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Sunday 19 January 2020
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Going back

ONLY ONE of the four congresswomen attacked in racist remarks by Donald Trump over the weekend was not born in the US. But that matters little to his diehard supporters.

Nor should it. Trump’s attack is hypocritical in the extreme. His own ancestry comprises people who migrated to the US from Germany and Scotland. He built his career as a businessman and celebrity on the strength of a business based in New York – itself a city that has been enriched by a long history of diversity, attracting migrants from all over the world.

It’s a city famous for its Statute of Liberty with the words “Give me your tired, your poor” writ large. Such magnanimity has now been replaced with the chant, led by Trump on Twitter, to “go home.”

Yet, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – all women of colour – are already home. They were all born in the US. Only Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar was not.

Omar arrived in the US at age eight as a refugee of war from Somalia and was naturalised as a US citizen as a child. Think about that for a moment. She was a child who was fleeing war. She arrived in the US and built herself to become not only a model citizen but also a history-making politician. Hers is the quintessential American story, mirroring the lives of Trump’s own ancestors. What is the difference?

The difference, and it is a difference the world is now seeing quite clearly, is Omar’s race. And Occasio-Cortez’s, and Tlaib’s, and Pressley’s.

At a time when there is xenophobia all over the world, when there is widespread condemnation of illegal acts of boundary transgression, to single out hard-working individuals who legally attain entry then give back to their adopted country by offering themselves in public service is a perversion in the extreme. It is to make a mockery of all claims of wanting a “regularised” border with enforcement of clear rules and laws. It is to make plain the real objection is not law and order or concern about crime or fear for the economy. The real concern is race.

This is not to say “The Squad,” as the four outspoken congresswomen have been called, are beyond criticism. But nowhere in the world should racist banter be used to express disagreement on policy. Especially not the White House.

Many of Trump’s supporters, some of whom he riled up at a rally on Wednesday night, fear the supposedly socialist, radical leanings of the four women. They fear the wrong thing. Because of the undisputed prestige and power of the US, Trump’s example has the capacity to fan the flames of hate. His racist tweets have the capacity to send the world back down a terrifying path.

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