President Donald Trump is facing a firestorm of controversy over his recent racist and xenophobic tweetstorm attacking liberal freshman members of Congress. And for good reason: His series of tweets suggesting that four U.S. congresswoman should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” reads as if it was ripped from a white supremacist manifesto.
It was shocking to hear the leader of the free world make such offensive statements about other elected leaders. But it didn’t stop there. As the criticism increased, rather than retract his statements, the president instead doubled down, insisting that he’s not racist and that the members he’s attacking hate America and hate Israel.
Not surprisingly, white supremacists are already celebrating Trump’s outburst toward these duly elected congresswomen.
“When will the Radical Left Congresswomen apologize to our Country, the people of Israel and even to the Office of the President, for the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said,” Trump tweeted.
While I also have been deeply troubled — even at times disgusted — by comments from some of these congresswomen about Israel and Jews and have disagreed strongly with some of their policy statements, none of that justifies speaking in such racist and xenophobic terms.
And let’s be clear: Trump’s language was absolutely and unquestionably racist despite his denials to the contrary.
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To imply that four women of color are unqualified to represent their constituents because they supposedly come from somewhere else, despite all of them being U.S. citizens and all but one of them having been born in America, is literally racism defined.
Not surprisingly, white supremacists are already celebrating Trump’s outburst toward these duly elected congresswomen. The American Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, for example, posted a piece on the Daily Stormer declaring, “This is the kind of WHITE NATIONALISM we elected him for.”
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Comments telling people to “go back” to their countries of ancestry embrace two common racist tropes: One is the notion that immigrants to the U.S., especially immigrants of color, are somehow less worthy of being Americans. And two is the idea that people of color born in the U.S. are somehow not as “American” as white people born here.
This brand of xenophobia unfortunately has a long history in America, beginning with the backlash to immigration in the 1800s and continuing in the contemporary moment. This xenophobia can have violent results, as we saw when Jews were gunned down in synagogues because of the widespread white supremacist belief that Jews are orchestrating caravans ferrying immigrants of color who threaten the existence and dominance of white people.
It’s worth noting that just about every form of racism in the U.S. has been linked to nativism and immigration. In the 1960s, newly arrived immigrants of African origin entered the U.S. from the Caribbean and Africa, and their arrival was greeted with racism against both the new immigrants and the existing African American community. Anti-Latino racism, anti-Asian racism, anti-Muslim/Middle Eastern racism — these forms of intolerance all originated in anti-immigrant backlashes.
While Trump’s divisive comments were directed at women of color, they have special resonance for Jews of all colors. The charge that one can't possibly be accepted as a full-fledged member of society because of who you are is one that is all too familiar to Jews, who throughout the centuries were treated as aliens no matter how long they had lived in any particular nation.
In the Middle Ages, Jews were expelled from England, France and a number of German principalities on false charges related to being seen as outsiders. In more recent times, when Jews finally attained citizenship in European countries, the notion that they could never be real Germans or Russians became even more prevalent. In the Soviet Union, Jews were accused of being cosmopolitans, not true Soviet loyalists, which justified their persecution. In Germany, nationalists spoke of the “folk” as the essence of German nationalism. Jews, though citizens, were seen as undermining the hopes of creating a nation, eventually leading to the scourge of Nazism.
Here in the U.S., 30 percent of Americans continue to believe that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to America — in other words, less than true Americans. All of which sets the stage for some to say, “Go back to Israel, your true home.”
No matter how much we may question the political positions of others, that’s no excuse for questioning their identity as Americans.
It’s ironic that Trump, in his series of follow-up tweets, claimed the four representatives all “hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion” and have “made Israel feel abandoned by the U.S.” — thereby invoking his support for Israel to justify his offensive comments. In fact, politicizing the widespread support for Israel and throwing around accusations of anti-Semitism is damaging to the security of Israel and the Jewish community.
All Americans must stand together against this divisive rhetoric. No matter how much we may question the political positions of others, that’s no excuse for questioning their identity as Americans.
It can never be said enough: Anyone who is an immigrant and becomes a citizen of this country, no matter their place of origin, ethnicity or religion, becomes as much American as those whose ancestors were among the first settlers. This is what has always made America great.