Last month the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, continued his longstanding pollution of the American public speech arena with toxic racism when he sophomorically tweeted that four duly-elected Democratic Congresswomen should “go back [where you come from] and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
All four congresswomen are women of color (people of color being the favorite racist targets of this dysfunctional and historically illiterate president)—three of whom were born in the United States.
Racist Rhetoric Aimed at Immigrant Community
Trump, the original author of “fake news” (the Obama “birther conspiracy” as an example) has never been a fan of facts. They seem to get in the way of his own peculiar notions of truth which, more often than not, turn out to be bald faced lies—nothing of serious consequence to those people who worship at the altar of his deranged social and political ideology.
University of Houston Professor Jennifer Wingard, an expert on intolerant rhetoric aimed at immigrant communities, recently told NPR that this Trumpian-like rhetoric has racist roots dating back to 1798 in this country. Professor Wingard said it was that year when Congress passed the collective Alien and Sedition Acts that made it more difficult for immigrant entry into the United States and easier to deport those already here.
“The legislation is actually constructed for the ability to remove immigrants who are saying things against the U.S. government,” she told NPR.
Saying these kinds of laws reemerge in tumultuous political climates like the Great Depression, Spanish-American War, and the 9/11 twin towers attacks, Professor Wingard added that, “we are starting to see different political parties and different politicians arguing for different ways that the government should be run. And it just happened that politically, they could try to maintain and try to withhold the status quo by putting it on the backs of immigrants.”
Professor Wingard said this sort of xenophobia is called a “palimpsest”—a “fancy theoretical term” that explains when a text has been either erased or altered while continuing “to bear many of the markings and meanings largely concealed beneath the new writing.”
Palimpsest are “sentiments we have [had] over centuries,” Wingard explained, “but then they get repurposed for the current moment – and a phrase like [Trump’s racist taunt “go back from where you came”] becomes like a shorthand for anti-immigrant sentiment. You know, ‘go back where you come from’ is the same as ‘go back to your own country’ is the same as ‘you are not allowed here’ is the same as ‘no immigrants allowed.’ Yet it carries all this shorthand with it.”
Racist Rhetoric Post 911
This kind of racist, xenophobic rhetoric was particularly present in the America in the wake of what has become known as “9/11” in this country.
Mohammed Rafiq went to work for a car dealership in Conroe, Texas in May 2001. Born in India, Rafiq was a practicing Muslim. He arrived at his workplace in the same normal manner and time as he always had on September 11, 2001—the day of the Twin Tower terrorist attacks. Most of his co-workers and managers were watching the horrific events unfold through television news coverage.
Racist Hostile Work Environment
These fellow employees began making a series of racist, xenophobic comments implying that he had “participated in some way in the terror attacks against the United States.” In the ensuing days and weeks, these fellow employees began calling Rafiq “Taliban” despite his repeated requests that they not do so.
The racist attacks only escalated, especially after Rafiq refused to attend a “United Way” meeting at his workplace. He was called a “Muslim extremist” and a “militant,” not to mention an array of other physical and psychological harassment.
Rafiq ultimately filed a workplace harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in August 2003. The EEOC then filed a “hostile work environment” action against the car dealership based on “religion and national origin” authorized under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A federal district court summarily dismissed the EEOC’s complaint.
The EEOC appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In August 2007, the appeals court reversed the lower court based on these conclusions:
“Applying the totality of the circumstances test, we conclude that the EEOC has presented sufficient evidence to create an issue of fact as to whether the harassment that Rafiq suffered was so severe or pervasive as to alter a condition of his employment. The evidence showed that Rafiq was subjected to verbal harassment on a regular basis for a period of approximately one year. During that time, Rafiq was constantly called ‘Taliban’ and referred to as an ‘Arab’ by Kiene and Argabrite, who also mocked his diet and prayer rituals. Moreover, Rafiq was sporadically subjected to additional incidents of harassment, such as his co-workers’ comments on September 11, 2001, which suggested that he was somehow involved in the terrorist attacks against the United States; Kiene’s statement that Rafiq should ‘just go back where [he] came from;’ and Swigart’s October 16, 2002 written warning, which stated that Rafiq was acting like a ‘Muslim extremist.’ Finally, Argabrite frequently banged on the glass partition of Rafiq’s office, in order to startle him. As noted above, in the context of Argabrite’s other actions toward Rafiq, a factfinder could reasonably conclude that this conduct was also motivated by animus stemming from Rafiq’s religion and national origin …
“In addition, the evidence is sufficient to show that the harassment Rafiq suffered was based on his religion and national origin. First, some of the alleged harassment dealt specifically with Rafiq’s Muslim faith, including: (1) mocking comments about his dietary restrictions and prayer rituals; (2) Swigart’s written comment that Rafiq was acting like a “Muslim extremist;” (3) Kiene’s statement to Rafiq that ‘We don’t want to hear about your religious beliefs’ even though Rafiq was not even talking about them at the time; (4) Kiene’s question to Rafiq, ‘Why don’t you go back to where you came from since you believe what you believe?’; and (5) Swigart’s statement to Rafiq, ‘This is America. That’s the way things work over here. This is not the Islamic country where you came from.’ Also, a factfinder could reasonably infer that the comments suggesting that Rafiq was (1) involved in the September 11th terrorist attacks and (2) a member of the Taliban because he, like members of the Taliban, was Muslim, were based on his religion.”
Racist, Xenophobic Rhetoric Violates Title VIII
In effect, President Trump’s bigoted, racist, and xenophobic harassment of the four Congresswomen pushed the envelope up to the very edge of being a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by creating a “hostile [federal] work environment” as both he and the four Congresswomen are federal employees.
But it is the more sinister “send her back” chant Trump inspired at a recent North Carolina political rally that challenges the moral fiber of this nation—a chant that the president did not condemn or refute, and, in fact, said the crowd hollering the racist chant were “incredible patriots.”
This chant is more akin to President Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback” that swept up more than 1.3 million Mexican migrants and forcibly returned them to Mexico in the 1950s. It was the nation’s worst “mass deportation,” despite the fact that 60 percent of those deported were Mexican nationals who were American citizens.
Racist, Xenophobic Rhetoric Violates American Promise
This country must come to terms with the stark reality that it now has a president whose rhetoric is linked to at least one of the two recent “mass shootings” that have killed innocent people, traumatized families and spread fear throughout the communities targeted by Trump. Whether there is a causal link between Trump’s constant racist, xenophobic rants and the El Paso massacre continues to be debated by his supporters, the president’s public appeals to the darker stone of racism are dangerous enough to force former President Barack Obama to condemn them.
One thing is certain: the public record is littered with excoriating evidence that President Trump is devoid of either a moral or legal compass. He is the most dangerous person to occupy the White House since President Andrew Jackson—a corrupt, murderous thug whom Trump admires as a “great president,” the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and its infamous “Trail of Tears” aftermath notwithstanding.