There he goes again. On July 14, just before he headed off to his golf club in Sterling, Virginia, President Donald Trump once more played the race card.
It wasn’t enough that he was terrorizing millions of undocumented fathers, mothers and children with the threat of sweeping raids, mass roundups and deportations. This time, he turned his attention to four popularly elected Democratic first-term legislators of color, suggesting that they “go back” to the “totally broken and crime-infested places from which they come.”
This vile racist trope was aimed at Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who was born in Cincinnati, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who was born in Detroit, Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who was born in New York and Rep. Ilhan Omar, who was born in Somalia and became a U.S. citizen as a teenager. Trump smeared them as alien or not real Americans. They are, in fact, popularly elected leaders of this country.
Trump assailed them while pretending to come to the defense of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi immediately called him out.
“When @realDonaldTrump tells four American congresswomen to go back to their countries, he reaffirms his plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again,” Pelosi tweeted. “Our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power.”
As condemnations poured in for his racist jibes, Trump — as is his pattern — did not apologize. Instead he escalated, accusing the four legislators of “racist hatred” and calling on them to apologize. He criticized Democrats for coming to the defense of the congresswomen, who he claimed are “very unpopular and unrepresentative.” So unpopular and unrepresentative that they were literally popularly elected to represent their districts.
Trump’s racist behavior is infamous and longstanding, from his discriminatory record as a real estate developer, his libels of the Central Park Five, his false “birther” attacks on Barack Obama, his defense of pro-Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville, his dismissal of so-called “s—hole countries, to his libel of Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” and his call for a ban on Muslims.
Trump uses charged racist rhetoric and posturing to distract us from the chaos and corruption of his administration and his own crimes and misdemeanors. It isn’t surprising that this latest outburst comes on the eve of the public testimony of Special Counsel Robert Mueller before the House Judiciary Committee.
Trump appears to have a particular animus for strong women of color, whether it is Rep. Maxine Waters, the four first-term legislators, national political reporters like CNN’s April Ryan and Abby Phillip or PBS correspondent Yamiche Alcindor. He smears them as “a loser” or “stupid” or for “having low intelligence.”
Trump’s racial jibes are an insult to his office and to the country. Even if we have come to expect it from him, we cannot become inured to it.
America is a diverse country; a politician who uses race to divide us for political gain is spewing a poison that weakens us all. It is simply pathetic that Republicans have, with rare exceptions, once more remained silent in the face of Trump’s provocations.
We know what Trump is — and the ugliness and division that he wields as a club. The question now is what are Republicans? Their silence suggests that they either embrace the president’s cynical racism or are too cowed to stand up for basic decency.
Trump has the biggest megaphone in the country, if not the world. But America is a better country than he seems to think. Trump clearly believes he and his party profit politically from fanning racial divisions. In 2020, we can demonstrate that he is wrong.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is president and founder of the Rainbow Push Coalition.