July 16, 2019 – On Sunday, President Donald J. Trump declared that progressive Democratic congresswomen should return to “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Although Trump did not name them, he was referring to four congresswomen elected in the 2018 midterms: Alexandria Ocasio Cortés, born in New York and of Puerto Rican descent; Ayana Pressley, of Massachusetts; Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota; and Rashida Tlaib, of Michigan. Only Omar is an immigrant and she came here as a refugee from Somalia when she was ten years old. She is an American citizen.
It’s obvious that for Trump being American is equivalent to being white. And it is that premise that animates his campaign strategy, now his re-election, as well as his political strategy and his public policy decisions, especially on matters of immigration. In fact, Trump has spent weeks announcing the start of raids in various cities across the country to detain immigrants with final deportation orders, an action that for Trump is just the latest chapter in the reality show that is his presidency. The goal is to inflict terror on the immigrant community and show his followers that he is following through on his promises. That is, to guarantee them that his plan to promote division will guide his reelection campaign.
Never forget that it was Trump who began the campaign to question the U.S. citizenship of ex-President Barack Obama, declaring that he was born in Kenya, like his father, rather than in Hawaii.
Trump did not hesitate to attack a U.S. Senator, then-candidate, and later U.S. President, a constitutional lawyer graduated from Harvard and born in Hawaii to an American mother and African father. On Sunday he affirmed that the Democratic congresswomen should “return” to the countries “from which they came,” although that very country is the United States. “Go back to your country” is the preferred phrase of the prejudiced, and many of us have been subjected to it, especially if we speak Spanish in public, even though we are American citizens. What else can immigrants in the interior of the country and the migrants who arrive at the border, or who are already detained and crammed together in inhumane conditions, expect?
If his administration does not even have any compassion for children and babies detained in unsanitary conditions documented by the Inspector General of its own Department of Homeland Security (DHS), does anyone still doubt that Trump’s only objective is to politically exploit the divisive strategy of “them against us” cemented in nativism, prejudice, and racism?
And it is clear that his accomplices are continuing the game. Just refer back to the visit of Vice-President Mike Pence to the border this past Friday. While the TV cameras that were covering the Vice-President demonstrated the terrible conditions of overcrowding and unhealthiness, and even reporters were indicating the stench was overwhelming and some agents were wearing masks due to the horrible smell, Pence tried to minimize the conditions and, of course, blamed the Democrats for the lack of money to deal with the crisis. He even called a CNN video of the overcrowding “dishonest.”
One only had to look at Pence’s face upon observing the caged migrants. It seemed as if he wanted to run away. But he had to complete the visit to make believe that he has compassion, when in reality Trump is using the humanitarian crisis for electoral gain. The image of dark, caged faces serves Trump in his plans of generating fear and prejudice out there.
For Trump to do this surprises no one, but the hypocrisy of the evangelical Pence is outrageous even if it is not surprising. The press reported that Pence also visited a detention center of migrant children accompanied by his wife and three Republican senators, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; Mike Lee of Utah; and John Cornyn of Texas.
The New York Timesreported that Lee served as Pence’s interpreter, who asked if they had food and were being cared for, to which the children responded yes. “But when he asked them if they had a place to clean up,” the children shook their heads no, according to the outlet.
“Two children told Mr. Pence that they had walked for two and three months to arrive at the United States, to which Pence responded in English ‘God bless you’ and ‘gracias’ in Spanish,” reported The New York Times.
I ask myself where Pence is hiding his Bible and the religious values he defends so often, while he does Trump’s dirty work. Pence did what he was there for and turned his back on the problem.
But the damage inflicted, especially the psychological damage to the children, is already done.
Because if Trump and his administration have shown us anything, it is that cruelty and prejudice have no limits, whether we’re talking about children, ex-Presidents, or congresswomen who do not fill the racial mold the President defends. The electoral strategy of “them [people of color] against us [white people]” continues–alive and kicking–in Trump’s reelection plans.