A politician accused of anti-Semitism. Someone who has been critical of the U.S. and its leaders, often in strong terms. Who advocates positions outside of the American mainstream. Who swears.
These characteristics, President Donald Trump argues, are ones that contribute to his labeling Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and several of her colleagues as “anti-USA,” as he did Tuesday morning.
They are also characteristics that describe Trump.
The president’s disparagements of Omar and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., have been offered only in broad strokes. The group is “anti-Israel, anti-USA, pro-terrorist” and swears, Trump claimed, a group that has said “filthy and hate laced things” — “some of the most vile, hateful, and disgusting things ever said by a politician in the House or Senate.”
Evidence for this is sparse, if not nonexistent. Tlaib once pledged to impeach Trump, using a kid-unfriendly noun about maternal conjugal relations in lieu of his name. Several have spoken out against Israeli politics. None have expressed “pro-terrorist” opinions, though Omar has been the focus of ongoing criticism in the conservative media for past comments that have been presented as overly sympathetic to terror groups.
It’s really Omar who’s the focus of Trump’s rhetoric. His racist assertion over the weekend that the four should go back to their own countries applies only to Omar. It’s Omar who’s been targeted repeatedly for her comments about Israel — comments for which she’s apologized. Trump’s accusations against the rest of the group, all American-born, are broadly and obviously guilt by association for their political alliance with Omar.
Given how incensed he purports to be at her actions, we should see how broadly her actions differ from his own.
Much of the criticism of Omar stems from comments she made on Twitter earlier this year in which she criticized Israeli influence in American politics. In one tweet, in particular, she stated that supporters of Israel on Capitol Hill were motivated by money, spurring condemnation even from her own party — and that eventual apology.
This was not the first time that Omar had been criticized for being anti-Semitic, though. As she was running for Congress last year, an old tweet of hers criticizing Israel surfaced. In it, she said that Israel had “hypnotized the world” and that she prayed people would awaken to see the country’s “evil doings.” When the issue arose, she said that her comments were meant as criticism of “the apartheid Israeli regime.”
Trump, of course, has also faced charges of anti-Semitism. During the campaign, he tweeted an image of his opponent Hillary Clinton over a bed of money. Clinton was pictured beside a six-pointed star calling her corrupt. It was an image created by someone online who had a history of producing anti-Semitic images — but Trump spent several days arguing that, actually, the star was meant to be a sheriff’s star.
He’s also directly drawn a link between money and Jewish politics. At a Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in December 2015, he told gathered donors that they were “not going to support me even though you know I’m the best thing that could ever happen to Israel. And I’ll be that.”
“I know why you’re not going to support me,” he continued. “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. Isn’t it crazy?”
It’s admittedly easy to drop into whataboutism on subjects such as this, and it seems safe to say that Omar’s comments spurred much broader condemnation. Trump’s rhetoric, though, doesn’t end at the boundaries of anti-Semitism. He has, both during his campaign and as president, made comments and taken actions that are more broadly disparaging of racial and religious groups — including Muslims such as Omar, who Trump proposed banning from the country.
Criticism of America
Omar has, in fact, been critical of American politics. Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported on her unique approach to the country’s politics and culture, noting that she’s offered criticism of her adopted country that “had failed to live up to its founding ideals, a place that had disappointed her and so many immigrants, refugees and minorities like her.” This line prompted Fox News’s Tucker Carlson to lash out at Omar as an exemplar of the threat posed by immigrants. (She was born in Somalia and migrated to the U.S. as a refugee at age 10.)
The article goes on to note the specific subjects with which Omar took issue: racial disparities, uneven criminal justice, the U.S.’s foreign policy history and interventions. Not criticisms of the country as such but, instead, of its political choices.
Trump has his own track record of much more direct criticism of the United States. While Barack Obama was president, Trump declared that political correctness had led the United States to lose “all sense of direction or purpose.” That “[o]ur country and our ‘leaders’ are getting dumber all the time.” That the country had become “stupid.” That the country had never looked “weaker or more pathetic.”
