The Resurrection of Racism and the Erection of a Wall Part I: Donald Trump’s Racist Tweet

I have tried to put Donald Trump back in the closet where he belongs by focusing on other issues, mostly historical and theoretical. The main topic had to do with various views of Jews beginning in the sixteenth century. Why, then, should I think of Trump when, just moments ago, looking over the Georgia Strait from the front deck, I was watching a very young deer traipse over the rocks and plunge into the cove for a swim. Donald Trump won’t stay in the closet. If even someone as inconsequential to his role as myself dares to ignore him, he seems to up his game. But nothing he has said thus far, including such obscene beliefs as grabbing women by their pussies, has outraged me more than his recent tweet on four Democratic congresswomen.

By now, I am sure that everyone in the world is aware of what he said, but I reprint his tweet here as a reference.

On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted,

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.”

Unlike Lindsay Graham, Trump did not call them communists. Further, as even a few Republicans embarrassingly noted, the first proposition is an outright lie. However, even the vociferous Trump critic, former Ohio Republican governor John Kasich, simply called the comments “deplorable and beneath the dignity of the office” but did not brand them as lies and racist.

Three of the four women, of course, were born in the U.S.A.: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) was born in New York – her parents are from Puerto Rico, part of the United States; Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) was born in Detroit of Palestinian-American parents; Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), an African-American, was born in Cincinnati. Ilhan Omar (Minn.) is the only one who was born abroad, in Somalia. She came to the United States as a young child and was made a citizen as a teenager. The parents of two of the four were born in America. All four are members of the Democratic Socialists of America and together are referred to as “The Squad”.

Once upon a time in America there was a widespread belief that it did not matter where you or your parents came from. If you were a citizen, you were entitled to all rights as a citizen. You were entitled to criticize the government, to put forth different ideas and to engage in debate about the future of the country. Once upon a time in America, and continuing into the present, it does matter if you are black or Latino. Despite progress, discrimination based on race remains widespread. Only racists say, “Go back to where you came from.” “Making America Great Again” means getting rid of browns and blacks, or, at the very least, denying their rights and returning the United States to its deeply racist past.

Trump does not, however, seem to be offended by Asians. After all, as Marc Short, Vice-President Mike Pence’s Chief of Staff, said on “Mornings with Maria” on Fox News in response to a question about Trump’s offensive tweet, “Trump can’t have “racist motives” because he appointed Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation.” Chao is a naturalized American from Taiwan who arrived in the United States at 8 years of age. The fact that she served as Secretary of Labor in Bush’s cabinet, the fact that she has had a distinguished career in government – she previously served as Deputy Secretary of Transportation under Ronald Reagan – as well as the private sector, the fact that she is married to Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, since 1993, may have nothing to do with her appointment. What counts for Marc Short is that she is a non-white in a cabinet consisting mainly of white old men.

Responding to the storm Trump had produced by his remarks, at least among Democrats and Independents, on Monday Trump did what he usually does, project his worst failings on others. On Monday morning, he tweeted, “When will the Radical Left Congresswomen apologize to our Country, the people of Israel and even to the Office of the President, for the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said. If Democrats want to unite around the foul language & racist hatred spewed from the mouths and actions of these very unpopular & unrepresentative Congresswomen, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.” He spews racism and accuses those whose criticisms he would stifle as racists.

Further, Trump justified his racism by his support for Israel and to deflect critics. Not only has he achieved a new level of explicit racism, but he also raised the politicization of Israel to a dangerous height. By using support for Israel as an excuse for racist comments and to deflect criticism from his vile tweets, he set a new marker for the politicization of Israel in American politics. Israel was turned into a code word for evoking criticism of the other from his supporters. As disagreeable as I found the comments of a member of “The Squad” on Israel – for example, Tlaib supports BDS and unfairly criticized Senators Marco Rubio and Jim Risch for their anti-BDS legislation telling Rubio and Risch that they “forgot what country they represent” – the comments were not antisemitic. However ill-informed, they were well within the bounds of civil discourse and disagreement. Trump’s comments were not.

