An Exhausting Weekend Culminates With Racist President

Ken AshfordRace, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

I was out of town this weekend, experiencing a New York blackout (among other things) but politics seemed to seep in.

Acosta resigned because of his role in the Jeffrey Epstein sex scandal. Well, that was bound to happen.

Trump caves on the citizenship question (while, of course, claiming victory). This was amusing. In his Rose Garden speech, Trump said — all in the same setting — that they HAD won one the citizenship question, they COULD win if they went forward in the courts on the citizenship question, that the reason that the HADN’T won was because of the Democrats and Obama-appointed justices, that they have better ways of getting the same information.

In other words, it was a Trump embarrassment.

But it all culminated Sunday morning with a racist tweet string

Who was he referring to?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York

Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat from Massachusetts 

Collectively, they are know as “The Squad” mostly because they bump head with Nancy Pelosi. Some believe Trump sent his “go back to where you came from” racist tweet to further the Democratic rift. It didn’t work.

It didn’t work in part because three of the four were born in America — and the fourth — Ilhan Omar — came here at age ten as a refugee from Somalia

Let’s backup. This controversy started with a series of calculated comments by Pelosi meant to diminish the Squad. “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” Pelosi told the New York Times. “But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.” Unlike Trump, Pelosi chooses her words with care, so notice the argument she was actually making. The idea was that their centrality in social media, and on cable news, is misleading. They get retweets, but they can’t command votes. Their power is illusory, and thus their coverage unmerited.

This reflects a particularly deep source of frustration House Democrats feel toward the Squad. From the perspective of most House Democrats, who claw and scrap for press coverage, and the House Democratic leadership, which tries desperately and ineffectually to coordinate messaging, the Squad is composed of four backbench, first-term members who don’t lead committees, represent swing districts, or control big blocs of votes. And yet every time you turn on the TV, or read an op-ed, or fire up Twitter, there’s the Squad.

Much of this — and this is important — reflects the Squad’s appeal in conservative media circles. In February, Media Matters analyzed Fox News coverage and found that Ocasio-Cortez, then a brand-new member of the House, received four times the mentions of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In a separate study, they found Fox News mentioned AOC more than 3,000 times in a six-week span. Watch this supercut. It’s dizzying.

There’s a reason conservative media focuses relentlessly on Ocasio-Cortez, and to a lesser but still disproportionate extent, Tlaib and Omar. Vilifying nonwhite, female members of Congress electrifies their audience is a way that vilifying, say, Rep. Richard Neal, the powerful but bland chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, does not. The strategy of Fox News and much of the conservative media is to activate white threat in a browning America. Elevating and demonizing extremely liberal, nonwhite, young, female politicians is one way they do it.

This isn’t to take anything away from the Squad’s authentic support. They’ve built huge online followings as digitally savvy champions of an unapologetic left — a Twitter analysis show Ocasio-Cortez gets more retweets than any politician save Trump, and her per-follower engagement beats his handily — and they’re masterful at using their social media sway to set the news and political agenda. The Green New Deal, for instance, wouldn’t be a defining issue of this era without Ocasio-Cortez’s advocacy.

The Squad is also native to the era of polarization, and quick to use the attacks against them to counterpunch and further raise their profiles. As a result, they generate tremendous coverage on the left and the right, and then even more coverage when they’re at the center of left-right conflict. The rest of the House Democrats are stuck watching from the sidelines, boiling with resentment.

This is the context not just for Pelosi’s comments, but for the weird poll that Democratic officials apparently leaked to Axios to emphasize the damage Ocasio-Cortez was supposedly doing to the party. The poll was of non-college educated white men, and the post-publication controversy has swirled around whether it’s appropriate to call this group, which went heavily for Trump, “swing voters.”

So that’s what Trump was trying to do — further this divide, and he went full-on racist to get there.

Two days out, and there has been nary a peep of condemnation from any Republican. And now there is a debate as to whether it what Trump tweeted is racist at all.

Asked by reporters if his message had been racist, Trump, of course, neither apologized nor retreated. He amplified his message. “If you’re not happy here, then you can leave,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, if you hate our country, if you’re not happy here, you can leave. And that’s what I say all the time.”

“That’s what I said in a tweet, which I guess some people think is controversial—a lot of people love it, by the way,” he went on. “A lot of people love it. But if you’re not happy in the U.S., if you’re complaining all the time, very simply, you can leave. You can leave right now. Come back if you want. Don’t come back. That’s O.K., too. But if you’re not happy, you can leave.”

A lot of people love it. This might as well be Trump’s campaign slogan.

