“If you’re not happy, you can leave.”
Those are the words of an American president, spoken from the steps of the White House this morning. Even for someone like Donald Trump, a man with a long history of bigotry and racism, the scene was breathtaking. This is who he is, and who his supporters are.
“If you’re not happy in the U.S., if you’re complaining all the time—very simply,” he said. “You can leave.”
No one expected the president to walk back the racist tirade he unleashed on social media over the weekend. After three years of Trump, no one believed that congressional Republicans would ever firmly and unambiguously denounce his latest string of bigoted, xenophobic statements. Or evangelical Christians. Or conservatives. Or White House staffers.
That’s not who they are. They are standing with this president because they either agree with him or are content that their own political power is fueled by white supremacy. The few who spoke at all parsed words until they were drained of all meaning. And then, there were the politicians like Sen. Lindsay Graham and cable news pundits like Fox News’s Brit Hume and Katie Pavlich, who audaciously cast aspersions on those who dared to speak up in defense of the common good, those who openly celebrate the inherent value of embracing diversity. They are willing to forego the promise of this nation in order to hitch their wagons to a hate-mongering, chest-thumping demagogue.
While the president’s remarks, laced with bravado and mendacity, were pointed at four freshmen members of Congress—all of whom are women of color—on Monday Trump was speaking to a nation. He stood before a bank of cameras and told us plainly and without pause that he meant every deplorable thing he’d tweeted and that if you don’t like it, get out.
“Does it concern you that many people saw your tweet as racist?” a reporter asked.
Trump, who appears incapable of shame, did not spare a breath before he responded, “It doesn't concern me because many people agree with me.”
I honestly thought his presidency was over the day he defended white supremacists from the lobby of Trump Tower. After a progressive activist was killed in Charlottesville, intentionally struck by a car driven a white nationalist, Trump wanted the world to believe the torch-baring band of alt-right protesters spewing “Jews will not replace us!” were “some very fine people.” I was wrong.
Just after he spoke Monday in Washington, one of those “fine people,” James Alex Fields Jr., was sentenced to life and 419 years for murdering Heather Heyer and injuring others in Charlottesville. But that’s not the sort of person Trump is telling to leave America.
Instead, he aimed his ire at lawmakers who disagreed with his policies, and by extension anyone who agrees with those lawmakers, and urged us to leave the country. Last week, he delivered a similar message to immigrants detained in government-sponsored concentration camps. They should stay in their own country, he said, if they don’t like the inhumane conditions.
Trump has singlehandedly turned Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” into a sewer of malfeasance and cruelty. Rooted in the now defunct Tea Party’s “take our country back” mantra, the message was then and it is now: America—the land of the free and the home of the brave—is for white people.
It was always coming to this. There was always going to be a day when this commander-in-chief demanded a brand of personal loyalty most commonly required by autocrats and dictators. A man who surrounds himself with glad-handing sycophants, Trump has never once publicly admitted a failure of judgment and is unable to brook dissent. He is both uninterested in and incapable of hearing more than one side of an argument or digesting the complexities of public discourse. He cannot grasp the notion that what makes a nation exceptional is its ability to devote its energies to the progress of its people.
All of them.
Presumably buoyed by the fact that he would never be removed from office by the GOP-controlled Senate, even if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved forward with an impeachment inquiry, Trump appears to believe there are no real checks on his powers. He has shown himself more than willing to flout the judiciary and thumb his nose at congressional subpoenas. And who could blame him?
After all, his actions have been celebrated by his political base-- which has shown no significant decline since his inauguration. For them, Trump is simply telling it “like it is” by boldly, unapologetically espousing the politics of white resentment. Reminiscent of men like former Georgia Governor Lester Maddox—who wielded an ax handle to keep African Americans out of his whites-only restaurant—Trump’s revival of Jim Crow-style politicking is openly embraced in certain quarters of the country. While some political prognosticators continue to blame “economic anxiety,” that has always been a fallacy. “Reagan Democrat” was always code for racial intolerance.
And as long as those red hats and t-shirts keep filling arenas around the country, this president will continue pushing the kind of divisive, abhorrent talking points he has become known for. He will forego the opportunity to unify and inspire, preferring instead to instigate and denigrate.
This is who he is, and he has shown himself incapable of anything else.