President Trump launched a white nationalist–themed attack on Sunday against four Democratic congresswomen of color who have been outspoken critics of his administration’s war on immigrants and attention-earning proponents of more progressive government policies. The attack deployed one of the most obnoxious clichés of racist and xenophobic hate speech: telling an immigrant or descendent of immigrants to “go back to your country.”
The president did not name the women, but was clearly referring to Representatives Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ayanna Pressley — “the Squad” of freshmen House members who voted against a controversial recent border-aid bill and have been engaged in a tense ideological debate with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her allies.
Trump, who was America’s birther-in-chief before becoming its commander-in-chief, maliciously and falsely suggested the women not only held un-American views, but were literally not Americans.
All four are U.S. citizens and only Omar was born abroad, but Trump’s message, in short, was that the elected lawmakers were uppity socialist foreigners from (non-white) shithole countries who should know their place — and that place isn’t Donald Trump’s America:
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. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!
A central theme of white nationalism
The phrases “go back to your country” or “go back to where you came from” and their variations have been used to attack racial, ethnic, and religious minorities around the world for generations. But it is also an important sentiment for white nationalists, who see immigration and multiculturalism as threats to white-majority power and cultural dominance, or as an attempt at “white genocide.” In their view, nonwhite immigrants represent a subhuman invasion to be repelled — people who should be pushed and kept out of the country.
President Trump has repeatedly signaled his own like-minded views during his campaign and presidency, both in what he’s said and what his administration has tried to do. At the same time, “go back to your country” seems to have become even more ubiquitous in Trump-era America, both in rhetoric on the right, as well as among perpetrators of the rising abuse and sometimes fatal violence directed at immigrants or people perceived to be immigrants.
Also, as the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Nihad Awad pointed out in a statement on Sunday, “If Trump shouted the same thing at a Muslim woman wearing hijab in a Walmart, he might be arrested.”
Welcome to Trump’s reelection campaign
While many of Trump’s Twitter emanations are impulsive outbursts made while he binge-watches Fox News, Sunday’s comments were more strategic and provided additional evidence that the president’s 2020 campaign could make its immigrant-demonizing 2016 predecessor seem moderate in comparison.
Trump’s attack on the congresswomen came via a three-part tweet, which means it was most likely a prewritten, planned statement. The rhetoric paraphrased a racist rant that unofficial Trump advisor Tucker Carlson made attacking representative Ilhan Omar last week on his Fox News show. Sunday’s statement may have also been reviewed by White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, the aggressively xenophobic architect of much of Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda who himself allegedly told a Latino classmate to “go back to your country” in high school.
The timing of the comment was no coincidence, either, arriving on the rescheduled first day of the anti-immigration crackdown Trump has been hyping for weeks now that his reelection campaign is underway.
And targeting the four women is part of a larger strategy on the right to make them and their outspoken left-edge policy ideas an effigy and shackle for the Democratic Party and its eventual presidential nominee.
In addition to courting media-grabbing outrage and blowing a bigger-than-usual dog whistle for his base, President Trump seems to have been trying to spotlight or further enflame the tension between the four congresswomen and Speaker Pelosi. Trump even implied that Pelosi would agree with his idea of getting rid of the women.
She didn’t, zooming in on Trump’s increasingly naked racism instead:
The Squad’s characteristic response hit even harder:
Indeed, after days of contentious back and forth between Team Pelosi and the Squad, Trump gave them a common enemy.
Or as Red State’s Bonchie responded in a post titled, “As Democrats Fight a Civil War, Trump Strips Naked and Runs Onto the Battlefield”:
This is so self-destructive that it makes me want to beat my head against a wall.
He doesn’t believe the attack was planned at all, but another impulsive face plant:
All Trump had to do was stop and reflect for a moment. He’s got people all around him who could have pointed out “hey, this is going to cause a lot of blow back on you and your supporters at the worst possible time.” Another set of eyes and a simple tweak to the wording could have fixed it, but he refuses to take those precautions. Even now, he could issue a follow up clarification that would at least help provide some semblance cover for his supporters. He hasn’t done so.
If I could ask the President one question, it’d be this. Why make it so difficult for those who are trying to get you re-elected?
But President Trump thinks he’s getting himself reelected with this kind of thing, as he made clear in some followup tweets on Sunday, insisting he had to challenge The Squad over their constructive criticism of the country, and, “If the Democrat Party wants to continue to condone such disgraceful behavior, then we look even more forward to seeing you at the ballot box in 2020!”
New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman offered a take on Trump’s second round of comments, noting that “[the] subtext is no one in his party challenged him [over his attack] today so now he’s trying to make it a straight up/down referendum on this.”
To her point, Trump’s most important audience — to Trump — thought the attack was hilarious:
But for Times columnist Charles M. Blow, Trump’s unabashed racism reveals America’s, and that’s something no one should ever unsee:
The central framing of this kind of thinking is that this is a white country, founded and built by white men, and destined to be maintained as a white country. For anyone to be accepted as truly American they must assimilate and acquiesce to that narrative, to bow to that heritage and bend to those customs. …
Trump — and many of his supporters and defenders — spew their racism and tell themselves that it is perfectly acceptable when it is read back to them, in much the same way that a dog will eat its own vomit.
There can be no more discussion or debate about whether or not Trump is a racist. He is. There can be no more rhetorical juggling about not knowing what’s in his heart. We see what flows out of it.
White people and whiteness are the center of the Trump presidency. His primary concern is to defend, protect and promote it. All that threatens it must be attacked and assaulted. Trump is bringing the force of the American presidency to the rescue of white supremacy. And, self-identified Republicans absolutely love him for it.
This post has been updated to include additional commentary and President Trump’s second round of comments.