That may well be your first question when it comes to posts dedicated to what, unfortunately, is just par for the course when it comes to dangerously careless comments from the man who currently occupies the highest office on the planet.
I would argue that the answer to that question has changed over the past year, and the character of that evolution is what makes it almost obligatory that we document the president’s recent attacks on Ilhan Omar.
There was a time when Donald Trump’s broadsides against political rivals devolved so far into cartoon territory that they could “safely” be ignored – to the extent it’s possible and/or advisable to ignore the (loud) rantings of a sitting US president.
For instance, in October of 2017, Trump called Bob Corker “Liddle Bob” who “couldn’t get elected dog catcher”, to which Corker responded that someone needed to “alert the daycare staff” because the child in the Oval Office was throwing another tantrum. At the time, it seemed surreal that a Republican president would publicly lambast a prominent GOP lawmaker in such a puerile fashion, but by comparison to what we’ve all witnessed since, the “Liddle’ Bob” days seem decidedly tame – dare I say “harmless”.
On Friday, Trump took his attacks on Rep. Omar to the “logical” extreme, posting a video on Twitter featuring a soundbite (taken out of context) from a speech she gave late last month followed by graphic images of 9/11. The president’s tweet served to amplify a New York Post cover which featured the same quote juxtaposed with a still shot of a plane combusting as it scythed through one of the Towers.
Trump’s Friday tweet caused extreme consternation, especially considering the FBI arrested a Trump supporter earlier this month for calling Omar’s office and threatening to kill her.
It wasn’t the first time Trump has taken aim at Omar. The president has variously accused her of being an anti-Semite (an ironic comment from a man who has faced withering criticism for his failures to condemn white nationalism and, in some cases, for failing to explicitly condemn actual neo-Nazis), a message conservative media have been keen to parrot. Trump also suggested that Omar “hates America” during a wild CPAC rant on March 2, prompting the crowd to shout her name.
Lawmakers have variously decried Trump’s tweet, not only for the extent to which it implicitly encouraged violence against a sitting US congresswoman, but also for the obvious dog-whistling effect it has in terms of promoting Islamophobia.
On Monday, Omar said threats against her life have increased since Trump’s tweet which she says was directly referenced by those doing the threatening. To wit:
We are all Americans. This is endangering lives. It has to stop. pic.twitter.com/gwB2kDUIRp
— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan) April 15, 2019
Yes, “it has to stop.”
But it won’t stop.
In fact, it’s only going to get worse, something Trump himself underscored on Monday while in Minnesota for a “business roundtable”. Watch the following clip:
Do note that the reporter gave him an out there. The question wasn’t so much whether Trump regretted the whole tweet, but rather if he had any second thoughts “about the way the tweet was produced and put together.” Trump’s response:
No, not at all. Look, she’s been very disrespectful to this country, she’s been very disrespectful to Israel, she is somebody who I think, uhh, doesn’t really understand life.
In addition to being wholly insufficient as a response when someone asks you whether it was a good idea to tie a sitting congresswoman to the 9/11 attacks, the idea that Omar “doesn’t really understand life” is comically ridiculous. Omar is a Somali refugee and mother of three who recalls her childhood during the Somali civil war as follows:
My earliest memories, any unhappy memories that I have, are deeply rooted in feeling extremely tuned in to the noise of the mortar falling—the noise that it makes as it takes off and the noise that it makes when it is landing close to you. I have vivid memories of the bodily reactions that you have as you contemplate whether you get under the bed, and if that will keep you safe or if that’s going to crush you, and maybe you should just stand by a wall.
Although her family was well-to-do in Mogadishu, the war landed Omar in a refugee camp in Kenya when she was just seven years old.
Contrast that with Donald Trump’s upbringing and then explain how exactly it is that Omar is the one who “doesn’t really understand life.”
As we suggested over the weekend, Trump’s America is morphing from farcical reality show to something that approximates a burgeoning autocracy. His implicit call to violence against Omar and his efforts to equate all Muslims with violent Sunni extremists represent one of Trump’s boldest moves yet to test the boundaries – to determine just how far gone Americans and their elected representatives are in terms of abiding a demagogue with designs on instituting one-man rule, silencing debate and quashing dissent through coercion, fear and, if necessary, violence.
This is a perilous, perilous path – and nobody seems to fully appreciate how far down it America has already traveled. Indeed, Trump himself doesn’t appear to understand it.
Incidentally, The New Yorker has an excellent take on the effort to silence and ostracize Omar and why it matters. You can read it in full here, but the following passage is particularly germane:
It doesn’t take much imagination to see Trump’s tweet as an invitation to aggression. Speaker Pelosi responded with a tweet of her own, demanding that Trump take down his and also noting that she had spoken to the congressional sergeant-at-arms to insure that necessary protection is provided to Omar. She seemed to see the threat of violence against Omar as real and immediate.
But something was pointedly missing from Pelosi’s tweet, and from most of the coverage of Omar and her words: an expression of solidarity with her position, or at least with the congresswoman herself. Pelosi’s tweet pointedly called for protection but didn’t offer a defense. None of the Democratic leadership has chosen to do the one thing that can prevent bullying and political violence: none of them is standing with Omar.