This Is Not Okay

I know well that America is a democracy and I should respect people’s political opinions and their choice of candidate. After all, they are in their right on what to believe and who to vote for. If they disagree with me, it’s not big deal. However, while I am perfectly fine with people being conservative and Republican, I am absolutely not okay with them supporting a demagogue like Donald Trump. Now given that I have friends, family, neighbors, and other people in my life who support this fucking piece of shit, I try to think of them as decent people. Besides, while I may disagree with them, my hostility to Trump has nothing to do with how I view them or their beliefs. When I attack Trump, I don’t intend to attack them personally save their own blind allegiance to this Cheeto-faced fascist and willingness to let him get away with shit that would put an average American in jail. Let alone a president.

Rather, I don’t respect Trump as president because I don’t respect him as a man. Based on my research on him, I think he’s a sociopath with dangerous authoritarian impulses while he’s said and done many indefensible things. He’s an incompetent president who expects lavish praise without working for it and responds viciously to criticism. He doesn’t care about anything but his own interests and has no concern for how many bridges he burns to fulfill them. He takes no responsibility for his actions and will go out of his way to avoid the consequences. He’s a pathological liar who shows no affinity for the truth, democracy, American values, or the rule of law. And I know full well his racist Twitter tirades and rallies are part of his con to enact pro-corporate policies to satisfy his rich corporate donors and screw us all. Furthermore, he’s basically the epitome of America’s worst and bring out the worst in his acolytes. To have him in the White House is not okay.

But given that Donald Trump’s approval rating is sky high among Republicans who stand by him despite all the horrible stuff he’s done, I’m not so sure anymore. And given that Republicans have violated democratic norms to remain in power, I’m not sure if they believe in the rule of law and democracy. Or at least the rule of law and democracy when it’s not advantageous for them. Nonetheless, since Trump has assumed de facto leadership of the Republican Party, he’s somehow made the party into his own image and has led his supporters down to the point of no return. The fact Republicans are willing to excuse Trump’s loathsome conduct and actions greatly disgusts me. Because like I said before, supporting Trump in any capacity means accepting the unacceptable, defending the indefensible, excuse the inexcusable, tolerating the intolerable, denying the undeniable, and justifying the unjustifiable.

No more did my mantra ring true than on Sunday, July 14, 2019 when Donald Trump issued a series of racist tweets claiming that 4 Democratic congresswomen of color should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” He then 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.” This is wrong in so many ways. For one, 3 of the 4 of these congresswomen were born in the US. One of them being New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who’s spent most of her life not far from where Trump lives. While Somali refugee and Minnesota US Representative Ilhan Omar came to this country at 6 and has been a US citizen for most of her adult life. Second, they’re Congresswomen so telling people how our government should be run is like a cop telling people how police should behave. Because that’ basically part of their job. Third, there’s nothing wrong with discussing what’s wrong with our country and what we can do better. Still, we can dissect from these tweets that Trump really doesn’t like having people of color in elected offices who don’t kneel down and kiss his ass.

Donald Trump’s attacks on these congresswomen extended into Monday, July 15, claiming that they owe the country an apology for their “horrible & disgusting actions.” Since what did these women do to him that was so bad besides having darker skin and hurting his ego? During a press conference later that day, Trump claimed he wasn’t concerned about backlash against his racist remarks or his use of a long-known racist trope saying, “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me. And all I’m saying — they want to leave, they can leave. Now, it doesn’t say, ‘Leave forever.’ It says, ‘Leave if you want.’” Just because many people may agree with what you say, doesn’t mean you need not be concerned. This is especially the case when some of those people wear white hooded robes and red swastika armbands, like many Trump supporters do.
Though Donald Trump’s ire targets have mostly gone unnamed, but the remarks clearly address Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar. All are freshman progressive women of color who’ve attracted considerable attention for their outspoken critiques of DC politics in general and Trump, in particular. Called “the squad” by reporters, some of the women have been locked in a fight with Democratic leadership on a recent border bill and the Democratic Party’s direction. But Trump’s comments have shifted attention away from that fight and to his longstanding racism and frequent attacks on high-profile people of color, which has not only drawn criticism from Democratic Party officials and foreign political leaders. While Trump’s remarks fit a broader pattern of attacks against his critics of color, with him regularly questioning their patriotism in an effort to undercut their arguments. Ultimately in his worldview and approach to the presidency, Trump sees his ability to inflame cultural and racial tensions as a political strength.

