Trump’s recent Twitter rants against Rep. Elijah Cummings and the women of the Squad represent an intensification of his regime’s appeal to white supremacy. The president has made it clear that he does not consider Black legislators as having the right, or the power, to govern.
Trump tweeted that Rep. Elijah Cummings’ Baltimore district was “a disgusting rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.” He encouraged Cummings to “spend more time in Baltimore” rather than carrying out the duties of oversight that his constituents and peers entrusted to him.
Before that, it was the Squad: four young, outspoken, progressive women of color, newly elected to the House of Representatives. Trump attacked them as outsiders, upstart foreigners “viciously telling the people of the United States… how our government is to be run.” As he later would with Rep. Cummings, he suggested that they “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Reminiscent of the birther conspiracy he peddled during his first presidential bid, these attacks fuse Trump’s racist and xenophobic vision of American “greatness” with a running attack on his political enemies.
“Go back where you came from”; “spend more time in Baltimore.” This is just Trump-speak for the old message of Jim Crow: learn your place.
People of color might get elected, Trump is telling us; they might be entrusted by their constituents and legislative peers with the duty of making laws and supervising the executive branch–but they won’t be allowed to govern. A Black legislator can issue no subpoena, launch no investigation, make no criticism, that a white president is bound to respect.
Racism has functioned, from the beginning, to bar people of color from democratic participation in order to secure the wealth and power of a tiny minority of big capitalists. Trump’s attacks on Rep. Cummings and the Squad fit neatly into this pattern, as does the program of gerrymandering and voter suppression that has been at the core of Republican strategy for the past decade and more.
But there is something else at work here, too–not just racism, but the racialization of political ideology. By associating progressive Black and Latinx legislators with images of poverty and violence, Trump taps into white supremacy to disqualify progressive and socialist ideas.
He targets the Squad as “‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen” before claiming that they came here from corrupt, violent foreign hellholes to “loudly and viciously” tell Americans how to run a country. (Rep. Ilhan Omar arrived as a refugee from Somalia at age 10; Reps. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib are U.S.-born.)
Similarly, and equally falsely, he claims Rep. Cummings’ Baltimore district “is considered the worst run and most dangerous anywhere” before alleging that federal money spent on it has been wasted or stolen. As usual, Trump takes an old right-wing talking point (social welfare programs don’t help low-income people of color…) and dials up its latent white supremacy, blaming urban poverty on Black political leadership.
His message is clear: Progressive ideas are dangerous and foreign. They will ruin this great country. They are embraced by dark-skinned people who don’t belong here, who don’t know their place, who hate America, who should go back where they belong…
It is a message that has been repeated, over the past 150 years, by a chorus of hooded Klansmen and howling lynch mobs, by vigilantes who break up union meetings and attack picket lines, by demagogues from Coughlin and McCarthy to Nixon, Reagan, and Trump. But its origin is always the same: the secret whisper of the ruling class, relayed and amplified by anyone it can hire, coerce, or trick into defending its interests against the forces of democracy and social progress.
Trump’s latest attacks are no exception. His attacks on Rep. Cummings and the Squad show us a president whose contempt for people of color is matched only by his disdain for democracy–a man who sees himself as not only above the law, but above the people and their elected representatives.
“Racism chains both,” says an old CPUSA poster. It reflects our understanding that white supremacy is the most dangerous weapon of the U.S. capitalist class. While it exacts the heaviest toll from people of color, it harms all working class people, including white workers. It normalizes inequality and justifies attacks on democracy, such as Trump’s attempt to disqualify and banish his most outspoken critics. It divides the vast working class majority, rather than uniting us around our common interest in the struggle for a humane, sustainable, and truly democratic society.
The path to that society is a long one, but the next step is clear. There is an angry racist in the White House, loudly and viciously telling the American people how to destroy this country. Donald Trump and his regime must go, and the Republican Party and its corporate backers must go with him. A decisive defeat of neo-Confederate reaction, and nothing less, can open the way to democracy and socialism.