Image Credit: Lorie Shaull
Trump is the President that has championed his own news cycle. A questionable remark or late night tweet is quickly smoothed over and met with eyes rolls as it is simply what we have come to expect. This is why it is vital to take a step back and understand the implications of Trump’s recent speech in Greenville, North Carolina.
In this campaign rally Trump targeted four freshmen Democrats with racially charged language. He criticised them for their “extreme positions” before inviting them to leave the country he believed they were so fond of criticising. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan were all newly elected to the US House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms. They have often been referred to as the “squad of four” due to the following they have received in such a short amount of time. With the lead up to the 2020 elections, it was only a matter of time before Trump passed comment. However, as the news cycle starts to move forward, it is important to breakdown the significance of these remarks.
First of all, Trump was factually incorrect when he bellowed out an invitation for the four congresswoman to leave the country if they had nothing good to say. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Presley and Rashida Tlaib were born in the United States and therefore are legal citizens by birth. Essentially, by requesting them to solve the problems in their own countries, he was putting himself in the firing line, as they are Americans. If there are problems to solve in their home country, it falls under Trump’s jurisdiction.
Rep. Ilhan Omar was granted asylum in the United States in 1995, after she and her family fled the war in Somalia. In 2000, she became a US citizen at 17 years old. Arguably, Omar is a bizarre target for Trump’s accusations. Since being granted citizenship she has worked tirelessly to serve the community, and indeed the country, she now called home. After earning her Bachelors degree in political science and international studies from North Dakota State University, she moved quickly into the public sector where she worked as campaign manager for Kari Dziedzic’s reelection campaign for the Minnesota State Senate. In 2016, she ran on the Democratic-Farmer-Labor ticket for the Minnesota House of Representatives, a path that ultimately led the way to the US House of Representatives three years later.
Whether you agree with the congresswomen’s political beliefs or not, they have been elected to office by the American people. The hallowed halls of congress deserve more respect than the racial slurs Trump is filling them with.
Secondly, there is reasonable chance that these comments were staged. It is no coincidence that they given during a speech in North Carolina. It was a state that Trump unexpectedly won in 2016 as it swung to the other side of the political spectrum. Next year, Trump is hoping to achieve the same again. Insinuating that the congresswomen to go back to where they came from was not only illogical and racist, but also strategic. Those comments were intended to reach Trump’s blue collar support base that see immigration as a priority for the US government. This is why he did not immediately stop the audience chanting “send her back” in reference to remarks concerning representative Ilhan Omar, as he had claimed. BBC news showed it took 13 seconds of Trump silently acknowledging the chants before hushing the crowd and continuing the address. In this moment, as a man who had grown up in show business, he knew exactly what he was doing. The speech itself was not to be the focal point of this news story, but chants “send her back” would. ‘Go back to where you came from’ is a racial slur that has certainly stood the test of time. It is the sentiment that is to be inferred from the chants made in North Carolina. What started as a personal attack on four congresswomen has snowballed into a larger debate on immigration. A debate that Trump is ultimately hoping to win. The far right frustrations with immigration from 2016 are still present today, and they still have the power to bring in votes for Trump come next year.
For the Democrats, it is important not to be weighed down by this episode. Admittedly, this is a task easier said than done. Yet, to enter this war of words with the Republicans won’t build momentum for them. In fact, it will force them into a quagmire where the only way out is a muddy path that leads to a second term for Trump. Instead of attempting to beat the Republicans at their own game, looking forward to 2020 the Democrats need to set the rules of their own.