President Donald Trump’s racist rant against four minority women who are U.S. House members cannot go unanswered by decent Americans of all races, ethnic backgrounds and political parties. Despite this president’s overt scare tactics and obvious appeals to white nationalists, this is a nation built by immigrants that will continue to become more diverse. That racial and cultural richness is one of America’s strengths, not a weakness or a threat, and this is no time to remain silent as Trump continues to dangerously divide us.
The president targeted the four House Democrats Sunday as he tweeted, “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.’’ He kept up his attacks on Monday, calling them “a bunch of Communists’’ and added “they are Anti-Semitic, they are Anti-America...’’ This is the dangerous demagoguery of a president who is all about fueling outrage among a significant number of his white supporters and who has no intention of appealing to a broader base or building a national consensus.
Of course, the four House Democrats urged by Trump to “go back’’ to the countries they came from are U.S. citizens. Three were born in this country: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York was born in the Bronx to parents of Puerto Rican descent. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, who is black, was born in Cincinnati. Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan was born in Detroit to Palestinian immigrants. The fourth Democratic freshman who was targeted, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, was born in Somalia and her parents fled that nation’s civil war when she was 8 years old. She became a U.S. citizen at 17.
To be sure, these four liberal House Democrats are controversial and have caused deep divides within their own party with their rhetoric and their unwarranted criticism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Sometimes they go too far, such as the criticism of a Native American House Democrat by Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff for voting for the emergency border aid package. Omar also has gone over the line with some of her critiques of U.S. relations with Israel. They should be reminded that continued Democratic control of the House and the Democrats’ efforts to defeat Trump hinge on building a bigger tent and appealing to more centrists.
Yet none of this excuses Trump’s racist attacks or the silence from most Republicans in response. It’s a long hot road to the 2020 general election, and there are genuine policy disagreements between Republicans and Democrats about how to move forward in areas ranging from health care to immigration to climate change. A presidential campaign that further divides Americans by race and ethnic backgrounds will seep into other campaigns for state and local offices — and pit communities against each other. That would not be healthy for a democracy already under strain because of distrust about an electoral process that was compromised by Russian interference in 2016.
Trump’s unrelenting attacks on these four minority women who are all young and freshman House members are a new low for this president. They fit his pattern of racial demagoguery and appeals to white nationalists, whether through tweets, an unsuccessful push for an unnecessary citizenship question on the U.S. Census, announcing mass round-ups of undocumented immigrants in Miami and other cities, or new policies like Monday’s announcement of an unworkable rule regarding asylum seekers that is aimed at choking legal immigration. While the nation has become accustomed to many of the president’s outbursts, this one demands a collective response. America is better than this.