Donald Trump got elected by criticizing America.
His campaign slogan told us over and over, in speech after speech, on hat after hat, we were no longer great.
His inaugural address referenced poverty, gangs, drugs, rusted-out factories, lousy schools and American carnage.
“For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry,” he said. “Subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.”
“We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own,” he continued, “and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.”
“We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country,” he said, “has disappeared over the horizon.”
He evoked such dark and dismal themes repeatedly on the campaign trail and has returned to them as needed while in office.
Which makes Sunday’s outburst all the more absurd.
On Sunday, the president wrote a string of tweets aimed at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and her fellow Democratic representatives in the House: Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.”
“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!”
Pressley, Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez were born in the United States. Omar was born in Somalia and became a U.S. citizen in 2000.The tweets are racist and nativist. As New York Times columnist Charles Blow puts it, “The central framing of this kind of thinking is that this is a white country, founded and built by white men, and destined to be maintained as a white country.”
“It sees a country from which black and brown people come as deficient — ‘a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world’ — because, at its base, it sees black and brown people as deficient,” Blow writes.
The tweets are also an insult to our intelligence.
Americans know dissent is woven into our history and protected by our Constitution. We know our freedom of speech is preserved in the very first of our amendments. We know that very first amendment also preserves our right to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
We know presidents, presidential-hopefuls, faith leaders, abolitionists, suffragists, soldiers, veterans, civil rights activists, artists, historians, athletes, professors, students, pundits, historians — citizens of every background and political persuasion — have been criticizing this nation, nudging and prodding and striving toward that more perfect union promised in our Constitution’s preamble, since our earliest days.
We know that nudging and prodding and striving are what keep us free and just and ever closer to a nation where more and more of its people enjoy that freedom and justice equally.
We know that the people willing to patiently nudge and loudly prod and tirelessly strive — even when we don’t agree with every word or policy they profess — are the people we need more of, the people we look to for guidance, the people who see both our potential and our historical hunger to reach it.
So when the president tells our modern-day nudgers, prodders, strivers, “you can’t leave fast enough,” we know better. History has taught us better.
He knows better, too.
He wouldn’t have run on “Make America Great Again.” He wouldn’t paint such a dismal portrait of America in his inaugural address. He wouldn’t so frequently and freely exercise his own right to criticize the government if he didn’t recognize that freedom as a fundamental American value.
He just doesn’t want that freedom to be accessible to all. He wants the criticism to remain steeped in nostalgia, not change. He doesn’t want to hear it from people who don’t look like he looks, who represent a shift in the rules about who holds the power, who makes the rules, who signs the laws in this country.
Thankfully, that’s not how America works.
As U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell from California tweeted on Sunday to Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Rashida Tlaib: “You are home. You are home. You are home. You are home. You are home. You are home. You are home. You are home. You are home. You are home. You are home. You are home. You are home. You are home. You are home. You are home.”
And we’re all better for it.
(c) 2019 Chicago Tribune