The media’s mixed reactions to these inflammatory remarks raised questions, with some outlets hesitating (namely Fox News) to call Donald Trump’s comments or actions as racist. Despite that their blatantly obvious. But even if some in the media don’t want to clearly acknowledge it (cough, cough, Fox News, talking to you), Trump has long positioned American identity as something only whites naturally inherit and conditionally granted to other races. While he often wields patriotism and citizenship as a cudgel he uses against people of color. His comments on the Democratic congresswomen show he’ll keep relying on this argument.

As I said, Minnesota US Representative Ilhan Omar is a Somali refugee, a naturalized US citizen, and one of the few Muslim women in Congress. Elected in 2018 by an overwhelming majority, Omar’s story embodies elements of the American Dream. Naturally, Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized her. Particularly, he’s framed her critiques (especially of Israel), as nothing more than open hate for the country and its main ally, the United States. As Trump said in the spring, “She’s been very disrespectful, frankly, to Israel,” adding that he believed Omar has been, “extremely unpatriotic and extremely disrespectful to our country.” Soon after, Omar reported receiving death threats. That week, Trump signaled out Omar again, claiming she “hates Jews” and has praised al-Qaeda. Except she doesn’t hate Jews and never praised al-Qaeda at all. She may have said something that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic, but she apologized for it. Nonetheless, the criticism closely mirrors Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s recent critique that Omar is “living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country.” The other women included in Trump’s tirade have also faced heavy criticism during their time in Congress. In addition to Ilhan Omar, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib “have been three of the most scrutinized, most frequently attacked new members of Congress,” according to Vox.

Two days later at an evening rally in Greenville, North Carolina, Donald Trump’s fans expressed their full-throated agreement with their cult leader. Trump himself spent on an extended Ilhan Omar rant:

“Representative Omar blamed the United States for the terrorist attacks on our country, saying that terrorism is a reaction to our involvement in our people’s affairs. … Omar laughed that Americans speak of al-Qaeda in a menacing tone and remarked that ‘you don’t say America with this intensity. You say al-Qaeda makes you proud. Al-Qaeda makes you proud! You don’t speak that way about America.’ And at a press conference just this week, when asked whether she supported al-Qaeda — that’s our enemy, that’s our enemy, they are a very serious problem that we take care of, but they always seem to come along somewhere — she refused to answer. … [S]he looks down on contempt on the hard-working Americans, saying ignorance is pervasive in many parts of this country. And obviously and importantly, Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic attacks.”

Except that none of that is true. Ilhan Omar didn’t do any of that. Furthermore, if there is anyone who looks down hard-working Americans with contempt, it’s Donald Trump given what I know about his shady business practices. Still, it’s the “anti-Semitic attacks” that promoted chants of “send her back.” Trump basked in them. Soon after, he told the audience, “if they don’t love it, tell them to leave it.” This moment arguably represents a new low in Trump’s long history of racial demagoguery. That Trump’s fans are fully on board with his racist remarks is no surprise. Polling conducted following Trump’s racist attacks among Republicans rose after he made them. But the moment indicates how ugly the 2020 campaign might get, especially amid reports that Trump thinks making racist attacks on Democratic women of color as a way of driving up turnout among white grievance voters, and thus a key part of his reelection strategy. Furthermore, Trump believes painting the Squad as representative (which isn’t the case), will effectively prove the Democrats are unhinged Socialists bent on destroying America.

Yet, that chant demanding that a naturalized citizen and congresswoman be “sent back” to her native Somalia booming through thousands in the audience, disturbingly illustrates the particular fusion of racism and authoritarianism that defines Trumpism as a political movement. “Send her back” isn’t the first such chant to break out at a Donald Trump event. We remember “lock her up” when Trump supporters demanded jailing Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. Well, “lock her up” and “send her back” together demonstrate beyond doubt that the Trumpian view sees the law is a vehicle for punishing political enemies and minority groups. In the Trumpian imagination, political opponents aren’t mere rivals but existential threats aligned with anti-American elements (like immigrants and minority groups) in a bid to undermine everything they love and cherish about America. As such, Hillary Clinton and Ilhan Omar shouldn’t merely be electorally defeated, they must be crushed. If that means abusing the state’s power and twisting the law, so be it. Cross-bred with bigotry, the authoritarian impulse has helped birthed some of the Trump era’s worst excesses from the Muslim ban to family separations to the failed attempt to circumvent the courts and place a citizenship question on the census. The Republican Party has permitted and made such behavior possible. While its leaders either willingly tolerate Donald Trump’s white revanchism in exchange for tax cuts and Brett Kavanaugh, or worse, actively agree with it. Nonetheless, Trump’s attack on Omar appears to be a preview of his broader 2020 strategy and there’s every reason to expect things to get worse.

