Trump’s Racist Tweets Undermines Historical Progress

Jul 23

A shortened version of this article appeared in the Florida Times Union, July 23, 2019

President Trump’s contention that members of the so called “The Squad”, who are all women of color, with three of them born in the US and the fourth a naturalized citizen, should go back to where they came from is nothing new in the history of America’s racist past. People perceived as being different from the dominant political majority in this country – white, heterosexual and male, have heard such epithet hurled at them many times. What is new and unprecedented is that such language came from the White House, the premier seat of American power and the face of America to the world.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission telling anyone to go back to where they came from is illegal. In other words, if any employer said this to their employee they could be fined and sued. If an employee said it to another they could be fired. But the President of the US said and defended it. In the House, 187 of his fellow Republicans failed to muster the courage to condemn their leader, further deepening America’s racial divides. American racism has moved from the shadows, where it was relegated to post-1960s to back in the open. What a stunning reversal of history.

After Trump’s racist tweets much of punditry focused on the brilliance of Trump’s strategy to use race as reelection tool. But this is not 2016. What worked earlier is unlikely to work again. The 2018 elections were proof that despite Trump’s attempt to play up the fear of migrant “caravans” about to invade us across the southern border, Americans overwhelming choose his opposition by record margins. A new USA Today/ Ipsos poll taken after the Trump tweets show that by a 65 to 18 margin Americans agree that Trump’s tweets were indeed racist. By a margin of 59 to 30 they agree that those tweets were un-American and by a margin of 68-20 they agree they were offensive. Even Republicans by a margin of 45 to 34 agree that Trump’s tweets were racist.

We have reached an important crossroads in our liberal democracy. Our Pledge of Allegiance “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” rings hollow when the person and the office entrusted to uphold it subverts it in the most ugliest of manner. The vision of America as an immigrant nation is being challenged in ways not seen since the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent. American democracy is in serious trouble. And only we can fix it.

Massive civic education programs that inspire the younger generation to discard cynicism and choose engagement will be a good start. A populist push for making voting more accessible should be a priority. Marrying direct action resistance with thoughtful engagement is a must. Reconciliation and resistance must not represent polar choices. But rather we must demonstrate a new paradigm for intersectionality. Resistance to a Trump administration must be married with an effective strategy of reconciliation with Trump voters. America remains the Promised Land even with a dangerous demagogue at its helm. We must still believe that the moral arc of the universe will bend towards justice. The road ahead got a lot tougher. But it is not an unfamiliar road. We have been on that road many times and each time we overcame often at a significant cost. Why should this time be different?

From #MeToo to #BlackLivesMatter to #NoMuslimBan to #CloseTheCamps, ordinary Americans are mobilized to organize and resist. No more standing idly by as powerful men harass women. No more looking the other way when black boys are gunned down by police officers. No more silence when children are caged and tortured in our name and with our tax dollars. It is time that each one of us take stock and ask what it means to be an American or more importantly who counts as being American. If we cannot disagree without undermining each other’s Americanness, then America as an idea may already be lost.