It would be corny — and inaccurate — to start this commentary with the phrase, “It was the best of tweets; it was the worst of tweets.”
Actually, neither tweet, as is the President’s wont, was all that great. The eruptions were similar in character and tone — Volcani-Trump, if you will.
But one was highly offensive. One was not. And here’s why.
Presidential Tweet 1 (actually a thread), springing forth a seeming eternity ago in the endless spin of news cycles, was aimed at four freshman Congresswomen “of color.” Which, as the courts say, immediately placed it in a suspect classification subject to strict scrutiny.
In the vernacular: our collective antennae should immediately spring to attention.
Running the tweets in the thread together:
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world … now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough….“
The core objectionable phrase here: “go back.” Which as observed previously, evokes a racist formulation familiar to a previous generation: “Ship them all back to Africa.” Implying that African-Americans were somehow in a class of sub-citizens, not fully American, and not deserving to be here.
That one of these congresswomen, a naturalized American citizen, was actually originally from an African country rendered the offense (intensified in the rally chant, “send her back!”) all the more obvious.
But adding injury to the insult: the other three women did not “originally come” from other countries at all. They were born here. “Our government” is also their government. In fact, they were all duly elected into it — with a majority of the vote (touché).
This vicious attack, in addition to evoking a once-all-too-popular racist phrase, went directly to the ethnic origin of the women targeted. Whether intentionally racist or not (I’m not a mind-reader), its effect was not just offensive, but highly so.
Tweet Thread 2 was also directed toward an African-American — U.S. House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) — and was equally sharply worded:
“Rep, [sic] Elijah Cummings has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous …. As proven last week during a Congressional tour, the Border is clean, efficient & well run, just very crowded. Cumming [sic] District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.“
Let’s deconstruct, shall we?
“Brutal bully.” “Shouting and screaming.” Hmm. Check out some of the headline descriptions of the chairman’s “exchange” with acting Department of Homeland Security head Kevin McAleenan: “Blasts.” “Yells.” “Erupts.” “Explodes.” “Goes ballistic.” Or watch the video and judge for thyself if the president doth exaggerate. Nothing racist in those descriptions. Or in the president’s own parallel characterization.
No, no, one might parry. It wasn’t the attacks on Cummings alone that were racist. It was denigrating his district.
Oh. Ok. Let’s take a look.
“FAR WORSE.” Is Cummings’ district far worse than facilities where overwhelmed Border Agents have been converted into nannies, social workers and guardians of women (who willingly entered the U.S. illegally) and children against unscrupulous coyotes and traffickers? And where they provide beds, clothing, sanitary facilities and supplies, food, water, classes, recreation? There’s a fair argument there.
“More dangerous.” You’ve all heard by now about a city that has one of the highest murder rates in the country and been named the “most robbed.”
“Disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” And all have seen the video of former Mayor Catherine Pugh (driven from office in shame amid a kickback scandal) exclaiming at being able to smell decaying rodents among abandoned row houses. Not to mention the PBS special on the city’s rat infestation.
Well! That word: “infestation.” Supposedly code word for invasion by a foreign and unwanted people. Except that the word traditionally used to denote a pest infestation is — “infestation.”
“(F)ilthy place.” Ask the Baltimore Sun, which wrote just last spring about the city’s “perpetual trash problem.”
Let’s summarize. Tweet Thread 1: a direct assault on the personhood of four women of color that, deliberately or not, echoed past racist epithets and demeaned U.S. citizens as “from” other places. Ugly. Offensive. Reprehensible. And demanding of an apology (that will never be forthcoming).
Tweet Thread 2: a characterization of a politician acting in his capacity as a committee head that barely goes beyond mainstream media descriptions of his behavior. Coupled with an accurate (and in some views, understated) depiction of that politician’s actual home district.
No (undue) harm, no foul. Except the odor from rotting rat flesh and trash.
See the difference?
Bob Maistros, a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist, is of counsel with Strategic Action Public Affairs, and was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, three U.S. Senators, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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