I smelled the crowd gathered Wednesday night in Greenville, North Carolina, as they cheered and chanted “send her back,” even though I was nowhere near the mob.
I didn’t have to be physically present. Racism’s stink travels too well, enough to be offensive even over the distance that separated me from the white-hot, reeking bodies at President Donald Trump’s odious rally.
Those of us who know its pungent stench can sense it from nearly 300 miles away. We who came of age a half century ago in a segregated South — in my case it was North Carolina, not all that far from Trump’s campaign rally — can feel and be harmed by rank hatred without being in its physical presence. The sensations are always stomach-churning.
As I bore witness to Trump’s rally, albeit via televised news accounts and social media reports, I recoiled with a familiar sense of horror and disbelief. It was as if presumed-dead ghouls had come back from ancient crypts filling the air with what Vincent Price described as “the funk of 40,000 years.”
Apparently, that’s where we are in Trump’s America, a place where nationalist zombies masquerade as patriots and celebrate their white privilege with overtly racist chants led by the president of the United States.
Undaunted by Tuesday’s vote in the House that reprimanded him for spewing racist comments at four congresswomen, Trump led the cheering. He is seemingly convinced that tossing out evermore racist bon mots will be a politically winning formula to ignite his supporters enough to win a second term.
So he fed the mob all the rancid red meat they could swallow.
Trump repeated his demand that Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan leave the country, if they insist on criticizing him and denouncing his administration’s policies.
The women are U.S. citizens. Three of them were born in this country, and Omar, who was born in Somalia, has been a U.S. citizen since she was 17 in 2000.
What they have in common, however, are dark skin, far-left political views and a willingness to engage in combat, tweet-for-tweet, with Trump. By their physical presence and outspokenness, the congresswomen represent the changing face of America that drives Trump and his supporters into racist fanaticism.
This is precisely what Trump wants. To guarantee that his audience comprehends his unmistakable messaging, Trump directed an exceptionally vile dose of deceit at Omar. Before leaving for the rally, he ominously accused her of marrying her brother, off-handedly sharing the spurious claim without any evidence — or shame.
“There’s a lot of talk about the fact that she was married to her brother,” Trump said. “I know nothing about it. I’m sure that somebody would be looking at that.”
After entering the arena at East Carolina University, Trump repeated his unsubstantiated claim that Omar feels greater allegiance to Al Qaeda than to the United States. That lie sent the nearly all-white crowd into its mantra of “Send her back! Send her back!” as an obviously delighted president basked in the bedlam.
Trump went to North Carolina for the primary purpose of escalating his racist attacks against the congresswomen of color and to bolster his reelection hopes. It’s the same racist political ploy that worked in 2016, when Trump directed his hate mongering and divisiveness at Muslims, Mexicans, and other non-white citizens and immigrants. It succeeded barely to eke out an Electoral College victory, but not the majority of the popular vote.
Now, he’s back at it with an even more naked effort to drive Americans apart. Will it work again in 2020? Only if he’s allowed to get away with it by the only people who can curb his racism: his fellow Republicans, who seem uninterested in doing so.
Quite the contrary, news reports suggest, the White House has rallied conservative GOP lawmakers and activist to defend his racist attacks on the four congresswomen, issuing talking points to paint them as un-American and socialists. According to CNN, the president’s aides were first stunned by Trump’s comments, but have since rebounded and surrendered to his will, so much so that “[t]he topic has overtaken West Wing policy sessions as Trump looks to harness what he views as political momentum.”
“I’m not relishing the fight,” Trump told reporters at the White House as he left for North Carolina. “I’m enjoying it because I have to get the word out to the American people. And you have to enjoy what you do. I enjoy what I do.”
What Trump enjoys has become abnormally common and will continue to be so for as long as his fellow Republicans are willing to embrace his modern-day racism, which is rooted in their fear of losing exclusive white dominance over society. The nation’s demography is rushing toward its multicultural, majority-minority future, a prospect that terrifies Trump and apparently far too many white Americans.
Two years ago, in the wake of the deadly white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, I argued that rising racial tensions in America were a reaction to the browning of the nation and that Trump was stoking those tensions for his political advantage. White Americans, specifically those in the Republican Party, must be the ones to stop Trump. Indeed, they’re the only ones with the political power — even if they lack the courage and will — to stop this madness from destroying our nation. I wrote then:
What took place in Charlottesville and the resulting political fallout represents an internecine struggle over the quantity and quality of racism that white Americans want to embrace or tolerate as the nation grows increasingly multicultural. While they are ardent and aggressive activists in the fight against white supremacists and deserve to be heard, members of marginalized communities — African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and women of all colors — are not the primary actors in this unfolding drama. Rather, it is incumbent upon white Americans to accept and deal with the fact that soon the nation will no longer have a white majority population. . . .
For the time being, the fate of the nation rests with the white men of the GOP.
I’m even more convinced of that today than I was in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy because Trump has escalated his racist and divisive political stance, and so many other Republican leaders have gone from mute indifference to vocal support of racism as a political tool.
“SEND HER BACK, SEND HER BACK,” is ugly. It’s ignorant. It’s dangerous. And it’s un-American.
It’s flat out bigotry. And every Republican should condemn this bigotry immediately. Stop this now.
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) July 18, 2019
As former GOP Illinois congressman and current radio talk show host Joe Walsh wrote in The Washington Post, his former House colleagues are increasingly onboard with Trump’s racism.
“The same rudderless politicians who’ve let Trump give plum jobs to unqualified cronies and run up the deficit are too scared of his base to do anything other than comply,” Walsh wrote. “They sold out to him a long time ago, and it’s way too late for his disgraceful tweets to change that. The GOP pledged obedience to a personality instead of allegiance to ideas, and slowly the party and what it stood for are shrinking into nothing.”
The GOP’s affirmation of Trump poses the greatest danger to the nation and its aspirational ideals — far more than trumped-up charges of creeping socialism or, indeed, Trump himself — because Republican leaders must know that what they’re doing is wrong and destructive. Yet, in silence, the GOP gives sustenance to unfettered racism.
Black people, immigrants, Latinx people, LGBTQ folks, non-Christians and other marginalized populations didn’t elect Trump and they can’t alone (or combined) remove his cancerous infection from our nation’s body.
As long as the GOP refuses to exhibit moral courage by standing up to Trump, his diseased racism will spread and, if unchecked, may ultimately plunge the nation into more malodorous depths.