According to The Atlantic, Donald Trump’s “go back to your country” argument continues a line of racist attacks that people of color have faced for generations. As Adam Serwer writes, “When Trump told these women to ‘go back,’ he was not making a factual claim about where they were born. He was stating his ideological belief that American citizenship is fundamentally racial, that only white people can truly be citizens, and that people of color, immigrants in particular, are only conditionally American.” The comments also continue a pattern since the Department of Justice indicted him and his father for racist housing discrimination in the 1970s, Trump’s racism has been well documented for decades. One notable example was when he called for the executions of the Central Park Five, a group of black and Latino teenage boys who were wrongly convicted (and later exonerated) for raping a white female jogger. Trump has still not apologized for a decade after the men’s exoneration. The closest analogue to Trump’s most recent remarks can be seen in his support for birtherism, the completely baseless conspiracy theory that then-President Barack Obama wasn’t an American citizen. It was one of Trump’s most potent efforts to tie race to citizenship and national identity, with Trump arguing that the nation’s first black president wasn’t simply just outside of the American political mainstream, but stood outside American national identity entirely. Since then, Trump has honed his argument and deployed it against different groups. At his 2015 presidential campaign launch, he referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals.” In 2016, he claimed US-born athlete and then-49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick should “find a country that works better for him” rather than protest police violence during NFL games. From a black college basketball dad to a grieving Muslim Gold Star family, Trump has painted his critics of color as un-American instigators.

Donald Trump has often and openly argued that that he views whiteness as a core feature of American identity. While his theory of nationalism’s automatically applied to white Americans, those with other identities like African Americans, Latinos, Muslim Americans, and recent immigrants have been quickly ostracized and treated as “other.” During his presidency, Trump has only further refined his white supremacist message. When a person of color criticizes him, Trump often presents them as ungrateful, disrespectful, and most importantly for his argument, unpatriotic. Whether it’s San Juan’s mayor, black women, or kneeling NFL players, and anyone in between, Trump has argued that their criticism is tantamount to openly hating America and its ideals. Despite that his critics of color don’t hate America while their criticism of Trump is deeply based on US ideals and how our country often fails to fulfill them. Rather, their criticism of Trump isn’t about hating America but wanting it to be a better place. They also just hate Trump and how he’s an anathema to these American ideals, especially when spouting his white supremacist rhetoric.

Alongside these arguments, Donald Trump has pursued policies that have punished many of these same groups. His 2018 tirade of “shithole countries” (a reference to places like Haiti and several countries in Africa), came as he fought to limit diversity visas and worked to end temporary protected status for several countries. While at the same time, Trump has conversely praised immigrants from predominantly white countries like Norway and previously called an all-white but mostly non-American NHL team “incredible patriots.” Trump’s attacks the perceived lack of patriotism of kneeling NFL players’ protest against police violence followed the Justice Department’s move away from enforcing police reform agreements with agencies that have a history of police misconduct. More recently, Trump’s attacks on 4 congresswomen came as these brave lawmakers criticized the US border migrant detention camps’ brutal conditions and as Trump ended his fight to get a citizenship question onto the 2020 US Census.

In doing so, Donald Trump has amplified a practice of using racist attacks on people of color that’s long occurred in American politics. But unlike in prior years when politicians would subtly deploy these attacks via dog whistles, Trump has largely abandoned coded language in favor of overt taunting, even as he argues using policy targeting specific minority groups as not racist or discriminatory. Despite being obviously otherwise. As the New York Times writes, “Much of Trump’s agenda rests on this idea that the boundaries of rights and citizenship are conterminous with race. Those within Trump’s boundaries enjoy the fruits of American freedom, while those outside them face the full force of American repression.”

In many ways, Donald Trump has taken advantage of America’s inability to discuss race. Even now after years of arguments that we really should, some national media outlets (like Fox News) and politicians keep hesitating to identify Trump’s remarks and actions as racist. When NYT’s Jemelle Bouie openly criticized Trump’s tweets as racist, earlier Times articles suggests his recent tweets played into a “racial fire” or used other euphemisms. Other outlets like CBS and NPR called Trump’s remarks “incendiary” or “racially charged.” When outlets called Trump’s comments racist, many hedged by relying on Democrats’ quotes criticizing him. Figures like Fox News’ Brit Hume called Trump’s remarks “nativist” and “xenophobic,” but failed to meet racism’s definition.

