Friday, July 19, 2019

Il Douche

You kinda get the feeling Trump is the Grinch Who Stole America, as he stumbled upon his catch phrase for his 2020 campaign.  At first, he appeared to be coming to the defense of Nancy Pelosi, who AOC accused of singling out persons of color in her criticisms, but very quickly it morphed into an attack on four Congresswomen, aka the Squad, who a large part of the conservative electorate believes are foreigners and should be deported.

From a political point of view, it would have been smarter for Trump to continue to support Pelosi in the tiff between the House Speaker and The Squad, as it would have divided Democrats, but Trump (or more likely Stephen Miller) saw a great opportunity to rile up the base, so Trump made Ilhan Omar the poster child of his anti-immigration movement.

Ms. Omar is the only one of the four who was actually born outside the US.  She came to America from Somalia at the age of 10 and is a naturalized citizen.  She has been in the country longer than Melania, not that it matters to the MAGA crowd.  Ilhan holds two degrees, beginning her career as a community nutrition educator before becoming involved in the campaigns of Minnesota politicians.  She is very active in her community, which is why she won her Congressional district in a landslide in 2018.

It didn't hurt that her district has a very large Somali-American population, probably the largest in the US.  In our ethnically diverse country, there are many ethnic pockets, which are usually represented by Congresspersons who have ethnic links to these communities.  It doesn't make them any less American.  However, Trump implied it does make them less American at his rally, to which his adoring crowd chanted, "Send Her Back!"

Trump has resurrected the Know Nothing Party of the 1850s.  At the time, Irish and Germans were seen as undesirables.  Blacks and other minorities of color didn't have the right to vote, so they weren't viewed as a political threat.  It's a theme that has run through American politics from the time of its inception, but reached its ugliest proportions during the Jim Crow era when states went out of their way to disenfranchise emancipated Blacks from the political process, and lynched anyone who challenged the post-antebellum status quo in the South.

We thought we had put these ugly sentiments behind us when we elected Barack Obama in 2008.  Many pundits were hailing America as now being a "post-racial society," but that turned out to be one of the many myths we are so good at projecting about ourselves.  Much of our country remains ethnically segregated.  People tend to live in homogeneous communities and shape their societal views accordingly.  Just look at anyone's facebook page, and you will see it is not very diverse ethnically, mine included.

When I lived in Washington, DC, I lived in a mostly Black community but had little contact, other than with my immediate neighbors.  People were friendly enough, but I was very clearly the outsider.  As it turns out, my black neighbors were worried about gentrification.  I was renting a basement apartment from a young white couple, who was always complaining about the noise from the adjoining townhouse.  You don't seem so bad, the black woman said to me.

We ended up in these ethnic pockets or "bubbles," as they have recently come to be called, largely because we were herded into them.  Blacks and other minorities weren't welcome in white communities.  Before that, Irish and Italians and Germans weren't welcome in predominantly British communities. In studying the labor history of Lowell, Massachusetts, many years ago, Portuguese were similarly discriminated against in the mill towns.  Many of them ended up settling in New Bedford, where there remains a large Portuguese-American community

This is the nature of our society.  Most political leaders embrace it the way Ronald Reagan did when he gave his farewell address in 1988, but not Donald Trump.  He and his political cronies appear to view these pocket communities as safe harbors for illegal immigrants, at least those of Hispanic descent.  It doesn't matter that the vast majority of  persons who live in these communities have been living in the US for three, four or more generations, they are viewed as outsiders.  This is very dangerous rhetoric to be used, as we saw in Nazi Germany before World War II, but then our nation has initiated similar purges, albeit not on the same scale as the Holocaust.

When Trump singles out Ilhan Omar, he is casting the entire Muslim-American population in a negative light.  He peddled false social media claims at his rally in a feeble effort to impugn her character.  This feeds directly into the ethnic biases of his following, who see all Muslim-Americans as threats to the country, particularly those from Africa.  This is the same tactic Trump used in questioning Obama's birthright when he first flirted with the idea of running for president in 2011.  It backfired terribly on him and he never forgot the humiliation he suffered.  Trump sees a fresh target in Omar to exploit.

These are the tactics of White Nationalists, whether in Germany, the US or any other predominantly white country.  The social media has taken to calling Trump "Il Douche," mockingly referring to the Italian strongman who introduced fascism in the 1930s.  Unlike his fascist predecessors, Trump doesn't seem to have the stomach for violence.  He prefers inflammatory rhetoric, hoping to get others to do the violence for him.  He drops his little word bombs at his rallies and then leaves it up to his following to interpret it how they will, a tactic derived from shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh.

It's very effective as we found out in the 2016 election.  A lot of white Americans are worried about the changing face of our country.  They see their white privilege as being lost in an increasingly multi-cultural society.  Other politicans had toyed with these tactics before, notably Pat Buchanan, but none were as successful as Donald Trump.  He proved he could peddle hate better than anyone imagined possible.

But, Ilhan Omar may end up benefiting from all this negative publicity.  Most Americans embrace diversity, and when Ilhan returned back to Minnesota, she was greeted with a much more welcome chant.

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