Trump portrayed the Congresswomen as “unpopular and unrepresentative.” The truth is that all four are very popular and very representative of their districts. They are unpopular and unrepresentative of the Republican Party. These were the results for each of the Congresswomen in the midterm elections:

Congresswoman % of vote Firsts re Congress
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez         78.2 youngest woman ever elected
Ilhan Omar 78%  first Muslim, along with Tlaib
Ayanna Pressley 98.3% first black elected in Mass.
Rashida Tlaib 84% first Palestinian-American

In the Democratic primaries, both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley defeated long-serving progressive male Democratic members of Congress, Joseph Crowley and Michael Capuano respectively.

Pressley called Donald Trump “a racist, misogynistic, truly empathy-bankrupt man.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “It is unfortunate that he feels the way he feels about people of colour in this country, about immigrants in this country, naturalised citizens or not, and it’s time to move on from him and his conception of an America that we have tried to move past for a long time.” Rashida Tlaib’s uncle, Bassam Tlaib, who lives in the West Bank, called the president’s comments “a racist statement meant to target Rashida because she has Palestinian roots.”

Ilhan Omar explained Trump’s bigoted rhetoric as an effort at distraction from much larger issues, like “the constant human rights violations and the policies that are detrimental to our existence in this country and the harm that he is causing on a daily basis to our constitution.” Others suggest that the monsoon of tweets on the subject was designed to shift eyeballs away from the Jeffrey Epstein investigation and prosecution. Katie Johnson accused Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein of having solicited sex acts in 1994 from her at sex parties held at the Manhattan homes of Epstein and Trump back when Johnson was just 13 years old. There are rumours that in the raids on the Jeffrey Epstein estates, the photographs and videos obtained implicate Trump in child sex activity. Tiffany Doe evidently corroborated Jane’s allegations. She has allegedly given sworn testimony that she met Epstein at Port Authority; she was hired to recruit other young girls for his parties. Trump, who in 1994 had known Epstein for seven years, attended those parties. Trump knew that Doe was only thirteen. 

Others assert that the US president believes that divisive and nativist rhetoric is his best chance of clinging on to the White House. Ben Rhodes, a former national security adviser to Barack Obama, tweeted, “Trump launched his political brand 8 years ago saying the first African American President was born in Africa. It has always been about racism, and the fact that this has ever been a controversial thing to say is part of the problem.” Trump launched his presidential ambitions on the birther allegations by questioning Obama’s birthplace.  

Eugene Scott of The Washington Post opined yesterday morning that, “his campaign will feature the same explosive mix of white grievance and anti-immigrant nativism that helped elect him. Trump’s combustible formula of white identity politics already has reshaped the Republican Party, sidelining, silencing or converting nearly anyone who dares to challenge the racial insensitivity of his utterances. It also has pushed Democratic presidential candidates sharply to the left on issues such as immigration and civil rights, as they respond to the liberal backlash against him… At the core of the strategy is Trump’s consistent drumbeat of equating the white European immigrant experience with the American ideal, setting those on his side of the divide against the politically correct elites, outsiders, immigrants or non-whites who he implies are unfairly threatening what is good about the country.”

David Brooks of The New York Times gave the latter theme priority of place. The target was not consolidation in the Republican Party – already achieved – but defining the Democratic Party as radical. “Trump has a vested interest in keeping the progressives atop the Democratic Party, and he powerfully influences that party. When Pelosi tried to marginalize the squad, Trump issued a racist tweet against the squad’s members. Democrats responded predictably, and the squad was back as the party’s defining element.”

Whatever the explanation for the vile and reprehensible torrent of tweets, at the core, telling a fellow American to go back to her own country is overt, conscious and deliberate racism and not simply subtle and unconscious conditioned behaviour. It does appeal to his racist base – mainly white, male, ageing, and generally lacking any post-secondary education. Trump is simply an educated and rich racist.

The House of Representatives Tuesday evening properly condemned Trump for his racist tweets. By a 240-187 vote, split largely along party lines, the House “strongly condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.” The outrage and the vote evidently had NO impact of Trump’s overall approval rating according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll.

To Be Continued – Part II: Trump’s Historical Record on Racism

With the help of Alex Zisman

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