Even at this late date, four years after he launched his presidential campaign in a spasm of xenophobia, there’s a desire on the part of many Americans to believe that racism from the president of the United States is something other than it appears to be. Surely he must have been misunderstood or taken out of context.
That desire rests on the notion that the country’s highest office should be held by someone who seeks to unite people, rather than divide them.
But there’s no sugarcoating the latest round of ugliness. President Donald Trump, using the Twitter feed that has long been his preferred method of communication, made explicitly racist statements last weekend in attacking four women of color who serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” he said, referring to Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.; Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.; and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.
Of the four, only Omar was not born in this country. She was a Somalian refugee who came to the United States with her family in the early 1990s. She is every bit as American as any other citizen. The other three were all born in the United States. They aren’t “from” anywhere other than this country. Pressley, of Massachusetts, is not a child of immigrants or even a grandchild of immigrants.
But she is black. The nonwhiteness of the four congresswomen is what sets them apart and provokes the president’s ire, and there is simply no question his statement was racist and sexist. Nothing he or his supporters have said since changes that fact.
“He is saying that if you’re black or Hispanic, no matter where you’re born, you’re not really American,” Sen. Chris Murphy said. “It’s just naked, disgusting racism.”
“It’s racist. There’s no other way to describe it,” said Rep. Jahana Hayes, the Fifth District Democrat who last year became the first black woman to represent Connecticut in Congress.
Rep. Jim Himes, who actually was born in another country, made the same point. “Unlike the Democratic congresswomen (Trump) attacked today, I actually am a foreign-born member of Congress. But I’m a white male of European descent, so there’s no chance he’ll attack me,” the Fourth District congressman said.
Rather than disbelief at the president’s racism, the real danger is becoming numb to it. It’s been a near-constant barrage of divisive and hateful commentary from Trump ever since he rose to prominence in national politics by questioning the citizenship of the nation’s first black president.
That’s why it’s important to call his statements what they are — hateful and racist. The history of the United States on race relations is fraught, but we must always attempt to be better than we have been. Unless we’re willing to clearly condemn the indefensible, no matter where it comes from, we have no chance to move forward as a society.