President Donald Trump offered a very, uh, interesting explanation Monday for why his racist tweets over the weekend urging four Democratic congresswomen of color to leave the country weren’t, in fact, racist: He’s not the only one who feels that way.
Here’s Trump’s exchange with a reporter outside the White House:
Reporter: “Does it concern you that many people saw that tweet as racist and that white nationalist groups are finding common cause with you on that point?”
Trump: “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me.”
So, just to take Trump’s word for it: What he said isn’t racist because lots of people agree that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) a) hate America and b) should go back where they came from. (In the case of all but Omar, who was born in Somalia but is a naturalized US citizen, that is America. But I digress…)
Here’s a counter to consider: The people who agree with a racist sentiment like the one Trump issued via Twitter are, in fact, racists. And so, having racists agreeing with you is a confirmation of your racist statement rather than a refutation of it.
Trump, of course, almost certainly didn’t think that deeply about his response to the furor created by his tweets. He just defaulted to his usual “many people are saying” formulation – a now-familiar defense in which the President of the United States suggests, without offering a shred of proof, that he is far from alone in expressing some sort of unpopular sentiment. “Many people” say and think all sorts of things he says and thinks, according to Trump.
The mistake here by Trump – and this, again, is far from the first time he’s made it – is the conflation of his much-touted war against political correctness with what is simply xenophobia and racism. In Trump’s mind, the fact that his tweets have created such a firestorm is evidence that he is freaking out the squares on the left and in the media. That he is simply saying what the average person thinks and, because Democrats and journalists are so out of touch with the average person, they are freaking out and trying to turn it into a negative for him.
But here’s the thing: Trump is right that there are people in the country share his view that women (and men) who look like Ocasio-Cortez or Omar or Pressley should “go back to where they came from.” But those people are racists and xenophobes. He is the President of the United States, a position that has been seen all the way up until Trump took over as a moral beacon to the country. The President’s job is not to elevate the darker natures within our society by finding common cause with them. His or her job is to isolate those people, making clear that their views are odious and unwelcome.
A country in which intolerant – or outright racist – views are justified by the fact that many people carry them is not a country consistent with the Founders’ desire for a more perfect union. And yet, that is the very argument Donald Trump made in front of the White House on Monday.