In a not-so-surprising move for many, US President Donald Trump is being criticised after yet another Twitter tirade. The target this time? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar, four Congresswomen of colour, who were told to, among other things, “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places” from which they “originally came from”. The outburst has been widely described as racist.
It must be noted that none of the four congresswomen were explicitly named, but it was immediately apparent who the tweets referred to. Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Pressley, and Omar, sometimes referred to as ‘the Squad’, had previously clashed with speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, regarding the migrant detention centres at the US border.
What triggered the outburst?
Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Pressley testified to a House committee regarding the conditions at the centres, describing them as “inhumane”. The Trump administration firmly denies this. Mike Pence, reporting on his recent visit to some of the centres, tweeted that those detained are treated with “compassionate care”, and that “excellent care [is] being provided to families and children” in the centres.
Three of the four women that the tweets were directed at – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley – were born in the United States, with Ocasio-Cortez being born a mere 12 miles from the hospital in which Trump himself was born. Ilhan Omar fled to the US as a refugee aged 12, and became a US citizen in 2000, when she was 17 years old.
It does not need to be said then, that Trump’s claim of the women not being from the US is untrue.
What was the response?
The Squad responded to the Twitter thread in a press conference on Monday evening. Ayanna Pressley urged the public “not to take the bait” and let Trump distract from “the callous, chaotic and corrupt culture of this administration.”
Ilhan Omar noted that “This is the agenda of white nationalists… and now it’s reached the White House.”
Omar also suggested that Trump needed to be impeached, which Rashida Tlaib seconded. “I urge House leadership, many of my colleagues, to take action to impeach,” she said.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that “The president can’t defend his policies, so what he does is attack us personally.
“I want to tell children across the country is that no matter what the president says, this country belongs to you. And it belongs to everyone,” she added.
When the floor was opened for questions, one of the very first was directed at Omar, who is Muslim. The journalist asked her to address “rumours” that she is a communist, and that she is associated with al-Qaeda. Trump has furthered this rhetoric, claiming in an interview: “I hear the way she talks about Al Qaeda […] I hear the hatred they have for Israel and the love they have for enemies like Al Qaeda.”
Whilst a blatantly Islamophobic question, the congresswomen replied calmly, stating that “every Muslim who has lived in this country and across the world has heard that comment, and so I will not dignify it with an answer.”
Did Trump back down?
In typical fashion, the short answer to that is no. In fact, the president doubled down. Whilst the press conference was occurring, Trump logged back into Twitter, posting a further diatribe, full of block-capital sentences, (“IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE, YOU CAN LEAVE!”, “Certain people HATE our Country….”) unproven and untruthful claims (“They [Democrats] are anti-Israel, pro Al-Qaeda,” and “want Open Borders, which means drugs, crime, human trafficking, and much more….”), and deflecting (“The Obama Administration built the Cages, not the Trump Administration!”).
On Tuesday morning, he started again, claiming that “The Democrat Congresswomen have been spewing some of the most vile, hateful, and disgusting things ever said by a politician,” and that they should apologise for saying “filthy and hate laced things”. He repeated the claims that the congresswomen are anti-Isreal, anti-USA, and pro-terrorist – an obvious pushing of his latest anti-Democrat narrative.
What did the international community say?
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that “the language which was used to refer to the women was completely unacceptable.” Frontrunners for her position when she steps down, Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson, also condemned the tweets, though both refused to acknowledge whether they were racist or not.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Radio New Zealand: “Usually, I don’t get into other people’s politics. But it will be clear to most people that I completely and utterly disagree with him.”
Canada’s Justin Trudeau stated: “I think Canadians and indeed people around the world know what I think of those particular comments. That’s not how we do things in Canada. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.” The same cannot be said for the United States anymore – there will be many questioning whether an American is an American.