Trump: The ugly spectacle of ‘send her back’
It’s hard to believe the scene that unfolded at President Trump’s rally in North Carolina last week could happen in the United States of America, said Andrew Sullivan in NYMag.com. As Trump whipped the audience into a frenzy of hatred for Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee whom he described as an America-hating terrorist sympathizer, the packed stadium erupted into chants of “Send her back! Send her back!” The crowd was echoing Trump’s own recent tweets that Omar and three other Democratic congresswomen of color—who were born in the U.S.—should “go back” to their home countries. Then, when a protester dared interrupt, the mob started howling “USA! USA!” at him as security handcuffed him and spirited him out of the building. All the while, Trump looked on in smug satisfaction, jutting out his chin and “inhaling the fumes of mob fervor like some two-bit Mussolini.” America has seen racist and nativist demagogues before. “But neofascist rhetoric in huge stadiums designed to demonize dissent? New. Targeting specific nonwhite, female political opponents for deportation? Unprecedented.” We now know two things for sure, said Alex Shephard in NewRepublic.com. “The president is a bigot,” and “he will undoubtedly run one of the most grotesque re-election campaigns of the post–civil rights era.”
“Are we really taking this seriously?” asked Andrew McCarthy in NationalReview.com. Obviously, Trump’s supporters didn’t literally mean “send her back.” It’s hyperbole. Trump fans are angry at Omar’s radical socialist positions, her hostility to Israel, and her history of using anti-Semitic tropes. Besides, for Trump fans, “the rallies are fun spectacles, like rock concerts or ball games.” You might scream “kill the umpire” in the heat of the moment. But nobody actually thinks you’re going to do it. Trump’s “go back” home tweets were offensive and “politically dumb,” but don’t exaggerate their significance. The end of the republic, this is not.
Sorry, but “presidential words matter,” said Kevin Williamson, also in NationalReview.com. It doesn’t matter if Trump’s supporters were trying to “troll” liberals. “Ideas have consequences, even half-formed and half-understood ones.” Trump’s words degrade one of the foundational ideas of our country. You can move to China or Poland and live there for years, but never really be Chinese or Polish. But people can come to the U.S. and “become an American because you can become a citizen.” Omar might be “genuinely awful,” but the idea that her politics make her less of a citizen “is fundamentally and literally un-American.” If only most Republicans thought that, said Juan Williams in TheHill.com. Overall, recent polling shows that 65 percent of Americans thought the president’s “go back” tweets were racist—but 57 percent of GOP voters agree with the president’s language. “It’s time to call out Trump supporters for what they are—people willing to excuse the inexcusable.”
Long before he ran for president, Trump exploited the country’s racial, ethnic, and cultural divisions for his own gain, said Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman in The New York Times. The Justice Department sued him and his father for refusing to rent apartments to black tenants in the 1970s. Trump gained fame in the 1980s by calling for the death penalty for black and Hispanic teenagers accused of raping a jogger in Central Park—and still insists on their guilt, even though they were cleared by DNA evidence. Once Trump even pitched a season of The Apprentice that would have pitted black contestants against whites—blond whites, he specified. “It would be the highest-rated show on television,” he enthused in a radio interview with Howard Stern. Later, Trump ingratiated himself with Republicans by persistently championing the conspiracy theory that President Obama was not born in the U.S., and he launched his own presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists.” Still, his defenders insist he’s not a racist.
It’s Trump, not Omar, who is opposed to the “American idea,” said Adam Serwer in TheAtlantic.com. He claims Omar is unpatriotic because of her criticism of the country, but he was the one who happily profited from a hostile foreign power’s attack on our democracy. As president, Trump says America’s critics should leave, but during his own presidential campaign he described the U.S. as a broken nation that was filled with “carnage” and was well on its way to becoming “a third-world country”—a place that was no longer great. Now, by demonizing migrants and making a black, Muslim congresswoman “an object of hate for the political masses,” Trump is openly embracing white nativism as his primary re-election platform. Will it work? “What Americans do now, in the face of this, will define us forever.” ■