Meanwhile, Republican politicians looked away from the issue entirely. Much of this is due to a deeper problem on how America discusses racism. Too many Americans (particularly whites) rely on a racism definition focuses on individual acts intentionally committed by “bad” people. And it relies on a kind of racism that white people can clearly identify when they see or hear. Since I’m a Catholic leftist and a history major, I have no problem identifying Trump’s remarks as racism on this definition alone. Since Trump is a despicable person who’s used racist remarks to stir his political base or deflect attention from other scandals. And he’s done very racist things in the past that I can see as intentional. Yet, such narrow obscures the ways racism can occur even without slurs or obvious racist remarks as seen in Gentlemen’s Agreement. But I also think that many white people don’t see Trump’s comments as racist is that they don’t see him as that kind of person or agree with his comments. And I think politicians and the media pander to that audience.

Yet, it also helps explain how so many reporters and politicians can witness Donald Trump’s racism on full display and still not identify it as such. Analyzing Trump’s racist tweet coverage, the Columbian Journalism Review noted how many older outlets still struggle to see the term “racism” as a factual descriptor, adding there’s still “a residual, old-school squeamishness in newsrooms around charged words that—before Trump broke all the rules, at least—smacked of opinion or activism.” And it’s hard to separate this deep-seated belief from the media’s constant struggle to attract and maintain reporters of color. But this understanding of racism shows why some outlets and writers find it difficult to respond to Trump’s openly racist comments. In recent times, racism has come to be treated as an epithet among white people, with many arguing to be called racist is as bad as experiencing racism itself. Except that it’s not. That can really harm our ability to grasp the impact of Trump’s comments. But it also reflects a strong cognitive dissonance, a divide between what America currently looks like for marginalized communities and what America has long professed to be for all its citizens. As Adam Sewer explained, the recent discussion of racism “is not, fundamentally, a battle over facts, but a clash of values.” The question is how this clash will be understood moving forward.

Democracy depends and survives on the law’s fair and neutral application. You can’t arrest people without good reason to believe they broke the law. And you especially can’t arrest them simply because they’re a political rival. In theory, both major American parties are committed to this idea as it’s one of those “norms” you always hear about. But since Donald Trump’s rise, it’s become increasingly clear that Republicans and their voters are more willing to call for bending the system’s power to partisan, racialized ends. “Lock her up” isn’t merely an expression of a false belief that Hillary Clinton’s email scandal was criminal (it wasn’t, save maybe the overblown media coverage on it). “Send her back” isn’t the result of a bullshit theory that Ilhan Omar isn’t legally an American citizen (she is). Instead, these chants are meant to signal that Clinton and Omar are threats to the body politic who need to be purged if it’s to be preserved.

Donald Trump, along with numerous Republicans and Fox News hosts, have made this an explicit rhetoric feature. At a Florida June rally, Trump cast the Democratic Party as a threat to his supporters’ very lives. He thundered, “They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.” When you believe in this bullshit, there’s no longer any need to adhere to the liberal theory of law as a neutral protector of freedoms. In it’s place, you get the “send her back” legal theory: the notion that the purpose of holding legal power is defeating your enemies, an anti-democratic theory that Trump has encouraged in his rallies for years. Trump originated these chants when he openly mused about prosecuting Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign and has recently spent some time telling Ilhan Omar to go back to “her” country. The broader Republican apparatus including elected officials and their conservative media allies, didn’t condemn the chants or the so-called “presidential” statements encouraging them. Quite the opposite, in fact. For instance, future Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn led the crowd in a “lock her up” litany at the 2016 Republican National Convention. And this is not okay.

One thing we learned from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is that Donald Trump’s desire to prosecute Hillary Clinton isn’t an idle threat. Mueller’s report documents 3 separate occasions when Trump attempted to strong-arm then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions into launching a criminal investigation into the former Secretary of State. In March 2019, he openly hoped that current Attorney General William Barr would “do what’s fair” when it comes to going after the woman he routinely called Crooked Hillary. A deeply authoritarian attitude has taken root it one of our major parties. It manifests not just in words but also in actions. And that is not okay.

