US president Donald Trump’s days-long attack on four non-white American Congresswomen is turning into a galvanizing moment in his presidency.
After tweeting July 14 that the women, who are all US citizens—three of them were born in the US—should “go back” to where they came from, Trump dug in his heels and ramped up the attacks this week in remarks at the White House, and again during a campaign rally in North Carolina. He continued yet again this morning, calling Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar “foul-mouthed” on Twitter.
Trump’s continued attacks on these women is tearing up the nation. Some Republicans back his “critics should be deported” message. Others have have criticized him, and even said they are leaving the party. Trump’s comments have been condemned overseas as bordering on fascism, in a vote by House Democrats, and by a growing number of disgusted Americans who previously tried to avoid the minefield of politics.
Trump is “hitting on the rawest nerve in American politics and American history,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist who advises southern Congressional politicians.
The four Congresswomen he targeted, referred to as “the Squad”—Ayanna Pressley from Massachusetts, New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Minnesota’s Omar, and Rashida Tlaib from Michigan—have a message of their own. Trump’s racist words are against everything America is supposed to stand for, they say, and what’s more, most Americans recognize that fact.
“Our squad is big,” Pressley said in a July 15 press conference, alongside the other three congresswomen. “Our squad includes any person committed to building a more equitable and just world…And given the size of this squad and this great nation, we cannot, we will not, be silenced.”
What is America: the “squad” or the crowds that were chanting “send her back” at Trump’s last rally? The grand experiment that is the United States has historically been an uneasy mixture of both.
But demographic and social data points offer some clues that the future might favor one side more than the other.
An American telling another they should “go back” to where they came from is textbook racism. A US government manual that defines illegal discrimination actually uses the phrase as an example.
It is also, at least as far as demographics are concerned, about to become seriously outdated. That’s because white people will be the minority in the US in less than a quarter century, according to an analysis of US census projections. About 70% of the population will see that shift in their lifetimes.
For many states and demographic groups, this shift has already happened. Texas, for example, became “minority-majority,”—meaning white people are in the minority—all the way back in 2011. Hawaii, California, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia were already there.
By 2022, Hispanics alone will outnumber whites in Texas, which explains why Texas Republicans were particularly upset with Trump’s attacks. In fact, the tipping point from majority white to “minority-majority” for people under 18 across the US will likely occur some time in 2020, just in time for the next presidential election.
This near-majority has no time or patience for antiquated American racism. After Trump’s attacks, minorities across the US began sharing their own stories of when they were told to “go back to where you came from.”
The insult was hurled at Texas state representative Armando Walle when he campaigned in 2008, he told the Texas Tribune. David Nakamura, a White House correspondent, was heckled with “Go back to China” while playing sports as a kid in Virginia (his father is Japanese-American). Ami Mistry, a second-generation Indian American, was told to “go back to Iraq” during the 1991 Gulf War, she told the Los Angeles Times.
“President Trump motivates and encourages this xenophobia,” wrote Justin Amash, the Michigan Congressman and son of a Palestinian refugee who recently left the Republican Party. “It has gotten exponentially worse since 2015.”
Republican strategists know that Trump’s racist rhetoric is hurting the Republican Party.
The racist tweets might be the “worst thing he’s ever done,” one GOP advisor told the normally pro-Trump Washington Examiner. A primary concern is that the president’s behavior might alienate the suburban white women who helped elect him in 2016. The long-term impact could be worse than Trump’s defense of white supremacists after their 2017 “United the Right” rally turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia, GOP strategists say.
The data shows that Trump’s presidency has pushed some Americans away from the Republican Party, while the number of Americans who “lean Democratic” has risen at the same time, according to the Pew Research Center.
Right now, more Americans identify as “independent” or “lean independent” than anything else, according to the latest Gallup poll taken in June, before Trump’s insults.
Ahead of the 2018 midterm election, Trump campaigned on a similarly hateful message. At one point, for example, he called some immigrants “animals.” Adjusted for the strength of the economy, Republicans led by Trump suffered the worst midterm loss of any sitting president in 100 years, JP Morgan concluded.
Republicans lost the independent vote nationally by 12 points—a clear rejection of his message.
Pro-Trump media outlets and talking heads have rallied around the “dangers of diversity” argument since the 2016 election to spread their anti-immigration message. But the message is not getting through to most Americans.
An overwhelming majority told Pew in May that it is “very good” or “somewhat good” that the US is a diverse country. In fact, most Americans feel positive about the US becoming a minority white country, a June 2018 poll shows. Whether this positivity stems from their own diversity or the fact that most white Americans just aren’t as racist as Trump, the divisive rhetoric is unlikely to inspire more voters to join team Trump.
The percentage of Americans who think immigration is good for the country is also on the rise, despite the constant drumbeats from the White House and Fox News about its ills:
Nearly 60% of Americans believe race relations are “generally bad” in the US, according to a 2019 Pew Research poll.
There’s a reason for that increasing concern. More than half of the people in the same poll said they think Trump has made race relations worse—not a ringing endorsement for a president in a country that has traditionally identified as welcoming to immigrants and is increasingly made up of minorities.
The percentage of Americans who are satisfied with the way minorities are treated in the country has declined since 2016, and hit record lows during Trump’s presidency, according to Gallup polling.
That decline pre-dates Trump’s election, and is particularly steep when it comes to the treatment of black Americans:
And support for programs designed to make things more equitable has reached new heights of popularity. In 2001, 47% of Americans expressed support for affirmative action programs, now 61% do, according to a Gallup poll released earlier this year.
Just over half of Americans think the government “spends too little on improving conditions for Black Americans,” according to a 2019 AP/University of Chicago survey. That’s a record high since the 1970s, when the survey started.
Based on these numbers, Trump’s racist rhetoric is hastening a collective awakening. He may be energizing some of his base with his attacks, but he’s also energizing those that reject them. The data indicates that group—what Pressley refers to as the larger “squad”—is likely much larger.
Americans overwhelmingly say that the tone of political debate in the country has become more negative since Trump’s election.
About 56% of Americans say Trump has made race relations in the US worse, and 58% believe since he was elected it has become more common for people to express racist or racially insensitive views, a Pew poll conducted earlier this year found.
Even before his latest attacks, sizable majorities of Americans said they found Trump’s divisive remarks confusing, embarrassing, and exhausting.
Americans, and particularly the white ones, do not like to think of themselves as racist—this contradicts the national rhetoric of equality that the US promotes in its Constitution, laws, and lore. Even the president claimed, in between attacks on the Squad, that “there isn’t a racist bone” in his body. But the attacks continue to bring the issue to the forefront of the national conversation.
Marianne Williamson, the Democratic candidate and self-help guru, called the current situation a national “identity crisis.”
Based on all these numbers, it seems the so-called “squad” is indeed large, as Pressley noted. Whether or not this majority will get a leader who reflects these values will be determined in 2020.