“Send her back, send her back.”
It was the chant that brought home how disturbing the state of American politics is at present – being driven by the racism of President Donald Trump.
The chant was directed towards Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who has become increasingly the target after Trump first directed racist comments towards four Democrat Congresswoman – Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley.
In a series of tweets – his favourite way of communicating – while not naming the four directly, he claimed the Congresswomen “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all)” and went on to say “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came”.
As is the way with Trump, he’s not very good with the facts. Three of the Congresswomen he was attacking in this way were born in America. The fourth came from Somalia at the age of ten. All of them are women of colour, and though he later protested he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body, telling American-born women of colour to go back to their own country shows he has a racist mouth.
Of course, with his facts off on the birthplace of three out of four, what did he do? Tilted his argument towards the one who wasn’t born in America. Cue the chants of “send her back” at one of Trump’s rallies on Wednesday last week.
The vision was chilling. Trump basking in the adulation of the crowd as it chanted its vile words. Looking at the crowd was frightening too. Most of the people chanting were white women, directing their exposed hate against a fellow woman of a different colour. There was even a young girl right behind Trump joining in the chant.
Later, Trump said he tried to stop the chant by starting to speak again quickly. That’s a lie. The clock runs a full 13 seconds as he gazes around enjoying the attention before he speaks again. As comedian Trevor Noah pointed out, Usain Bolt could win a gold medal in the time it took Trump to speak again.
Send her back. Why don’t they go back from where they came? This is the language of racism. Anyone who has had these words directed at them knows what they mean. They know people are telling them they don’t belong, they don’t look right, they don’t sound right, they don’t know “our” ways. Even if they were born in the same place. Went to the same schools, the same churches. In this case, even if they were elected to office to serve their nation.
When Trump told these Congresswomen to go back from where they came, he started the clock ticking that led to the “send her back” chant at his rally.
World leaders have condemned the chants – from Canadian leader Justin Trudeau to Germany’s Angela Merkel, and UK leader Theresa May and both of the contenders to replace her, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt.
And yet where are the voices of leaders in our region? Back in March, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis was one of five Caribbean leaders invited to meet Trump in Florida, alongside Haiti’s Jovenel Moise, Dominican Republic’s Danilo Medina, Jamaica’s Andrew Holness and St Lucia’s Allen Chastanet.
What are they saying about the racist comments towards women of colour? Or does the need to curry favour with America win out over the need to say what is right?
In the end, some of this outrage might well suit Trump. He is an outrage politician. He uses it to stoke up his supporters and claims to be the victim even as he insults all around him.
He uses it too in the same way as UK leadership contender Boris Johnson does – who talked of “throwing a dead cat on the table” when you need a distraction. Suddenly everyone talks about the dead cat instead of what they were talking about a minute before.
That said, such behaviour should be condemned. He is telling people they don’t belong to the nation they serve. And we should tell him that his words don’t belong to anyone who would call themselves a leader.
Trump bulldozed his way to power with the slogan “Make America Great Again”. Sadly today the racist underbelly of Middle America lies exposed. For ‘great’ read ‘hate’. We can only pray it comes to its senses.