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Trump tries to run from fire he started

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Sunday, July 21, 2019

If you attended President Trump’s “Keep America Great” rally in Greenville last week and were among the hundreds — or possibly thousands — who shouted “Send her back!” in response to the president’s racist-tinged criticism of Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, shame on you.

Demanding that any American citizen, regardless of how you feel about their politics, be banished from our country isn’t just hateful and morally repugnant; it’s deeply un-American. It recalls the very worst periods of our nation’s history, times when Americans told other Americans — newly arrived Irish, Chinese, Italian, Pole or Slav immigrants, and, most insidiously, African-Americans — to “go back to their own country.”

And given the obstacles that Rep. Omar faced getting to the United States and becoming an American citizen — her family had to flee violence-torn Somalia — those who participated in the chant should be even more ashamed of themselves.

And that’s not just coming from us. It’s also coming from the person the chanters apparently thought would be pleased with what they were yelling.

That’s right, even President Trump is now criticizing the chant “Send her back!” at his re-election rally at East Carolina University’s Minges Coliseum on Wednesday.

A day after the rally — and after a number of key Republicans criticized the chant, worried it might hurt their party with moderate voters in the upcoming 2020 elections — the president threw his most fervent supporters under the bus. Referring to the chant, Trump told reporters he was “not happy with it” and that “I disagree with it.” What’s more, Trump also claimed to have tried to stop the chant, explaining, “I started speaking really quickly.”

Those at the rally, and particularly those who took part in the chant, are no doubt puzzled. Video from the event clearly shows the president doing nothing whatsoever to stop the chant as it went on for a full 13 seconds. In fact, Trump paused his speech and, in the words of The Associated Press, “surveyed the scene, taking in the uproar.” He also did nothing, absolutely nothing, to condemn the chant after it ended.

Equally puzzling for the president’s supporters is the fact the chant didn’t just come out of nowhere. Its impetus was the president himself.

Ever since last Sunday, Trump has been targeting Omar and three of her female freshmen Democratic House colleagues — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. In a tweet, Trump said the four women — all of whom are frequent critics of his — could “go back” to their “crime-infested countries” if they were unhappy living in the U.S. The president apparently equates criticism of him and his policies as criticism of America.

The tweet was widely condemned as not only ignorant — Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Pressley were all born in America — but also racist. All four congresswomen are minorities, and the racist trope “go back to your own country” has been used by xenophobic hate groups against either racial or religious minorities in this country, going all the way back to the 1850s.

Trump’s apologists, covering for his racist intent, have claimed the president was only expressing his disagreement with the four congresswomen’s “socialist” policy positions. But if that were really true, why hasn’t President Trump also tweeted that Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist and even a more vocal critic of how American democracy operates, also “go back” to his own country? Almost certainly it’s because Saunders is white.

Showing its disgust with Trump’s tweet, the U.S. House of Representatives took the unusual step on Tuesday of voting to censure him for it, the first such action against a president in 100 years.

Given that only four Republicans voted for the House resolution — the party is now more loyal to Trump than it is to core American principles like freedom of speech and the freedom to dissent — and that Trump has only stepped up his criticism of Omar and her colleagues afterward, even saying “let ‘em leave, let ‘em leave” at Wednesday’s rally, it’s understandable why his supporters would think it was OK to chant “Send her back!” It was more than OK; it was expected.

In nearly all other situations, this would be a come-to-Jesus moment for supporters of a politician like Trump. Those attending the rally would have heard with their own ears just how much of a liar the president is. They also would have recognized that Trump cares way more about himself than them, and that despite all his bluster about disdaining political correctness, he, too, can be “PC” if he believes it will help him hold onto power.

But this is not an ordinary situation. And Trump’s no ordinary politician. By fanning the flames of resentment and fear of people who look, talk and worship differently, Trump is proving that a frightfully large number of Americans don’t care that much about being lied to or conned. What they do care about are those fears and resentments of “the other” that the president is all too willing to exploit.

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