Democratic representative from New York Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during an event with Democratic members of Congress and national organization members to reintroduce the Paycheck Fairness Act, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 30, 2019.
Michael Reynolds/EPA

Why it matters that Trump urged reps to ‘go back’ where they came from


About a month ago, House Democratic leaders brought a border bill to the floor for a vote, with the hopes that their members would rally behind it. For the most part, Dems backed the proposal and it passed with relative ease. There were, however, a handful of exceptions.

Four first-year progressives – Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) – balked at their party’s bill, signaling a fissure between the left and the Democratic leadership.

Yesterday morning, “Fox & Friends” aired a segment on the four women lawmakers. Just minutes later, Donald Trump thought it’d be a good idea to share some thoughts on the subject.

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally 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), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.

“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.

“I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”

For many years, “go back to where you came from” was the kind of ugly rhetoric one might expect to hear from the angry drunk at the end of the bar. Now the overt racism has been embraced by the sitting president of the United States.

Indeed, for Trump, it’s performative racism. This president’s cringe-worthy record on race is not new, but occasionally, the Republican chooses to flaunt it. Subtext becomes text. Dog whistles become bullhorns. His tolerance for subtleties sometimes disappears and his bigotry becomes plain and unapologetic.

From Trump’s perspective, hateful and divisive rhetoric helped elevate him to the nation’s office, so he sees value in sticking to the same script, confident in his ability to stoke racial divisions in order to hold onto power.

But as demoralizing as it was to see such a display from a sitting American president, it’s important to emphasize that the moral rot of Trump’s message runs deep.

Indeed, three of the four congresswomen Trump targeted were born in the United States. If he’s of the opinion that they came from countries “whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world,” the president was inadvertently referring to his own country.

Of course, even if these Democrats were immigrants and naturalized citizens, as Ilhan Omar is, the idea that they should leave the country because Trump doesn’t like their criticisms is indefensible. There is no justification for the president questioning their patriotism, loyalties, or the legitimacy of their citizenship.

But in the Republican’s mind, that’s not the case. For Trump, progressive women of color aren’t quite as American as he is.

He’s wrong, but he doesn’t care.

Perhaps he should. Even if the president is indifferent to propriety, there are strategic considerations at play: the divisions among Democrats matter, for example, and they may very well play an important role in the 2020 election, but nothing can bring Democrats together faster than rallying together in opposition to Trump’s racist attacks.

Postscript: As best as I can tell, the president’s Republican brethren have had very little to say about Trump’s latest racist display. That their cowardice is predictable doesn’t make it any less offensive.