Controversy spilled over last week after President Donald Trump directed a tweet at four Democratic congresswomen, all minorities, telling them to “go back” to their own countries, despite three of the four being born in the United States.
The tweets unleashed a controversy resulting in the Democrat-led House voting last Tuesday to condemn the president’s tweets as racist. The measure was approved primarily over party lines. Just as the tweets drew a myriad of opinions from national lawmakers, either dubbing the tweets as racist or coming to the president’s defense.
The events began last Sunday, with Trump sending out a series of tweets presumably directed at four Democratic congresswomen: Reps. Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib.
The tweets read, “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 (if they even have a functioning government at all), 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. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
All of the congresswomen believed to be targeted by the tweets were born in the United States, with the exception of Omar, who was born in Somalia and came to the country as a refugee more than 20 years ago.
So, how do local political figures regard the tweets? Political candidates and current officeholders were asked what they thought of the language utilized by the president and whether it qualified as racist. Some condemned the president. Others came to his defense, and others declined to really answer the question.
Democratic candidate for mayor
Initial reaction: “I don’t accept the premise of his statements … I think that when he behaves like this he continues to distract us and take us off course and misdirect us from the work at hand, which is the work they’re doing. There are a lot of people working hard to make this country better and the best it can be, whether that’s at the local level, state level, or national level, whether it’s an elected official, a volunteer, a stay-at-home mom. And to distract us from that work is beneath us all.”
Was it racist: “Yes, they’re racist, and racism is never warranted.”
Republican candidate for mayor
Initial reaction: “For as long as he’s been president and even before that, everybody’s been entertained and really not surprised by his Twitter activity. So, this is really no different. America is the great melting pot. Obviously with the diversity of all backgrounds and such, that was what our country was founded on. It’s unfortunate that anyone, not just President Trump but anyone, would comment, post, tweet anything that is discriminatory. It is unfortunate and does nothing to better relations between parties or even between nationalities.”
Was it racist: “The whole question in regards to whether or not his tweet is racist or not, obviously yes he’s probably referring to specific individuals, but yes, if I were one of those that were singled out, I might take it personally more than looking at it as directed towards a specific culture or race. Again, I think he’s picking on specific individuals as opposed to their nationality.”
Libertarian candidate for mayor
Initial reaction: "They don’t have very far to go since three out of the four are from the United States … I mean, there’s only one of them. I don’t remember the young lady's name who is not originally from the country. But she’s been here most of her life, so she doesn’t have very far to go."
Was it racist: "Our president kind of has his moments like me where he speaks before he thinks, which unfortunately is like most people. And he seems to end up correcting himself. Am I defending him? No. Would I say something like that to somebody? No. 'Go back to your country.' I might say, 'Go back to your city and worry about getting that corrected before you start slamming everything else. Work on your city,' which is what I’m trying to do here. I’m trying to work on our city. Did he intend it to be racist? I really want to hope not. He has said — I’ll be quite blunt — he’s said some things where I’m like, 'OK, I can’t believe he said that.' And he’s said other things where I’m kind of like, 'OK, I agree with that.' With the statement of 'go back to your country,' my response would be, 'Well, OK, they didn’t have very far to go because they’re already in their country.'"
Democratic mayor of Kokomo
Initial reaction: “Not surprised. I mean, it’s what he’s been doing. I don’t see any change in any pattern. This is what he is … He was this way the day he came down the escalator to announce his campaign for presidency. The telling statement is if the racists, the self-proclaimed racist individuals and self-proclaimed racist groups think so, then he probably is a racist.”
Was it racist: “If the racists think you’re a racist, then you’re probably a racist. If the people that are self-proclaimed racists think you’re a racist, then there you go.”
Republican Howard County councilman
Initial reaction: “There’s nothing racist about those tweets. Race wasn’t mentioned. I think, unfortunately, in today’s climate, people tend to use race or make racial accusations just for a political purpose. There was nothing about the tweets that was racist. President Trump has attacked people of all races, all genders, all sexual orientations, so I think there was nothing racist about it.”
Was it racist: (Previously said no) “I think that race has been thrown out there so much, so often that it really is unfortunate because it kind of lessens actual racial comments and actual incidents of racism, which there still is, but I think that it’s used for so many things just for political purposes that when something is actually racist it’s diminished now.”
Democratic Kokomo Common Council president
Initial reaction: “It’s appalling that the leader of our country would say that. Those women are Americans, and I guess when you say go back home to where you came from to Americans, it’s their home. It’s the United States. They are American. This harkens back to the birther thing when they were trying to say President Obama was not an American citizen. It’s the same old tactic. I’ve heard it since I was a child. People have said that to people of color or people that are different, ‘Go back to where you belong.’ Well, we belong here in the United States, and those United States congresswomen are United States citizens just like anybody else is in this country.”
Was it racist: “Of course it’s racist. It’s blatant racism for political gain. We’re getting a preview of the campaign coming in 2020. I think he’s using the tactic of divide instead of unite, instill fear instead of confidence, instill hatred where there should be love.”
Republican candidate for Kokomo Common Council
Initial reaction: “I’m never in agreement with anybody saying anything condescending or negative to anybody. With that being said, I want to focus on the local politics here and the things we have to do to correct things here. Fireman, policeman, jobs, and I’m going to leave it like that.”
Was it racist: “I said my comment. I believe I’m never in agreement with anybody doing anything derogative to anybody, but I’m going to focus on our local economy and the things we have to get taken care of here.”
Howard County Republican Party chair and Howard County Council member
Initial reaction: “Overall, with what my position here is in Howard County, is to deal with our local politicians and getting and focusing on getting Republicans elected. Those were comments by national politicians, and I think I want to leave that in Washington D.C. I think President Trump was elected with a lot of tongue-in-cheek comments, and he has not changed who he is in that time. I’m not going to justify what he says, but I’m also not going to justify the response he gets either.”
Was it racist: Only wished to provide above statement.
Howard County Democratic Party vice-chair and Center Township Board president
Initial reaction: “My initial reaction is I’m not shocked. It’s par for the course coming from this president. It’s disgraceful for someone to hold that office to act that way. Obviously these American congresswomen are all American citizens and are entitled to their opinions. It harkens back to the day of people telling African Americans to go back to Africa. It’s the exact same way. I’m not buying what he’s saying. He said he disavowed it, that he has no control over his rallies, but he does by the way he acts and responds.”
Was it racist: “I definitely think it’s racist. If you look at it in context, either he’s not very bright, which I don’t believe he is, and by his past behavior he’s shown he’s just straight-up racist. I think the GOP, anybody in the Republican Party who doesn’t speak out against this, has to own it. So they’ll have to own it for years.”
Republican Kokomo Common Council candidate
Initial reaction: “I choose not to get into personal tit for tats in Washington. My main concern right now is the people of Kokomo and me running for city council. I know I’m not a racist, and I know I can’t speak for anybody else to say if they’re a racist or this person is a racist. I just know right now I’m concerned with helping Kokomo become a great community.”
Was it racist: “I don’t want to speak and say, ‘Oh, this is a racist statement to say,’ so much that I know I can’t speak, and I can’t judge everybody. That’s not what I want to do. It’s a very controversial statement that I do believe if you say either or there will be enough people that jump on the opinion and say, ‘This is racist.’ ‘This is not racist.’ So what I do for myself and the people running for city council, what I’ve done for all presidents and members of congress, I pray for them and hope they can sit down and come together and have a rational conversation about how we can make this country better.”