Progressive Views: A Truer Patriot

by Cindy Offutt
for the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, August 16, 2019

Ilhan Omar speaking at podium in front of American flag
“Ilhan Omar” by Lorie Shaull is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

“America has been a beacon of democratic ideals for the world.  If we succumb to the fever of right-wing nationalism, it will have consequences far beyond our borders.”

For the past several weeks, Republicans have labored mightily to justify President Trump’s tweets about four congresswomen he apparently detests.  The president’s tweets declared that the four congresswomen should “go back” to the countries from which they (or their forebears) had come. 

This was followed in short order by bellicose chants of “Send her back” by supporters attending one of the president’s campaign rallies, this in reference to the congresswoman who had legally immigrated from Somalia as a small child.  It was at this Florida rally, as Jeffrey Goldberg argues at theatlantic.com, “that Donald Trump (again) gave tacit approval to the use of violence against immigrants,” to wit:  Having noted that other countries “use weapons” to enforce their border security, Trump smirked and made a joke when a woman in the crowd shouted “Shoot them!” in response to his question of “how do you stop these people?”

This was neither the first nor the only time that Trump “encouraged violence, or suggested its efficacy” to his adoring “Send her back” masses. 

Never mind that all four congresswomen are legal U.S. citizens.  Never mind that the voters of their districts clearly thought enough of them to elect them to national office.  And never mind that all four women have the same Constitutional rights as you and I to criticize this country’s officials.

They are minority women who have displeased Donald Trump, so consistent with his tiresome habit, the president took to Twitter to lash out at them in what can only be described as unfiltered bigotry.  Even in its best light (assuming there is such a thing), Trump’s words align seamlessly with the very thing that white nationalists promote.

Republican rejoinders, such as they are, have conjectured that it was just hyperbole or that Trump was merely criticizing the four congresswomen for their purported hatred of America.  It was merely an attempt, say Trump’s defenders – albeit with an unfortunate choice of words – to restate the old “America – Love It or Leave It” mantra that those on the right have persistently used against those on the left since at least the 1960s.

Unfortunately for Trump’s apologists, the U.S. is still a country bound by laws, to include a definition of what constitutes unlawful discrimination.  As has been widely reported, the EEOC includes in its examples of potentially unlawful conduct “insults, taunting, or ethnic epithets, such as making fun of a person’s foreign accent or comments like, ‘Go back to where you came from.’”

Some of what these congresswomen have said in their first 18 months in Congress has, to my mind, been insupportable, bearing out their dearth of experience.  Some has been offensive, some just plain silly.  In this regard, I agree with The View’s Whoopi Goldberg that the freshman congresswomen might better spend their initial term in Congress learning the job rather than speaking overmuch.

That said, it comes down to this.  Criticism of political views and policies is one thing.

Playing the race card is something else altogether.

It is the latter that the president has done, knowing full well his base would fully comprehend it was, and always is, non-white immigrants whom he was urging to “go back to their countries,” as opposed to, say, white Norwegians.

And while assorted Republicans have attempted to provide cover for Trump’s xenophobic racism, their efforts have fallen flat.  And there certainly has been no apology from Trump as there was from Congresswoman Ilhan Omar after she criticized U.S. support for Israel.

The quote at the beginning of this piece is taken from a recent New York Times op/ed article written by Congresswoman Omar.  In her piece, Omar articulates how our nation’s ideals are under attack by a president who “is using the influence of our highest office to mount racist attacks on communities across the land.”  She goes on to describe the many things the president has done to “weaponize division” within our country, despite the fact that doing so risks everything we Americans are supposed to believe in – things like equal protection under the laws, voting rights, religious liberty, pluralism, freedom of speech and a free, uncensored media.

Congresswoman Omar’s denunciation of Trump and his often-racist, always-divisive policies no more means she loves her adopted country any less than, say, incessant Republican denunciation of all-things-Obama meant Republicans loved the country any less.

However, unlike the president’s racist tweets, Congresswoman Omar’s piece is a beautifully written civics lesson on just what it is that truly makes America great … And it does not include the very un-American trope that any American should ever “go back to their country.”

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