By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders
Last week the political rhetoric from the President of the United States sunk to a new low, awash with disturbing invective.
Donald Trump attacked four members of Congress who happen to be women of color and have been very critical of Trump’s immigration policies and his efforts to ban Muslims from entering this country. Trump said of the four that they should “go back to the crime infested countries that they came from.” But each are United States citizens, three of whom were born here.
So “go back to the country that they came from?” Say what?
It was not lost on anyone that the women singled out by Trump were either of Muslim heritage or whose family ties include relatives from Central American countries. To state the obvious, Trump’s comments are as factually wrong as they are repugnant and bigoted.
Then he said that those members of Congress “hate our country” and are “pro-terrorists.” The lies and insults just keep coming. Trump cannot comprehend that a person can love their country but object to its policies or leaders. In fact it is our duty as citizens to oppose policies that may be unjust, misguided or even illegal. That is called democracy.
We have never heard such language from an American president before. It is beyond not normal. It is ignorant and it is ugly and it needs to be condemned. The response from his political party was avoidance. Silence is the equivalent of acquiescence. Worse still, it enables further destructive behavior. It is the opposite of leadership. It is abdication. It is moral cowardice.
Those incendiary comments inspired a rally crowd in North Carolina to chant “Send Her Back, Send Her Back!” aimed at Somalian-born Representative Ilhan Omar. After receiving considerable blowback, Trump said that he tried to stop the chant. The video evidence shows he did no such thing. But what’s another lie?
In my lifetime, the only parallel that I can recall was back in the 1960’s. Much of the country was divided over Vietnam. Millions of students and others were protesting the war as unjust and futile. The mantra spoken by the proponents of the war who equated opposition as being un-American or unpatriotic was to say either support our government or get out. In their words “love it or leave it.”
In fact, dissent is one of the pillars of our American democracy. Unlike other nations, our Constitution guarantees free speech and the right to loudly protest national policies. Over time, the protesters in the ‘60’s were proven to be correct. The war in Vietnam is now considered to be one of America’s most tragic foreign policy mistakes.
But Donald Trump has revived this sentiment… love it or leave it. He probably really means “love me or shut up.” But I digress.
The historical irony is that while those who invoked that slogan, a young Donald Trump was dodging service in the armed services that he now claims to love so much. He even obtained a diagnosis of a mysterious foot ailment that was said to prevent him from serving in the military… even stateside, 10,000 miles from harm’s way. That medical condition was never verified. And like the President’s taxes and his college academic records, those papers are either locked in a vault or nowhere to be found.
The defenders of Donald Trump believe that he speaks for them when he says, “Make America great again.” But how great can we be if we fear protest and try to intimidate and stifle the press and Members of Congress? Is it great to threaten hundreds of thousands young adults with deportation who were brought here as small children and have lived their entire lives as law abiding persons? And what about the toddlers separated from their asylum seeking parents and sent to far away detention centers? How great is that? If we allow a president to redefine American values in his own mean spirited image we will surely lose our greatness.
I submit that the true greatness of America will be tested on November 3, 2020.