““Go back where you came from”.” That’s the favorite insult of American racists. President Donald Trump has used a variation of this insult at least twice. The first time was during a conversation with me, in August 2015. The second time was earlier this July, when Trump attacked four progressive congresswomen.
Once again, Trump is making hate the new normal. If the president says racist things, why would we expect his supporters to refrain from repeating them?
On July 14, Trump went on Twitter to insult Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar, all of whom are members of minority groups. Trump wrote: “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Those words ooze hatred. All four women are U.S. citizens and only one (Omar) was born in another country (Somalia).
In the United States — a nation created by immigrants — the worst way to offend people is to make them feel like they don’t belong, like they’re not welcome. And yet this is precisely the kind of rejection that recent waves of immigrants and minority groups have faced in this country. In 2017, over 44 million foreigners were living in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center. I have no doubt that many of these people have experienced their fair share of discrimination.
On Aug. 25, 2015, I traveled to Dubuque, Iowa, for a news conference with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. At the event, I dared to ask a question about immigration. Trump told me that it wasn’t my turn to speak and that I should “go back to Univision.” Trump knew perfectly well who my employer was, and wasn’t happy about me being there. So he used the same language that racists use.
After one of his bodyguards escorted me out of the room, a Trump supporter pointed his finger at me and said: “Get out of my country!” A few seconds before, Trump had attacked me with racially charged language; witnessing that made his supporter feel empowered, so he insulted me the same way. Hatred is an infectious disease.
The verbal attacks described above are only two of the many instances in which Trump has used racist language. For years he suggested that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.; he likened Mexican immigrants to criminals and rapists during the launch of his presidential campaign; he called Haiti and other African nations “shithole countries”; and he suggested that an American-born judge couldn’t do his job because of his Mexican heritage. In 2017, Trump famously refused to condemn white nationalists who had taken part in a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Trump’s most recent outrage — his attack on the four congresswomen — drew sharp criticism. In response, Trump tweeted: “I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!” We don’t know about his bones. What we do know about are the racist words he says and writes.
Trump’s racist behavior seems to be part of a strategy to boost support among his base and increase turnout for the 2020 presidential election. Many white Americans are concerned about forecasts that whites may become a minority in the United States by 2045. These people are suffering from “white anxiety” — the sense that they’re losing their standing in an increasingly diverse country — and Trump is talking directly to their fears.
Nothing makes an American racist angrier than hearing a foreigner or a person of color say that the United States is “our country.” And yet it most certainly is. It never ceases to amaze me that a country as historically generous toward immigrants as the United States could have a president — born to a foreign mother — who so freely insults people who are different from him.
P.S. to Puerto Ricans: What an amazing job you did! Your successful ousting of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has taught us many important lessons. First, you clearly stated why you didn’t want the governor in office. Second, you focused on uniting the opposition, including artists in that process. Third, you got rid of Rosselló’s main advisers, which made him feel cornered and prevented him from governing. And fourth, you took to the streets and stayed there until your demands were met. It was the most joyful and musical protest I’ve ever seen. Other activists, I’m sure, are taking notes.