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    Offensive: Playing the Trump Card

    By Andrea Shorter–

    No more pretending, equivocating, debating, or hemming and hawing about it: Trump is a racist.

    Trump’s escalated attacks against four women of color newly elected to the U.S. House of Representatives are the latest of his decades-long career of fully intentional racially divisive actions. His tweeted suggestion that these four duly elected members of Congress and critics of his so-called policies should “go back and fix the totally broken and crime infested places” of their implied foreign origins has taken us as a nation to a very, very dangerous place.

    There is deep hurt, history, unambiguous intent and meaning packed into those few words:  “go back to.” I don’t know of any person of color over age 10 who hasn’t heard these words visited upon them. These words are vile weapons of nativists, racial supremacists and fascists.

    As an African American woman over 50 years old, it is damn near impossible to have come this far in one’s life NOT to have encountered or experienced first-hand “go back where you came from,” “go back to Africa,” “love it or live it,” or other similar cutting denigrations meant to put you, as a non-white person, in your place.

    He essentially is saying: My own European, Scandinavian, Slavic or whatever lineage is of no concern to you—all you need to know is that you’re not white like me. Therefore, you’re not and will never be a real American. You don’t belong here, no matter what you do—including service in our Armed forces or election to office—you’ll always be alien. You’re here on this land, in this park, on this sidewalk, at this school, in these halls of power because we allowed you to be here. Most importantly, as a non-white inferior being, your job is to be servile and subservient to our will. No dissent allowed. So shut up, keep your head down, and shuffle on along back to whatever school, state or country you came from. Be grateful that our blessed powers have allowed you to exist at all.

    As a career racist, Trump surely did not know or understand the potency of aiming this missile in his attack against the congressional members, and the outrage it would incite—including quickly becoming a nifty campaign trail rally call for his followers.

    That’s the whole point. That’s the Trump card, right?

    Political punditry dictates that, with nothing to show for his three years as president beyond a multiplicity of investigations, charges of high crimes and misdemeanors, and possible impeachment, his big time strategy is to double down on racist, nativist, white nationalist flag waving to solidify a small base of support of white folks with cultural anxieties and fears of becoming the minority population to an eventual majority of non-white people. Simple enough, right? After all, it worked well enough before. If it ain’t broke … .

    I maintain that you could see Trump’s real play coming from miles away. Seizing upon the entry of democratic socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into the 2020 race for president, and other candidates quickly adopting his once considered left of the left policy positions on healthcare, re-alignment of wealth, etc., during his 2019 State of the Union address before the Congress, Trump stated clearly as the core point of his address:

    “Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country,” he said. “America was founded on liberty and independence—not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free, and we will stay free … . Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”

    In that moment, the art of a dirty deal in the race for the White House was revealed.

    Trump’s going directly after Senator Sanders as a “crazy” socialist is one thing. It was never likely that we would hear the president suggest that Sanders, the preeminent democratic socialist, “go back” to where he came from. Why not? Perhaps it’s age, race, ethnicity, and just simply not taking a once failed contender for the presidency seriously. Socialism as expressed, defined and proposed by the Senator is received as intellectual, abstract discourse.

    The Trump card in play is to formulate a triangulation between majority-minority/cultural anxieties, socialism, and is counting on Democrats’ inability to clearly divorce or defend their positions as not socialist. It aims to:

    1. equate the young (all likely to be in elected leadership for a good long while) women of color (one an immigrant Muslim from Somalia) elected to the Congress, with espousals of “radical anti-liberty, anti-freedom” socialist ideas, critiques, and solutions to complex domestic challenges as the embodiment of the ultimate alien, ungrateful non-white others, a real material threat compared to the abstract, intellectual threat presented by Sanders;
    2. force the Democrats to embrace and come to the defense of their new progressive colleagues following a def-con five charged racial trope—”go back to where you came from”—grounding them further into racial minority identity politics, to which they are clearly fluent;
    3. and to force democratic presidential candidates to defend policy proposals and platforms as extreme, socialist or near enough socialist (by Trump’s terms), representing an ideological, material and existential threat to status quo not only to his core base, but also to moderate, suburban voters who are not interested in socialism.

    Presenting “indefensible socialism” with “ungrateful, outspoken young women of color,” and counting on Democrats to provide squeamish, suspect defense of, or distance from, being socialist is the Trump card. 

    It is a McCarthy-esque, red-scare gamble, and provides just enough distraction from a supremely failed presidency mired down by investigations, indictments, possible impeachment and disgrace. It is an offensive play that would likely make his late mentor and counsel to U.S. Senator McCarthy, Roy Cohn, proud.

    Andrea Shorter is a Commissioner and the former President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights and marriage equality. A Co-Founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.