President Trump is a racist. This is the most important issue in the 2020 presidential campaign. Everything else is secondary. If that wasn't clear before, it should be now.
Trump over the weekend pushed a series of tweets calling on a group of rookie Democrats in Congress, all of them women of color, to "go back" to where they came from rather than criticize the government he leads. His outburst was nonsensical, of course — all four women are U.S. citizens, and three were born in the United States — but also telling. No matter the facts, Trump casts people of color as not-quite-American. His white critics never seem to get the same treatment. That's not a coincidence.
Trump's appeal to racism and racists has always been the most important element of his public identity. There are times when it seems like his xenophobic politics are losing their power to shock. But there are also times — and in his recent statements, we have a prime example — when the president offers a fresh reminder to Americans that his outlook is fundamentally toxic, and it is necessary that his term of office be brought to an end as soon as possible.
This is not just a cosmetic political issue. Many of Trump's worst policies are arguably race-related: His administration's bids to undo the Affordable Care Act and scuttle the joint agreement halting Iran's progress toward a nuclear weapon do not stem from any real ideological motivation on his part — instead, he seems motivated primarily to undo the most notable policy achievements of his predecessor. Former President Barack Obama, of course, was another black politician whose citizenship was called into question by Trump. Again: That is probably not a coincidence.
Prejudice spans the breadth of presidential policymaking under Trump. His policies on immigration are designed to appeal to conservatives who believe the "ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners" is a national emergency. His administration's positions on the Census citizenship question, voting rights, and police powers, likewise, appear to be aimed mostly at preserving white political power in this country. Even his well-documented misogyny finds its fullest flower when aimed at women of color.
Racism is the foundation upon which Trumpist governance and politics are built.
That should be unacceptable in America's multiracial society. However, that foundation seems to be growing stronger, at least in Trump's party. When the president made his infamous "both sides" comment about the white supremacist marches in Charlottesville, a number of Republicans joined the chorus of criticism against him — even his Cabinet members had the good taste to appear anguished about the matter. But when the president tells a handful of non-white liberal women to go back to where they came from? Crickets.
This means sincere and effective opposition to racist governance must come from Democrats — because it won't come from the GOP. And that means, in turn, that it is time for leading Democrats in Congress to find a way to present a unified front after recent weeks of infighting. Until Trump's racist Twitter rant, the biggest political story of the weekend was the growing intramural feud between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the same lefty freshman Democrats, led by Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), whom Trump targeted in his tweets.
Moderate and liberal Democrats in the House of Representatives need each other if they're going to accomplish anything of significance. And their quarreling only motivates Trump. His tweets were an apparent effort to stir up trouble between the two Democratic camps. Thankfully, it seems he failed.
Pelosi can aid the cause of unity by finally giving her blessing to an impeachment inquiry against the president. She has been afraid to support such an effort because she fears voters will punish Democrats during the next election. She may not have counted on trouble from her left. Attempting to impeach the president is the right thing to do — and that's the only sufficient reason to do it — but the effort might also help unite her fractious caucus.
There are dangers, we're told, in making too much hay of Trump's racism. For one thing, his voters seem to take it personally. "Identity politics" will drive too many critical voters away, it is argued. But Trump has harnessed overt racism to a degree unmatched by any national politician since George Wallace; there is little historical reason to believe the prejudice he has unleashed will subside unless it is directly confronted and roundly defeated.
Politicians and activists need drive both racism and Donald Trump back to the fringes of public life where they belong.