Early on Sunday morning, when many American families were preparing for church, sleeping in, sipping coffee, or perhaps already hard at work, President Donald Trump decided to hop on Twitter for a particularly ugly Two-Minute Hate.
This time he unleashed an unapologetically racist, xenophobic spew against four Democratic congresswomen of color, whom he accused of having come from countries that were “a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, the most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world.” And then he told them to “go back there … you can’t leave fast enough.” On Monday, he not only rejected calls to apologize but said condemnation of his remarks “doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me.” In the fashion of a true bully, he then demanded an apology from those whom he attacked.
The “go back where you came from” insult is one of the oldest in the racist’s tool kit. It is intended to hurt, to otherize, to elevate the one hurling it and to demote the recipient to second-class status. It has been employed regularly by those who are ignorant and fearful and looking for someone to kick. This time a U.S. president attacked duly elected officials, three of whom were born in this country while one, Minnesota’s Rep. Ilhan Omar, came here as a refugee, attained citizenship and then election to Congress.
Trump uses racial slurs to foment hatred, to demonize and dehumanize, to turn Americans against one another at every opportunity. It shouldn’t matter whether Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Omar are “from” here or not. They are Americans. They belong here. They owe Trump no apology, and they should be secure in the knowledge that in this country they can voice criticism without fear of retribution from the nation’s leader.
This should not be treated as just another Twitter rant by someone who has made the demonization of immigrants part of his stock in trade. The continual barrage of insults and assaults on Trump’s perceived enemies at home and abroad is taking a serious toll. Americans who cherish this country’s values and immigrant history shouldn’t allow him to determine litmus tests for who qualifies as the right kind of American.
World leaders have put Trump on such notice already, with several issuing statements condemning his words. Asked about Trump’s comments, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “That is not how we do things in Canada. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, and the diversity of our country is actually one of our greatest strengths and a source of tremendous resilience and pride for Canadians. We will continue to defend that.” There was a time when U.S. leaders from both parties spoke that way.
Criticism from congressional Republicans has been slow, but it’s coming. Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio was one of the first to say that Trump’s comments “were racist and he should apologize.” Republican Rep. Will Hurd, of Texas, called the tweets “racist and xenophobic” and “behavior that’s unbecoming of the leader of the free world. He should be talking about things that unite, not divide us.”
Disappointingly, none of the condemnations came from any of the Republican members of Minnesota’s delegation, even though their colleague, Omar, was a specific target of Trump’s ire. The Star Tribune Editorial Board contacted Reps. Tom Emmer, Jim Hagedorn and Pete Stauber early Monday but had received no comment by the end of the business day.
Minnesota should expect better from its congressional representatives. Voters entrust these leaders to represent them on issues important to the state, but also to reflect its values. Minnesota has worked hard to welcome immigrant and refugee communities and has benefited greatly from what those communities have added. We expect our elected representatives, whatever their party, to uphold this state’s commitment to those values, and to stand up to the hate that can spread like contagion through a community and country.