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Trump’s Racist Tweets Against Minority Congresswomen Part of Larger Political Strategy

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Prescott Valley Event Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona.
Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Prescott Valley Event Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona. October 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

“This is a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern, and consequence to the American people.”

President Trump’s openly racist comments to four congresswomen of color have dominated news headlines in recent days, encapsulating the political strategy of a self-proclaimed “stable genius” who uses calculated racism as his most trusted means of distraction and division.

The president demanded on Sunday that the four congresswomen “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” despite three of those places being within the United States. After widespread condemnation, Trump doubled down on his statements Monday, responding to accusations of racism with dismissal:

“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” Trump said on Monday. “A lot of people love it, by the way.”

Trump is gambling that he can make the four progressive congresswomen, nicknamed “the Squad,” the new face of the Democratic party, in contrast to Speaker Pelosi’s recent efforts to downplay their influence. He outlined his strategy clearly in a tweet:

“The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them,” Trump tweeted Monday afternoon. “That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!”

Hyperfocus on AOC and ‘The Squad’

According to political analyst Ezra Klein, many House Democrats have been annoyed by the disproportional media coverage allocated to the squad. “If all voters hear about is AOC, it could put the [House] majority at risk,” an anonymous “top Democrat” told Axios. “[S]he’s getting all the news and defining everyone else’s races.”

Klein asserts that Fox News’ fixation with AOC, where she is mentioned an average of 75 times a day, is part of a deliberate strategy to stoke fear about demographic change in the United States:

“Centering American politics on the rising power of unapologetically liberal, young, nonwhite politicians is the right’s best hope for holding power: As reams of research show, when white Americans believe themselves losing demographic and political control of the country, they become far more conservative,” wrote Klein.

David French of the conservative National Review interpreted the unwillingness of most GOP lawmakers to condemn Trump’s remarks as symbolic of their subservience to the president, who has now crystallized his hold over the Republican party:

“The near-total silence (at least so far) from GOP leaders is deeply dispiriting. Do they not understand the message the leader of their party is sending — especially to America’s nonwhite citizens? Do they not understand that racial malice as a political strategy isn’t just an ultimately losing proposition but also deeply divisive, picking at the scabs of America’s deepest political, cultural, and spiritual wounds?”

World leaders gave a similarly muted response. The United Kingdom’s capitulation to Trump’s tweets last week exemplified how fear of reprisal from the president can influence world leaders to overlook basic international norms, although Boris Johnson, likely future PM, did call Trump’s tweets “totally unacceptable” on Tuesday.

The normalization of the president’s behavior was also evident in silence among corporate leaders, many of whom publicly condemned Trump’s remarks about there being “great people on both sides” of a violent neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

Congresswomen Respond

On Monday, the four congresswomen publicly addressed the president’s tweets:

“I encourage the American people and all of us—in this room and beyond—to not take the bait,” said Ayanna Pressley.

“This is a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern, and consequence to the American people.” said Ilhan Omar, “This is the agenda of white nationalists. . . . This is his plan to pit us against one another.”

“I want to tell children across this country,” said Ocasio-Cortez, “that no matter what the president says, this country belongs to you, and it belongs to everyone. And today, that notion — that very notion — was challenged.”

“Sadly, this is not the first, nor will it be the last time we hear disgusting, bigoted language from the president; we know this is who he is,” said Rashida Tlaib.

Interestingly, Democrats thought giving outsized media coverage to Trump in the 2016 race would diminish the Republican candidate’s chances of an electoral victory. But just as their strategic miscalculation backfired then, raising the squad’s profile could ultimately work against the president in 2020.

“It’s possible I’m wrong,” Trump said Monday. “The voters will decide.”

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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