July 19, 2019 | News | No Comments
Who is “her,” in the context of a Donald Trump rally? About twenty minutes into a campaign appearance on Wednesday night, in Greenville, North Carolina, Trump told the crowd of eight thousand people that “the leading voices of the Democratic Party are left-wing extremists” who “see our nation as a force of evil.” He tossed out a name—“Ilhan Omar!”—which instantly yielded a chorus of boos and jeers at Representative Omar, of Minnesota. As he laid out supposed evidence of her affinity for terrorists and her disdain for people he claimed to love, the antipathy built. As he said, “And she looks down with contempt at the hardworking Americans, saying, ‘Ignorance is pervasive in many parts of this country,’ ” scattered shouts of “Send her back!” could be heard. (The actual quote, from Omar, referred specifically to a lack of knowledge about refugees.) The injunction was picked up by more people and turned into a chant, causing the President to pause in his litany: Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!
The next day, when asked about the chant, Trump told White House reporters, “I was not happy with it—I disagree with it.” But it was the President who set the terms here. Just last week, he suggested that a group of recently elected women in Congress (Omar; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York; Rashida Tlaib, of Michigan; and Ayanna Pressley, of Massachusetts—a.k.a. the Squad) should “go back” to other countries, launching a racist broadside against people of color and immigrants. (A number of my colleagues have written about how sordid and anti-American that comment was.) Trump was also, as he often does, targeting women who have the temerity to disagree with him. Omar is the only member of the Squad who wasn’t born in this country; she is not the only one who Trump claims doesn’t belong. And one of the bases for not belonging, he told the crowd, was dissenting in any way from his jingoistic vision of America.
“Tonight I have a suggestion for the hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down—they never have anything good to say! That’s why I say, Hey, if they don’t like it, let them leave, let them leave, let them leave.” He continued with what sounded like a complaint about elective democracy itself: “They’re always telling us how to run it, how to do this, how—you know what? If they don’t love it, tell them to leave it.” It’s tempting to wonder whether Trump imagines America as a giant reality-television show, which people can be escorted off for not listening to him. But that thought might underplay the real danger in what he is saying. Where would people who are Americans—and that includes naturalized citizens, like Omar, as well as those, like Pressley, whose families have been here for generations—“leave” for, or “go back” or be sent to? Where is the place, inside or outside of America, where Trump imagines he wouldn’t hear their voices?
Trump’s goal, at the rally, seemed to be to make his supporters believe that they are the hated ones. He told them that Ocasio-Cortez saw them as “garbage,” and implicitly compared her to Hillary Clinton. (“Remember ‘deplorables’?”) Lock Her Up, Send Her Back—the resentments begin to blur. Speaking of Tlaib, who earlier this year said, of him, “Impeach the motherfucker,” Trump noted, “the big fat vicious F-word, that’s not someone who loves our country”—as if love for him and love for the country were naturally conflated. Indeed, later in the speech, he ended a long anecdote about how very rich, powerful men who once called him “Don” now call him “Mr. President,” because “people have such respect for the office of the President—they have respect for our country again! Our country is respected again.”
And he worked hard to conflate every member of the Democratic Party with the most radical of them. “A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American Dream—frankly, the destruction of our country.” The Democrats, Trump said, are “afflicted with an ideological sickness.” His comments about the Squad are, no doubt, in line with his own bigotry. But they also seem designed to cut short a discussion within the Democratic Party about what its direction ought to be. The Democrats are united in opposition to his attacks, but the differences between, for example, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the Squad, have not gone away. Democrats, like members of every party, have been known to make remarks that deserve criticism. (Some of Omar’s remarks on Jews and Israel, including ones she has apologized for, fall into this category.) Trump will, in the course of the campaign, try to goad his opponents into silence not only about him but, occasionally, about their allies.
One of the President’s rhetorical tactics is to quote his opponents’ remarks interspersed with his running commentary, in a way that makes it seem that he is annotating them when he is really defacing and falsifying them. He said that Omar had “laughed that Americans speak of Al Qaeda in a menacing tone, and remarked that ‘You don’t say America with this intensity.’ ” This was a reference to a 2013 interview with Omar on PBS, in which she described how a professor of hers had seemed to change his posture when he spoke of Al Qaeda. Trump, though, added his own gloss, in phrases in which he modulated his tone, alternately mimicking Omar and professing to read her mind: “You say Al Qaeda—makes you proud—Al Qaeda—makes you proud—you don’t speak that way about America.” He added, “At a press conference, when asked whether she supported Al Qaeda, that’s our enemy . . . she refused to answer.” (Actually, she said the question was “ridiculous” and “I will not dignify it with an answer.”)
Susan B. Glasser on Donald Trump’s calculated racism.
At the rally, Trump again presented Pelosi as the image of the enemy. At one point, he discussed the recent arrest of twenty-two MS-13 members in California, on particularly gruesome charges of murder and dismemberment. (Trump: “Little pieces, little pieces!”) He said, “These are sick people. When I called them animals, Nancy Pelosi said, ‘How dare he use that name; these are human beings.’ ” (She had said, “We are all God’s children. . . . Calling people animals is not a good thing.”) In case there was any doubt, Trump added, “I don’t think they’re human beings.” At the same time, he lied about the programs that Pelosi and her colleagues have fought for. “You have to remember this, because they give us a bum rap: people with preëxisting conditions are protected by Republicans much more so than they are protected by Democrats,” he said, even as lawyers for his Administration are arguing, in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, that those protections are unconstitutional. And the contenders for the Democratic nomination for President came in, as usual, for mockery: Elizabeth Warren (“Pocahontas”); Bernie Sanders (“He’s screaming, his hair’s all crazy . . . he’s desperate now!”); Joe Biden (“He’s not mentally prepared”). He also wondered if Representative Pressley might be related to Elvis Presley.
“The Democrats are being so violent, so vicious, moving so far left,” Trump said, and politicians in his own party seemed to second his extremism. Several Republican officeholders were in the crowd, and Trump gave two Republican candidates running in special congressional elections in North Carolina this fall a chance to come onstage. Greg Murphy, who is running to fill a seat in the Third District that is open because of the death, earlier this year, of Representative Walter Jones, a Republican, said, “This is Trump Country! And I promise, if elected your congressman, I will be a congressman that has our President’s back.” Dan Bishop, who is running in the Ninth, where the midterm was invalidated because of absentee-ballot fraud linked to the campaign of another Republican candidate, told the crowd that his opponent is supported by Omar.
“I’m just saying, it’s their choice,” Trump told the crowd. “They can come back when they want, but you know they don’t love this country. I think, in some cases, they hate our country.” He added, “And they’re so angry!” The crowd joined in his condemnation of those people, whoever they were, who didn’t share their particular rage—all the hers and hims and thems outside the circle of the rally—whom they wished would go away.