Recent events say less about President Donald Trump and more, sadly, about America.
Last week, Trump reached into his treasure trove of racist tropes that he weaponizes more effectively than any president in modern history and told the congresswomen now being referred to as “The Squad” to go back where they came from.
If this sounds like “go back to Africa” insult familiar to African Americans, well, it should. That’s because this is akin to what his unshakeable base hears whenever he injects racism into an issue even though U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib trace their roots to places other than Africa.
Trump doubled down on last Wednesday when, during a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, thousands of his idolaters chanted “Send her back” as a taunt to Ilhan Omar, the Minnesota congresswoman who was born in Somalia. On his way Monday to the funeral of late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, Trump, rather than realizing that he has played the race card of bigotry enough, opted to stoke the fires again, calling the women “a very racist group of troublemakers who are young, inexperienced and not very smart.”
He does this because in 2016 nearly 63 million voters proved that his racism wasn’t revolting enough to prevent them from casting their ballot for him. Now he’s willing to bet again that it won’t be any more objectionable, which says more about America than it does about the president.
So get used to this. There are 16 months before the 2020 general election, and Trump is going to spend each and every one of them mixing in the sort of racial animus that has become his campaign comfort zone. The seasons are going to change multiple times between now and the election, and Trump is going to continue to utter similarly repugnant rhetoric because it is OK to millions of Americans.
So let’s place the blame where it belongs, which is not exclusively at Trump’s feet. It has been 400 years since the first enslaved people were dragged here from Africa and the country has rebooted itself through foreign and domestic wars. Yet there are so many American bigots in circulation that a president can run on racism unabashedly decades after the Civil Rights Movement accomplishments and win.
Racism is no different than fire in that it needs oxygen to survive. As Trump made his way across the country during his 2016 presidential campaign, he came face to face with the deepening resentment of Middle Americans, many of whom felt that America was slipping away from them.
He saw the anger in the eyes of his supporters, who looked upon him as the final stopgap between the continuous browning of America. And Trump realized then that from sea to shining sea, America is full of citizens who harbor racist views ripe for someone to manipulate them and transform them into political clout.
This is why, moving forward, Trump will not miss any opportunity — no matter how despicable he looks to millions of evolved folks around the world — to be the oxygen that bigotry needs to survive.
Whether or not you see Trump as a racist by now is irrelevant. The support he continues to receive from the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacy groups that have coincided with his presidency renders debate on this subject foolish.
Trump knows what works and what does not. And he also knows that what should be unacceptable in far too many precincts is OK. And that says more about us than it does about him.