The sound of those words, “Go back to where you came from,” clangs in my memory, the warning knell of an evil I thought we had overcome a long time ago. Certainly overcome in this country, where the non-violent overthrow of hatred seemed a done deal, accomplished solely as a result of a basic decency in the soul of America, a natural affirmation of admirable values, deeply felt values, I had thought.
“Go back to where you came from” is the antithesis of those values. It is, as AOC put it so eloquently, a “…conception of an America that we tried to move past for a long time.” It is the naked acknowledgement of an Otherism that is incompatible with what I had been taught was the American spirit of equality of all human beings and of “E pluribus unum,” out of many, one! I thought these were at the very foundation of our nation and that the consensus around those ideals was unshakeable and drove us forward towards the future.
Yet we find ourselves once again at this familiar crossroad, a moment to test once again if “…that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated [to the proposition that all men are created equal], can long endure.
Trump speaks to, and uses for his own purposes, the darkness that can overtake us when we are confronted with the stress and fears of rapid change. One manifestation of that darkness is what is often called racism, an overly utilized term whose use I understand, though I usually try to avoid in favor of more nuanced descriptions. Yet I find no problem in calling these words racist, because they represent an attitude that is certainly a precursor if not a prerequisite to racist attitudes. Before one can feel free to display one’s antipathy towards entire groups of people, even while mouthing the words that all people are truly created equal, one needs to see those groups as less than, as unworthy of equal treatment, as not counting in the concept of “all people.” They must be regarded as some thing Other!
When Trump tells American-born women of color to go back to where they came from, he is explixitly telling them that he does not recognize them as American. They are “foreign,” they are from those “shit hole countries” that are inferior to us, they are among the “rapists” and “criminals” and terrorists and other immigrants whose skin color and heritage makes them something different from real Americans, from those immigrants who came from the “good” and “worthy” countries such as bond-haired, blue-eyed Norway. It is possible that his racism is so ingrained in him that he does not even recognize it as such. In that, he is not so different from many in this country. They will have you believe that their antipathy towards these others is justified by behavior and attitudes that are more a product of their own imagination or their news feeds than from their own personal experiences or from the consideration and empathy that they would extend to those they consider “real Americans.”
It is understandable that many feel the country they have always known, or thought they knew, is now under threat, that they feel a need to defend that old notion. But though I understand it, I feel no need to excuse it or accept it. That outlook of what America is falls far short of true greatness. “Go back to where you came from” represents a smallness and meanness that is anathema to who we are, or at least who I thought we were. If we are not that then what are we really?
These are difficult and confusing times. The turmoil in the country is manifest, and the desperation for change is evident throughout the political spectrum. But for us who still believe that America is more than just material wealth and military power, more than merely a geographically spot on a cold rock in space, more than the property of the powerful or of a privileged but shrinking majority, those of us who see this nation as a proving ground for the concept that we can all exist together with mutual respect and civility, all of these issues and possibilities must be subjugated to the goal of eliminating the greatest threat to the idea of America since the Civil War.
Donald Trump must be thrown out of office in 2020! Period!