Republicans have not only failed to condemn Donald Trump’s racist tweets, they’ve supported them. As Trump has doubled, quadrupled, and octupled down on his racism, supporters at his rally have launched into their “send her back” chant, and Republican voters have declared genuinely frightening levels of support for Trump’s statements. Meanwhile, Trump has gone even further by continuing to lie about Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ilhan Omar, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib—using lies meant explicitly to create division and hate.
On Thursday, Representative Omar responded with a column in The New York Times in which she warned against Trump’s actions and words, making direct comparison to how others had used statements of this sort in the past.
Throughout history, demagogues have used state power to target minority communities and political enemies, often culminating in state violence. Today, we face that threat in our own country, where the president of the United States is using the influence of our highest office to mount racist attacks on communities across the land.
Trump, says Omar, has “weaponized division,” using racial division to prevent Americans from coming together as a community. This divisiveness benefits those already in power, and allows Trump to promote a conflict that is ultimately all about protecting the wealthy elite while preventing the vast majority of the nation from demanding fair pay and fair treatment. “Every racist attack on four members of Congress,” says Omar, “is a moment [Trump] doesn’t have to address why his choice for labor secretary has spent his career defending Wall Street banks and Walmart at the expense of workers.”
The racist statements that Trump has made and continues to make may be outrageous, but so is blocking the EPA from taking action against pesticides known to be harmful to children. So is failing to protect our election system from foreign interference. So dealing with the all-too-present climate crisis or the still unfolding economic disaster caused by massive income inequality.
For Trump, racism is a tool. One that allows him to gain power at a cost to the nation.
Racism isn’t the only card that Trump plays in seeking to sew division. For the same reason, he’s made efforts to split Americans along religious lines. Along regional lines. By levels of education. Anything that can keep people focused on their differences, so that they don’t have the opportunity to look at the issues which unite them, is good for Trump.
Rep. Omar doesn’t stop with pointing out Trump’s egregious statements, or with urging Americans to resist the growing tide of racism and xenophobia. Action has to accompany words. Those actions have to recognize the racism at the heart of Trump’s statements, but also recognize that it is racism with a purpose.
We must affirmatively confront racist policies — whether the caging of immigrant children at the border or the banning of Muslim immigrants or the allowing of segregation in public housing. It is not enough to condemn the corruption and self-dealing of this administration. We must support policies that unmistakably improve working people’s lives, including by strengthening collective bargaining, raising the minimum wage and pursuing a universal jobs guarantee.