Clarence Page: Rep. Omar shouldn't take Trump's bait
If I had my way, I would tell both President Donald Trump and his latest foil, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., to go sit in a corner and take a time-out.
That’s how you treat a pair of small children who can’t stop provoking each other, each blaming the other for having started the fight.
I like Omar, but sometimes she needs to think more carefully before she speaks. So does Trump, although he seems to find thinking to be a waste of time as he rallies his base against Muslims, particularly Omar.
Yes, Trump repeatedly has attacked “Muslims,” not just “terrorists.” “I think Islam hates us,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in 2016. He was targeting radical Islam, he claimed, but also said, “It’s very hard to define. It’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.”
Or maybe he doesn’t want to know. The list of his expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment runs long. Remember how he fueled his political rise with bogus claims in 2011 that President Barack Obama was a Muslim born outside the United States? Remember his campaign vow to ban Muslims from entering this nation “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on"? Remember his repeated claim, also debunked, of “thousands and thousands” of terrorist sympathizers celebrating in New Jersey during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks? Remember his saying on Fox Business in October 2016 that he would “certainly look at” the idea of closing mosques in the United States?
But Omar doesn’t help matters when she provides him with fresh material, as she did at a late-March fundraiser for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“Here’s the truth,” she said at one point. “For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen, and, frankly, I’m tired of it. And every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it.”
Then came the words that ignited a new controversy: “CAIR was founded after 9/11,” she said, “because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”
In other words, don’t blame Islam for attacks perpetrated by a small group of fanatics. CAIR was actually founded seven years before 9/11, but Omar’s point was much the same as that made by President George W. Bush in a Washington mosque right after the 2001 attack when he spoke out against Islamophobia.
But that larger point was drowned out by those who criticized Omar’s “some people did something” remark as minimizing the tragedy of 9/11 to the point of trivializing the lives lost on that horrible day. Trump tweeted a video montage last week of 9/11 scenes, including the collapse of the Twin Towers, topped by “WE WILL NEVER FORGET!”
Yes, it was a cheap shot at Omar over a remark that was taken out of context to make her appear to be a supporter of terrorism. But, as any seasoned politician knows, you have to think before you speak if you don’t want to invite misinterpretation.
No one knows that better than Trump, who boldly seized on the opportunity to stir hate against Omar — at the expense of the message that Republicans would rather talk about, the Grand Old Party’s tax cuts.
Trump would rather engage in things that don’t require as much reading or math, such as trolling the hijab-wearing Omar. He uses Omar, who came to the U.S. as a refugee child from Somalia, as a living symbol to his base of their anxieties about “not being able to recognize my country anymore” — a sentiment captured in Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. Unfortunately, Trump seems more interested in making America hate again.
Speaking Monday at a tax and economy roundtable in suburban Minneapolis, Trump even ridiculed the very concept of asylum as “ridiculous.” That’s not the America that makes me feel proud.
Yes, Trump is a hate-baiter. But the rest of us should not take the bait. While Trump plays the politics of division based on fear and rage, Omar and her allies should serve as ambassadors for the politics of addition. “Our diversity is our strength, but our unity is our power,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi likes to tell her fellow Democrats. That’s a good description of our nation, too, when we’re not acting like bratty kids.
Email Clarence Page at email@example.com.