The Trump movement’s authoritarianism style can’t be fully understood without taking its racism into account. Donald Trump has labeled Mexicans “rapists,” invented stories about New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11 (they weren’t), and said there were “very fine people” among the white supremacists in Charlottesville. His administration has attempted to ban large numbers of Muslims from entering the country, held Latino migrant children in squalid detention centers, and gutted the Justice Department’s civil rights division. Study after study has found that Trump’s most loyal voters are defined by unusually high levels of racial resentment and animus. According to Axios, Trump himself seems to think that his 2020 reelection depends on rallying racist voters to his cause with outbursts like the one targeting Ilhan Omar. Racism powers authoritarianism. It helps identify who the enemies are, determines which people need to be crushed by Donald Trump and his Republican allies. The authoritarian idea of using the law to punish political enemies and the racist idea that a rising nonwhite population threatens something essential about America (like whiteness) have together been at Trumpism’s core almost since the get-go. And this is not okay.

Since Ilhan Omar is a black immigrant, Muslim woman, and Democratic Congresswoman is such a movement’s perfect target. Of course, she’s a naturalized citizen so Donald Trump can’t just order ICE to “send her back.” But the call for her deportation has a symbolic purpose as a rallying cry for those who feel Trump ought to be targeting people like her for legal sanction. In other words, it’s an extreme expression of fear of losing white America’s dominant status and a willingness to consider even authoritarian means to slow or reverse this decline. The campaign promise to bar Muslims from entering the United States, made manifest almost immediately after Donald Trump took office via the “travel ban” executive order. This initial policy was so broadly worded that the seemed to bar green card holders from the travel ban countries from reentering if they happen to be out of it. This is a moral absurdity: How could it be possibly fair to bar people who’ve already had permission to reside long-term in the US? But it makes sense if you view the law’s purpose through a “send her back” lens. According to that, the purpose of the legal tools isn’t to be fair but to hurt the right people like Muslims. And this is not okay.

Donald Trump had to quickly back down from the ban’s application to green card holders, and many of the other of the first travel ban’s most sweeping parts were struck down in court. But the pattern that the law be pushed and twisted as far as possible to exclude nonwhite individuals from the physical nation or its political life was set. That pattern has grown to include the Trump administration separating children from their parents at the border and making it difficult to seek asylum despite America’s commitments to openness under international and domestic laws. It explains why Trump attempted to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, a question to suppress the number of immigrants counted in it. When the courts told him he couldn’t, he briefly tried to do it anyway. It remains to be seen what further actions Trump will take along these lines up until the 2020 election and the long-term consequences of such actions for American democracy. But the fact is that Trump appears to see the “send her back” chanters as his base, and the GOP is perfectly willing to let him court them because they care more about beating Democrats. There’s no reason to believe that any of this will end well. And this is not okay.

However, we must accept the fact that Donald Trump will eventually screw the “send her back” crowd, too if he hasn’t already. Sure loud racist chants may be music to Trump’s ears but money from corporate donors speak louder. Trump may cast himself as a champion of the typical white American Christian who’s beset by various alien forces by politically correct allies. But if you follow Trump’s business career, you’ll realize he’s actually a scam artist who profits from his fans’ misplaced trust even as president. From Paul Ryan’s speakership to Mick Mulvaney’s tenure as White House Chief of Staff and Federalist Society judiciary domination, a major agenda of the Trump administration and the Republican Party is to completely neuter or dismantle government institutions that are supposed to check the wealthy and powerful’s ability to run roughshod over the rest of us. Under Trump, polluters can pollute more, scammers can scam more, bankers can go back to running the risks that blew up the global economy, and no legislation that would impair the rich and powerful’s privileges can pass. Beyond acts of formal deregulation, Trump’s scaled back on enforcing existing laws so much that law firms seem to be panicking about the possibility that some clients won’t bother to hire them anymore.

No less than Donald Trump’s racism, this plutocratic agenda is an absolute disaster for America’s immigrants and communities of color who are generally lower-income and more vulnerable to corporate abuses and pollution than more privileged people. But critically, it’s also an absolute disaster for the vast majority of white people, too. There are few people who benefit from a combination of more pollution and less economic competition. And there’s no way for the tax cutting to balance that out unless you’re part of that tiny minority of the public whose income is mostly derived from stock ownership. Trump’s politics of racial division aren’t particularly popular. But it’s still true that framing Trump as a symbol of white privilege is almost certainly more favorable to him than framing him as a guy whose governance has concrete and material implications for Americans of all ethnic backgrounds. Racism’s function in American politics has always been in part to serve as a kind of scam. The Jim Crow South had the lowest standards of living for white people of any American region alongside even lower standards for African Americans. Trump is nothing more than a connoisseur of cons and scams. And that is not okay.

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