Trump can hardly run a reëlection campaign on policy triumphs. His polling results show him trailing the top four Democrats: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris. And so he will sling as much filth as possible and hope his base comes out in sufficient numbers. This is what he knows how to do. This time around he will shout about “socialism” and “You can leave.” He will make ugly caricatures of “the Squad”—the four members of Congress whom he targeted this weekend. “I hear the way she talks about Al Qaeda,” Trump said of Omar. “Al Qaeda has killed many Americans. She said, ‘You could hold your chest out.’ ” Ilhan Omar, of course, has said no such thing.

Reaction in the Republican leadership has been, at best, nervous. By the pusillanimous standards of the G.O.P., you could almost count Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, as positively courageous. Graham went on Fox News and called the four congresswomen a “bunch of communists.” Hardly surprising. He has been bowing and scraping to Trump since the election. But he also gently counselled Trump to “aim higher.”

Trump, of course, was having none of it. “I disagree with Lindsey on that,” he said. “He said, ‘Aim higher, shoot higher.’ What am I going to do, wait until we get somebody else in a higher position, higher office? These are people that hate our country.” In fact, at their press conference, Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Omar, and Pressley all took the high road, imploring the public not to take the bait—Trump’s race-baiting—and focus on the issues, from the climate crisis to income inequality.

Republicans and Independents, evangelicals, and many others who might have voted for Trump in 2016 will eventually have to ask themselves whether it is possible to go on believing that he is a man of sufficient character to hold the Presidency. They will have to ask themselves what it means to overlook his racism and what this says about them. How can they believe it is possible to support a racist and escape that in themselves? Or will they pronounce themselves, as the Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, did, “not concerned”?

Via Sahil Kapur of Bloomberg and Dallas News, these are the Republicans that have joined Sen. Toomey in denouncing President Trump for his comments toward the four Democratic congresswomen: Rep. Mike Turner, Rep. Will Hurd, Rep. Pete Olson, Rep. Chip Roy, Sen. Tim Scott, Sen. Susan Collins.

And via Alison King of NBC10 Boston, comes this weak tea from Mitt Romney:

“I certainly feel a number of these new members of Congress have views that are not consistent with my experience and not consistent with building a strong America.”

“At the same time, I recognize that the Pres has a unique and noble calling to unite all Americans regardless of our creeds or race or place of our national origin and I think in that case, the Pres fell far short.”

The present moment is never fixed, or not for long. History is in the hands of members of Congress who have the option to collude or impeach, go along or resist; it is in the hands of citizens who can vote or stay at home. In 1989, we lived the illusion of unstoppable democratic advance. Democratic values have since receded. In 2008, we enjoyed the illusion of racial progress. Today, Donald Trump is in the White House.

Even an hour ago, Trump, while denying the racism, seeks to further the Pelosi-Squad divide, which didn’t work before. In fact, the House is voting for censure.

More fallout: Democratic Rep. Al Green announced Monday at a Texas press conference that he’s going to introduce articles of impeachment this month because of Trump’s bigotry.

“This is not about the Mueller report,” he said. “This is not about obstruction. We can impeach this president for his bigotry in policy that is harming our society.” “This is about the president’s statement that they should go back … that statement in and of itself is a racist, bigoted statement,” he added.

Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin was apparently thrilled by the tweets, posting on his popular Daily Stormer website: “Man, President Trump’s Twitter account has been pure fire lately. This might be the funniest thing he’s ever tweeted. This is the kind of WHITE NATIONALISM we elected him for. And we’re obviously seeing it only because there’s another election coming up. But I’ll tell you, even knowing that, it still feels so good.”

Anglin also emphasized the political implications of Mr. Trump telling people of color to “go back” to their countries: “This is what elected Trump and this is what will always be the best way for him to gain support,” and underscored the importance of these comments being directed at U.S. citizens, particularly Rep. Pressley, who was born in Cincinnati: “So this is not some half-assed anti-immigrant white nationalism. Trump is literally telling American blacks to go back to Africa.”

The Washington Post Explains why they don’t shy away from using the term “racist”:

The Post pointed out their fellow news organizations’ attempts to report on Trump telling four United States citizens—all women of color—that the countries they came from were lawless and without functioning governments and the Congresswomen should go back where they came from before criticizing the USA.

Since the women are from the United States, many pointed out the President’s unintentional self-own in his racist tweet—calling his own administration flawed and the women doing what he directed them to do, namely join Congress to fix his mess.

But most news media, either used couched language or attributed the charge of racism against the President of the United States to others. The Post quoted Arizona State journalism professor Dan Gillmor to explain why that is a problem they needed to address.

Gillmor called is “weasel wording” when the media tries to avoid calling Trump’s lies lies and his racism racism.