President Trump’s Twitter feed is a repugnant place, and no one would want the thankless task of having to weed through all his bitter, bigoted ramblings to determine which are the most offensive. But a three-tweet thread early Sunday morning — in which he wrote that the four progressive House Democrats who call themselves “The Squad” should “go back” to the “crime-infested places from which they came” — certainly has to rank among the most disgusting.
By now everyone in America should realize the threshold problem with what Trump is saying about the lawmakers, all of whom are women of color: Three out of the four — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts — can’t “go back” to the countries he has in mind because they are, in fact, from here. They were born in the United States, just like Trump himself, making them every bit as American as he is. Only the fourth, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, was born elsewhere; she emigrated from Somalia. And as a naturalized citizen of the United States, she too is as American as he is.
But Trump doesn’t care about such niceties. Nuance has never been his thing. And in any case, he is not really trying to inform us or to make a reasoned point about anything or to express a fully formed thought of any sort. He is simply spewing as usual, and in the process fanning the flames of disunity, chaos, prejudice and polarization — all cleverly hidden behind a veneer of rote and thuggish patriotism. He is playing to the lowest, most degraded emotions of his supporters while reveling in the fury of his opponents. This is the definition of demagoguery.
Sadly, it has found a receptive audience.
In Trump’s telling, these women who came from such “corrupt” and “crime-infested” countries (although they didn’t) are now lecturing “the people of the United States” about how “our” country is supposed to be run.
His unmistakable point is that because some of the lawmakers’ families once lived elsewhere — in countries he would no doubt dismiss as “shitholes” — they are not really Americans like those of us to whom his tweet is directed. It is reminiscent, of course, of his long, cynical campaign to convince people that President Obama was born outside the country.
But Trump’s family too came from elsewhere. His mother and grandparents were born in Europe. So is he one of “us” or one of “them”?
In any case, to tell people in this country of immigrants that they should “go back” (in this case to places they are not, in fact, from) is a particularly familiar, childish and bigoted taunt that has been used by know-nothings throughout American history.
Trump’s burst of tweets hit all the notes: It is xenophobic, it is “othering” in the most obvious sense of the word, it is mean-spirited, it is divisive, and it is factually wrong. He reflexively moves the American civic conversation backward rather than forward. And he revels in the blowback, as evidenced by his tweets Sunday night chastising Democrats for defending their colleagues.
He is just trolling, as usual. He is just trying to get a rise out of us. He is baiting us. He wants headlines, he spoils for a fight, he is hoping to exacerbate the tensions that have bubbled up between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and these four congresswomen. We shouldn’t rise to his bait, but how can we not? If we ignore him, we normalize his reckless behavior, and that’s even worse.