It was one year ago Tuesday, in fact, that Trump stood next to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland and declared that the U.S. had been “foolish” in its handling of its relationship with Russia.
Trump would argue that his criticisms were focused on decisions made and policies offered by Obama and other Democrats. Omar would certainly argue that her own criticisms were about policies and, of course, the country’s current leadership.
Giving aid and comfort to our enemies
During an event at the White House on Monday, Trump declared that Omar had talked about “how wonderful al-Qaida is” and that she’d diminished the Sept. 11 attackers as “some people.”
The former is flatly untrue, as CNN has documented. The latter derives from a speech Omar gave at a fundraiser for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. She was praising CAIR for standing up for civil rights in the tightened security atmosphere that emerged after those attacks.
She noted that Trump himself had fostered an atmosphere of hostility toward Muslims and said that Muslims should be tired of living with “the discomfort of being a second-class citizen.” CAIR was founded after the attacks, she said, “because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”
Trump later tweeted out a snippet of that speech focused on “some people” and juxtaposed it with footage from the attack on the World Trade Center.
“When she talked about the World Trade Center being knocked down, ‘some people’,” he said Monday. “You remember the famous ‘some people’?” He again extended that criticism out to Omar’s allies: “These are people that, in my opinion, hate our country. Now, you can say what you want, but get a list of all of the statements they’ve made — and all I’m saying, that if they’re not happy here, they can leave.”
Trump himself has faced criticism for his overly friendly approach toward America’s traditional geopolitical opponents — such as Russia and North Korea — and his hostility toward or tensions with long-standing allies such as NATO members.
As far as we can tell, Omar hasn’t sworn about Trump. She’s being looped into Trump’s criticism of Tlaib, just as Tlaib’s getting swept into his criticisms of Omar.
It’s almost too obvious to note that Trump himself is no stranger to vulgarities. Last year, he referred to African and Caribbean countries as “shithole countries” in a meeting with Democratic leaders. He said he would bomb the “shit” out of the Islamic State. He said that businesses seeking to return to the United States from overseas should be told to “go [mouths the F word] themselves.”
Clearly much of the portrayal of Omar as un-American stems from her support for policies with which Trump disagrees. He and his allies have pointed to criticism of the handling of migrants at the border as an example of how the Democrats oppose the country. During the event Monday, Trump suggested more broadly that the group is socialist — if not communist — and therefore antithetical to the United States.
But most Americans view Trump and many of his policies in a negative light. The wall on the border with Mexico, for example, is opposed by 55% of Americans according to a June Fox News poll. His handling of immigration broadly is viewed negatively, according to Post-ABC News polling, as is his handling of gun violence, health care, foreign policy and climate change.
A CNN-SSRS poll conducted in June showed that 62% of respondents disagreed with how the administration is handling migrants at the border — closer to the position of Omar and her allies than to that of Trump.
Religion and culture
Where Omar differs distinctly from Trump is in her religion, race and background. While Trump, like Omar, married an immigrant to the U.S. and is the child of an immigrant, Omar is black and a Muslim. Trump gained prominence among Republicans, in part, thanks to his insistence that Obama was not born in the U.S. — an obviously false claim that was centered on perceptions of Obama as being different from how many white Americans viewed typical Americans.
This isn’t specific to Trump. The Washington Post’s Michael Tesler wrote on Tuesday about how whiteness and Americanness often overlap in Americans’ perceptions. A quarter of Republicans told pollsters working for PRRI that being of Western European heritage was essential to being American. Another 63% said that being born in America was.
Omar’s foreignness is obviously central to Trump’s criticisms. When he loops the other Democrats into his criticism, it, too, hinges in part on their own identities — especially once you consider just how weak are his arguments against them.
Particularly since those arguments could just as easily be applied to him.