Trump reverses course, defends racist chants directed at Ilhan Omar
One day after he made an unconvincing attempt to distance himself from the racist chantsthat rang out at his rally in North Carolina on Wednesday night — something his fellow Republicans said they were welcome to see — President Donald Trump abruptly reversed course and defended them.
During an Oval Office event on Friday that was ostensibly to honor Apollo 11 astronauts, Trump cut off a reporter who tried to ask him about his effort to distance himself from the chants, and instead offered a full-throated defense of not only his supporters who made them but also racist tweets he posted last Sunday that incited them.
“You know what I’m unhappy with? I’m unhappy with the fact that a congresswoman can hate our country,” Trump said, alluding to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), one of a group of four congresswomen of color whom he last Sunday admonished on Twitter to “go back” to the countries they came from (Omar is a Somali refugee; the other three women were born in America). “I’m unhappy with the fact that a congresswoman can say anti-Semitic things. I’m unhappy with the fact that a congresswoman — in this case, a different congresswoman — can call our country, and our people, garbage. That’s what I’m unhappy with.”
Trump then turned to defending the people at his rally, who chanted “send her back!” after he viciously attacked Omar using misleading claims like the ones he made on Friday. (For instance, despite what Trump claimed in the Oval Office, none of the congresswomen in question have called America or its people “garbage.”)
“Those people in North Carolina, that stadium was packed,” Trump said. “It was a record crowd and I could’ve filled it 10 times, as you know. Those are incredible people, those are incredible patriots. But I’m unhappy when a congresswoman goes and says, ‘I’m going to be the president’s nightmare.’ She’s going to be the president’s nightmare. She’s lucky to be where she is, let me tell you. And the things she has said are a disgrace to our country.”
Trump’s comments came hours after he similarly suggested on Twitter that the racist chants were somehow justified because there were so many people — “packed Arena (a record) crowd” — at his rally.
Trump’s “incredible people” line echoed how he defended white supremacists following violent rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, two summers ago, when he infamously characterized them as “very fine people.” And for those who have been paying attention, the president’s latest defense of racism shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Trump told us this week he isn’t concerned about his or his supporters’ racism because “many people agree” with him
While Trump’s comments on Friday are out of step with what he said on Thursday — when he made a far-fetched attempt to distance himself from the chants by insisting he “started speaking very quickly” to quell them, which is inconsistent with video of the incident — they’re in line with what he said on Tuesday, when he defended his racist “go back” tweets.
Asked during a White House event that day if it concerns him that “many people saw that tweet as racist and that white nationalist groups are finding common cause with you on that point,” Trump said he is not.
“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” he said.
These comments provide a window into how Trump thinks about the world. Moral judgments take a back seat to whatever people around him think. Racism is okay because many of his supporters are also prejudiced, and they agree with him when he makes loaded attacks on women of color. And as a matter of expedience, Trump views stoking his supporters’ sense of white grievance as a way to motivate them to go out and vote, and hence as a premeditated strategy to win a second term in office.
Trump is concerned with doing what he perceives to be most beneficial for himself, not about rightness or wrongness in any sense beyond that. To that end, he’s now walked back the insincere effort he made just the day before to distance himself from an ugly incident that represented a new low in his long history of racial demagoguery. And as long as he perceives that Omar and other congresswomen are useful political foils for him, it’s likely that such chants will become a staple at his rallies going forward.