Answering the dog whistle

Donald Trump tweets “why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” and doubles-down by then accusing four sitting members of Congress of hating America (referring to Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, NY; Ilhan Omar, MN; Rashida Tlaib, MI; and Ayanna S. Pressley, MA). Only one of the four, Omar, was born outside the US, and was a refugee fleeing war in Somalia.  

Donald Trump - Caricature by DonkeyHotey“Just leave” is a dog-whistle for white nationalism. Research shows that supporters and opponents of Donald Trump respond differently to racial cues. Simply put: Trump intentionally and incessantly works to make white people angry at minorities, his divisiveness is working. Hate crimes in the U.S. are up, especially in pro-Trump areas and places where he held rallies. His divisive rhetoric was a motivating force for mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand and other hate crimes here and abroad, as cited by the attackers themselves in most cases. A bigoted bully his entire career, openly and unapologetically racist for decades, it is dishonest to pretend there is a debate; then there is the dishonesty of silence.

The breadth of silence of silence from the Republican party (and his rise in Republican voter support shown in subsequent polls) showcases the tacit support of the insinuation that people of color are foreigners. Either Trump speaks for American conservatives or their cowardice is too great to mount any opposition. Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy stands by Trump’s side and nods approvingly with Trump’s messages that minorities are a threat to American safety, values, and people of color do not belong. Majority Senate leader Mitch McConnell, a descendant of slave owners (census records show two of his great-great-grandfathers owned more than a dozen slaves) pretends to be the statesman and tells everyone to calm down, as if Trump should be permitted to engage in all the cruelty and bullying that suits him.

Since the 1780’s the great American Melting-Pot has been an important metaphor. It was used to articulate the blending of different cultures, ethnicity, and nationalities into a single American identity. The logical extension of a true support for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness combined with the acknowledgement of “created equal” that is perhaps best expressed E pluribus Unum—out of many, one—our national motto. 

These time-honored values are not defended by those who truly need to model them, as history shows. In Rwanda, leading to the 1994 genocide, the Hutus failed to defend Tutsis when bigoted leadership called them “cockroaches.” German non-Jews failed to stand up to Hitler as he ramped up in the early 1930s with actions not dissimilar to Trump right now. This is comparable to McCarthy and McConnell failing to correct Trump’s anti-brown bigotry. 

It is not easy to push back against bigotry. In McCarthy’s Bakersfield, CA, where I’m from, I remember the lesson well. In high school in the 90’s “just joking” racism bought me acceptance, and speaking out against pejorative slurs earned me the recognition of “race traitor.” I can tell you every time I spoke out it made a difference, and I slept at night. Even if you didn’t speak out about the “very fine people” neo-Nazis in Charlottesville (Trump’s approving words), you can say something about the concentration camps at the Mexican border; you can defend the Americans being told to leave, we need to be united on this.

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Image: the Donald Trump caricature was created by DonkeyHotey (flickr/CC).

Wim Laven

Wim Laven

Wim Laven, Ph.D. is an instructor of Political Science and International Relations at Kennesaw State University and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.