a big deal that Bachmann apologized, apparently fearing for her reelection. And that was just talking about Obama’s views — not him personally.
Among them? Now-Vice President Pence, who said, “I don’t think it helps to question the president’s patriotism or motives,” and Graham, who defended Obama by saying, “I have no doubt that he loves his country, I have no doubt that he’s a patriot.”
Apparently that doesn’t apply to Omar and the Democrats in 2019.