The Democratic Party is rallying behind three of the most vicious bigots Congress has seen in decades. I am alternately annoyed at the president for engineering this and impressed by his strategic thinking for the same reason.
It truly was obnoxious for the president to suggest that American citizens leave and go somewhere else if they don’t like it here. Obnoxious, but not racist.
These three women came to Congress with the idea that the United States is fundamentally broken, though they themselves celebrate their origins in developing regions. There is nothing wrong with finding the president's weekend tweeting to be offensive, and to suggest they should “go back” is still worse.
But even more so, it is wrong to call this rude reaction racist. To misattribute this to diverse skin tone only needlessly exacerbates our tensions and divisions.
Which leaves us pondering a different question: Why would the president mix into the Democrats' perfect storm?
Until Trump opened up against the four women of the so-called “Squad” — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MN) — progressive and moderate Democrats were headed for an epic falling-out.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had pushed back against Twitter attacks upon her efforts to govern her Democratic caucus. And when Ocasio-Cortez ("AOC") responded by accusing Speaker Pelosi of “singling out ... newly elected women of color,” several members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) castigated AOC for “using the race card.” Democrats discovered what most of us already knew: Cries of racism are bigoted and hateful when used against innocent parties.
For AOC and similar “progressives” with a minority characteristic, the identity defense shields them from all criticism of their ideas. Instead of the race-blind society we so recently hoped to achieve, the “intersectionality” coalition divides America on racial and other minority lines, though with a notable carve-out: Jews are pushed off the minority map, regardless even of whether their families were driven out from Arab countries or were Holocaust survivors.
Remember that Ilhan Omar quite recently claimed that furious responses to her anti-Semitic remarks were “attacks” upon her as a Muslim, black, refugee woman. At that time, Jewish writers with obviously Middle Eastern names and features were castigated for “attacking a woman of color.” No CBC member or other Democratic leader cried foul at that time; on the contrary, even Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) employed the same tactic against President Trump on Omar’s behalf.
But with Speaker Pelosi now targeted by this divisive language and identity politics, the Democratic caucus was ready to finally reject it — until, with just a few damaging tweets, the president closed the Democratic fault line. It is my suspicion that this was intentional.
Bringing Democrats back together leaves only Republicans on the side of Americans sick of being smeared as racist, homophobic, or misogynist simply for having different opinions.
Now Trump can go back to skillfully using the “Squad” to depict all Democrats as similarly leftist and unreasonable. Even his half-baked recollection of Omar “holding her chest out” when she talked about al-Qaeda will work in Republicans' favor. The mainstream media played directly into this, depicting his imperfect recollection as a lie — thus cementing Omar’s reputation as the sort of mainstream left-wing figure whom the media will defend.
America will now carefully revisit her comments from 2013, and observe that if the president didn’t have the details quite right, the accurate version is just as abhorrent. She literally joked about her professor stiffening when he spoke about a terrorist organization such as al-Qaeda or Hezbollah, as compared to a country such as America or England.
She was undoubtedly right — we don’t discuss England with the same “intensity” as we do al-Qaeda. We feel a high level of revulsion when discussing a terrorist organization that murdered thousands of Americans simply because it could; Omar appears to find this amusing.
In recent comments regarding “Palestine,” Omar called out our “hypocrisy in not celebrating non-violent movements there and condemning it.” She said this at roughly the same time that the Hamas Interior Minister celebrated the completion of a new factory for building suicide belts with “off-on detonation switches” that Gazan girls (and boys) can use once they break through Israel’s border fence — and called for Palestinians around the world to slaughter Jews.
Omar’s words will now continue to harm not just the "Squad," but all Democrats. Pelosi needed to distance her caucus for her own self-preservation; polls now show that distaste for AOC and others could return control of the House to Republicans in 2020. Trump’s tweets forced them back into a tight embrace.
It would be better that the Democratic Party itself reject the identity politics and divisiveness of the “progressive” Left, rather than go the way of the U.K.’s Labour Party, which Jewish members and their allies are now abandoning en masse as “toxic.” That already seemed unlikely, but now, at least at present, seems impossible. Mr. President, I only hope it was worth it.
Rabbi Yaakov Menken is Managing Director of the Coalition for Jewish Values.