“You knew damn well I was a snake when you took me in.”
Donald Trump said those words in 2017. As an analogy for migrants, he read from a poem about a woman who nursed a snake back to health only to be bitten.
These brown “others” weren’t just coming to America because of its opportunities, you see. They were coming on a stealth mission to destroy it. The cheers he received showed the number of people willing to lap it up.
And Donald Junior, one of the rotten apples to plop at the base of the Trump tree, expressed a similar sentiment when he compared Syrian refugees to a few poison Skittles in a jar of thousands. Sure. Maybe most of those people are OK — but some aren’t, and do you want to take the risk?
Well, that’s just how Donald Trump and his spawn roll, they said. Except now, he’s saying these types of things about Americans. Four women of Congress — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley — are apparently getting under the gossamer that is Donald Trump’s skin. On July 14, he stated on Twitter (where else!):
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen who originally came from countries (emphasis mine) 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!”
The outcry did not shame Trump, a man who has no bottom, and it only elevated his stock among people who fear religious and racial minorities. Omar is a naturalized citizen from Somalia. Tlaib is of Palestinian heritage. Ocasio-Cortez is Hispanic and Pressley is black.
They are all Americans.
Trump’s initial defense was that he wasn’t saying they should “go back” to other countries, but back to their districts and pitch in. The explanation is ludicrous, even for Trump, considering the Tweet is there, in black and white, stating “who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe.”
When that failed to do the job, he then doubled down, accusing the women of complaining too much and stating: “If you are not happy here, you can leave.”
Got that? The plain meaning: “I’m going to blow my racist dog whistle as hard as I can, because you are inconveniently brown, and are annoying me, and when you and others call me out, I am going to suggest that you are the ones who have the problem; that you’re the ones who hate; that you’re the ones who don’t understand what America is, or value it. I am going to use you to prove my point about snakes in our midst.”
For good measure, he also publicly stated that Omar sympathizes with Al- Qaeda. Translation: “I know my base fears Muslims and draws little distinction between Muslims and terrorists. Rise, base!”
Rise, it did. “Send her back! Send her back!” rally goers chanted in North Carolina. Trump, who would later claim through mouthpiece Mike Pence he was “not pleased,” basked in the shouts for a full 13 seconds. He’s since gone on to applaud as “incredible patriots” those who chanted, all while Pence continued to tepidly disavow the hateful behavior.
Trump is taking the temperature of the nation, testing (yet again) how far he can go as we devolve into shouting matches about what is and is not racist. (Hint: Chanting that an American citizen of Somali descent should be sent “back” is racist. “Go back” was racist in the civil rights era and it is racist now. This shouldn’t even be up for debate.) As ever, Trump is blaming the media in a cheap bid at deflection and, as ever, there are just enough people willing to buy it.
The response from the gullible has ranged from a deli that offered a “free side” to anyone who said “send her (Omar) back,” to an officer in Louisiana, who said Ocasio-Cortez needed “a round.” The officer was fired. The deli’s owner seemed to think the price of souls these days is mighty cheap.
The representatives are not perfect. There are perfectly valid reasons to question them. Consider Ocasio-Cortez’s slim legislative accomplishments so far and her ridiculous feud with Speaker Pelosi; or Omar’s violation of campaign finance rules and her problematic statements about Israel (although it is not inherently anti-Semitic to question the Israeli state’s actions, or America’s blind support).
But these women’s skin color or, in Omar’s case, national origin, are not among the valid reasons one might find to disagree with them — and the burden isn’t on the women to somehow prove they don’t deserve hateful attacks.
They are American citizens. They were elected to Congress — in other words, to serve. They appear actually interested in performing one of Congress’ key functions, checking presidential power, which is critical to preventing a slide into autocracy.
As a point of fact for the Tweeter in Chief, too, it is literally these women’s job to tell the government how to run. They are part of the government.
For a sitting president or anyone else to imply they are not “real” Americans; to question their loyalty to the country simply because they have questioned him … well, that actually is un-American.
Trump can song-and-dance this all he wants. He told them to “go back,” and he did not mean the Bronx, Minnesota, Illinois or Massachusetts.
He looked at four brown women, one an immigrant, and told all the entire world they weren’t truly from here; that they don’t share America’s values; that they should not be trusted.
He did it knowing how it plays to certain people, even if he might not know the term “dog whistle.” And he did it because they disagree with him. It ought to chill the blood.
It also proves he is afraid of Ocasio- Cortez, Omar, Tlaib and Pressley. Those with more inquiring minds should probably question why that is, instead of chanting along, or turning a blind eye and shrugged shoulder to his dangerous behavior, with some variant of the excuse that “Trump is Trump.”
Well, yes. Trump is Trump. And he never pretended to be anything other than a thin-skinned, race-baiting megalomaniac. Or, as he once said: “You knew damn well I was a snake when you took me in.”
Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist in Montrose, Colo.