As he has so many times since bursting onto the presidential stage in 2015, Donald Trump played the race card Sunday. He launched nearly three dozen broadsides on Twitter throughout the day, but a trio of his tweets stood out because they demonstrated how casually he likes to uncork his venom and how unwilling the Republican Party is to contain him.
Trump was targeting four new Democratic congresswomen of color (nicknamed the “Squad”) who have become ubiquitous advocates for progressive policies and occasional thorns in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s side: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
Omar is from Somalia. The other three women were born in the US. Pressley is black and was born in Ohio. Ocasio-Cortez was born in New York and is of Puerto Rican descent. Tlaib was born in Michigan and her parents were Palestinian immigrants.
So Trump’s tweets could have been translated as: “If you’re a black woman born in the US and a member of Congress, I think you belong in Africa.”
Or, perhaps: “If you’re a woman of Hispanic descent born in the US and a member of Congress, I think you belong in Puerto Rico -- and I still seem to think that’s another country.”
If there was ever any doubt that the president is a racist and a bigot and is willing to pander to racists and bigots to continue holding office, the tweets he aimed at the Squad on Sunday should put all of that to rest.
But, of course, it’s unlikely to put anything to rest.
After all, the hosts at “Fox and Friends” contributed Sunday by just having a few laughs about the president’s tweets. Meanwhile, Matt Wolking, the self-described “deputy director of communications -- rapid response” for the president’s 2020 campaign, did his part by responding so rapidly to the widespread criticism that he simply pretended the media misrepresented what Trump tweeted. And by my count only one Republican legislator criticized Trump all day. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas crossed lines to offer what was ultimately a tepid critique of Trump’s Twitter storm. Other than Roy, crickets.
Some principled conservatives were willing to step up. George Conway, the husband of a prominent Trump adviser, Kellyanne Conway, tweeted that Trump’s comments were “bigotry, pure and simple.” And, he added, addressing Trump directly, “You are a disgrace to the office you hold, and you are a disgrace to the nation.” David French, a conservative columnist with the National Review, tweeted that he “could think of few worse things for the soul of the GOP or the health and unity of our republic than adopting a strategy of ‘be racist to own the libs.’”
French’s observation that Trump may have been trolling the Squad to score political gains by keeping the group at odds with Pelosi probably gives the president more strategic heft than he merits. He isn’t playing 3D chess most of the time, and he’s profoundly a guy from Queens who never liked the idea that his world was changing.
The president also is shamelessly hypocritical. His rants about the migrant threat at the US’ southern border and his call for the Squad to self-deport glide past the fact that his mother was a Scottish immigrant and his father was the son of a German immigrant. Trump’s first and third wives were immigrants from Eastern Europe, and his wife Melania’s parents became US citizens last year by taking advantage of a chain migration program that the president and his principal immigration adviser, Stephen Miller, have publicly derided.
All of this follows a week in which Trump promised to launch a federal sweep nationwide to round up undocumented immigrants so he could deport them. It also comes on the heels of Tennessee declaring a state holiday to celebrate Nathan Bedford Forrest, a former Confederate general and slave trader who was an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
This past week -- and Trump’s tweets Sunday -- are reminders that the president has chosen to divide and exploit rather than lead. A useful lesson to draw from that is that Trump and his most dedicated supporters have ripped the Band-Aid off whatever reassuring notions the US might have had about the progress of civil rights and the withering of racism in the country. And it ultimately will be up to voters to decide what to do about the racism and vitriol that Trump has put in front of them.
Timothy L. O’Brien
Timothy L. O’Brien is the executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion.