On Sunday, President Donald Trump tweeted that female progressive Democratic members of Congress “should go back and help fix the ... crime infested places from which they came.” His remarks seemed to be directed at Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx; Pressley was born in Cincinnati; Tlaib was born in Detroit. Omar was a Somali refugee who became a U.S. citizen at age 17. The U.S. House of Representatives voted 240-187 Tuesday evening to condemn Trump’s remarks.
We’ve listened to the pundits opine. We’ve observed the inherent politics at play when a president of one party attacks lawmakers of another, and everyone tries to figure out which side to take, or whether take a side at all.
And these are the questions we’re left with: Are we OK with this?
Are we OK with the president of the United States telling four nonwhite congresswomen to “go back” and fix the “crime infested places from which they came”?
Are we OK with his implication that people of color — whether first-generation Americans or fourth- or beyond — don’t really belong in this country? That they should go back to where their families originated? And what does that mean for our loved ones who come from other places?
Are we OK if children borrow the president’s racist taunt — go back to where you came from! — and employ it on a playground or school grounds or playing field?
Are we OK with the prospect of a child, targeted by such a taunt, feeling terrified, confused, humiliated?
We have more questions.
Do we think it’s OK that Trump views countries where people of different races reside as crime-infested — “s---hole” — nations?
In his Sunday tweetstorm, he asserted that the congresswomen came from “countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all).” Are we OK with an American president deriding other nations in these terms because he’s peeved with members of his opposing party?
Are we OK with him slamming congresswomen of color for “viciously telling the people of the United States ... how our government is to be run,” when they are both among the U.S. people and part of that government by virtue of the democratic process?
“These are people that hate our country,” Trump said of the progressive first-term congresswomen Monday. “They hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion.”
Are we OK with the president’s implication that it is hateful and disloyal to point out our country’s flaws and seek to correct them? Is patriotism meant to be obsequious? If “you’re not happy in the U.S., if you’re complaining all the time, very simply, you can leave,” Trump said Monday.
How does this square with the importance our founders placed on free speech? They viewed it as so essential that they granted the right to it in the First Amendment.
And we wonder this: Does Trump get a pass time and time again from his supporters because of the health of the economy? Does that, well, trump everything else?
This we know: We should expect our president to adhere to the norms of not just presidential behavior but of common decency.
We should expect the president to use his bully pulpit to elevate debate on big ideas, not to bully his political opponents in a way that makes him seem small.
The policies and politics championed by Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Pressley and Omar are fair game for criticism. But the president was deeply wrong to question their loyalty to this country, their very Americanness.
This we also know: Trump’s racist remarks are dangerous because they likely will have a trickle-down effect.
These congresswomen have political power. But other Americans of color — children included — will be unshielded if Trump’s language empowers those inclined to hate.
That’s why his language should be condemned by elected officials on both sides of the political aisle. Not because four congresswomen were insulted. But because countless other Americans stand to be harmed by the insult.
Congressman Will Hurd of Texas — the only black Republican in the U.S. House — slammed the president’s tweets as “racist and xenophobic” in an interview Monday with CNN.
On Tuesday, Hurd joined three other Republicans — including Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Bucks County — in voting for the House resolution condemning Trump’s remarks.
“The language and tone being used by so many in our country needs to change,” Fitzpatrick tweeted shortly after the vote. “... Democrats and Republicans need to start treating each other respectfully and like human beings. We are all created in the image and likeness of God.” (Amen.)
Fitzpatrick is a member of the Congressional Civility and Respect Caucus. So, too, is Lancaster County Congressman Lloyd Smucker.
Smucker voted against the House resolution. In a tweet Monday afternoon, he did write that “racially-motivated statements or behavior is totally unacceptable and unbecoming of our great nation.”
Smucker never mentioned the president by name, though a spokesperson confirmed the congressman was referring to Trump’s tweets.
Having tweeted his commitment just a few days before to “restoring civility to our political discourse,” Smucker followed through on that commitment, if tepidly.
Republican Sen. Pat Toomey also weighed in Monday, calling Trump’s “go back” remark “wrong,” and maintaining that the citizenship of the congresswomen of color “is as valid as mine.” He added: “We should defeat their ideas on the merits, not on the basis of their ancestry.”
It’s now left to the rest of us to denounce Trump’s bigoted remarks, and to mitigate any harm they cause vulnerable people of color.
In his last speech as president, Ronald Reagan said, “We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people — our strength — from every country and every corner of the world. And by doing so we continuously renew and enrich our nation.”
Trump’s bigotry diminishes us. We cannot be OK with it.