“What’s your ethnicity?”
An accusatory tone laced the question that Kellyanne Conway, counselor for the Trump Administration, launched at journalist Andrew Feinberg, Breakfast Media’s White House Correspondent.
Conway clarified by saying her own ancestors were originally from Ireland, before insisting, “And you, what about yours?” The journalist replied that the question wasn’t relevant. He simply wanted to know to exactly which countries the four progressive Democrats who had suffered Donald Trump’s ire on Sunday should go back. A perfectly legitimate question that still does not have a response.
This disgraceful incident which took place yesterday at the White House has turned the spotlight on the poisonous atmosphere dominating Washington; in the capital of a country which has long been considered a model of democracy and which has made the concept of the melting pot its trademark.
The journalist, whose name incidentally is of Jewish origin, was only doing his job. And for that, is ordered to publicly reveal his own origins.
This is neither Berlin in the 1930s nor Stalin’s Soviet Union, where different ethnic groups are singled out one after the other and sent to the gulag. No, we are in the United States in 2019.
The episode sends shivers up your spine following three days of presidential tweeting, where four Democratic congresswomen of color have been told again and again that if they don’t like “our” country they should “go back” to the countries from which they came.
These tweets aim to undermine the legitimacy of these young congresswomen, to divide the political class into “us” and “them.” Those who have the right to criticize and those who don’t; those who make up the American tapestry and those who are only part of it on condition. Guests who can just leave if they don’t like it.
Of the four members of the “squad” of progressive Democrats targeted by Trump, just one, Ilhan Omar, was born outside of the U.S. but naturalized around 20 years ago. Another, Rashida Tlaib, was born in the States to Palestinian parents. Ayanna Pressley is African American. The fourth, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was born in the Bronx. Her mother is originally from Puerto Rico, an American territory.
It makes no difference though, because, due to the color of their skin, political allegiances, and no doubt gender, these women, in the eyes of President Trump, fall into the category of those who could at any moment be shown the door. This is racism in its purest form.
This surge of hate can be attributed to Trump’s recent political setbacks. He suffered several blows over the summer. At the end of June, the US Supreme Court prevented Trump from including a question on citizenship in the next census. Last week, his Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, had to resign, embroiled in the scandal involving Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire accused of sexually exploiting minors.
And then there was the announcement of a crackdown on undocumented people living in the U.S. The roundup should have taken place last weekend but never came about.
Why was that? Because the planned crackdown stirred up opposition across the country. Mayors of targeted towns advised immigrants to exercise their rights – such as not opening the door to those looking for them – and local police departments refused to participate in the operation.
So no question about citizenship, no crackdown, no more Acosta. President Trump had a lot about which to be frustrated and he took this out on four young congresswomen who are a breath of fresh air in the Democratic Party.
Has Trump reached the stage where his declarations will backfire on him?
Unfortunately, we can’t be sure. Particularly since American public opinion grows more accustomed to the worst with each new statement.
Remember that this is not Trump’s first foray into the field of racism. He was the one who forced Barack Obama to reveal his birth certificate to prove he was born in the United States. Trump labelled Mexicans as rapists. He was the one who maintained that a black judge could not be impartial and that a Norwegian immigrant was better than a Haitian immigrant. It was Trump who refused to denounce the white supremacist protest in Charlottesville and has done nothing but crank up the hate.
“This is the most insidious kind of racial demagoguery,” said the writer Douglas A. Blackmon, quoted in the New York Times. According to the writer of “Slavery by Another Name,” with these latest statements Trump now surpasses the racial prejudices of the 1950s and is “invoking the white supremacist mentality of the early 1900s.”
His verbal salvos will have the imminent effect of uniting the two Democratic factions at a time of friction between the left wing and the rest of the party. In an act of cohesion, the House of Representatives, which is majority Democrat, is preparing to vote on a proposition condemning Trump’s tweets.
As for the Republican side, the reaction has been… lacking.
Barely a handful of representatives labelled the President’s latest attacks racist. Others carefully distanced themselves from these [remarks], putting them down to a mistake. All for the chance to sling arrows at the politicians targeted by Trump.
The award for best political hijacking has to go to the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. In a press conference yesterday, he did not once criticize Trump outright. Instead McConnell chose to go after all inflammatory political rhetoric, which, according to him, takes place as much among the Democrats as among the Republicans.
He then gave several examples of supposedly incendiary statements, all made by... politicians targeted by Trump.
In other words, instead of distancing himself from the President’s vicious attack, McConnell fanned the flames. Lining up, like the majority of Republicans, behind a President who never fails to drag his office down. We have to wonder to what depths Trump must go before they wake up.