I've never met Ayanna Pressley, but I did write an encyclopedia entry about her for the African-American National Biography. She's the U.S. Representative from the 7th Congressional District in Massachusetts, and the first black woman my state has ever sent to congress. Prior to winning in 2018, she was a member of the Boston City Council, and the first black woman elected to serve there as well. She was born in Cincinnati and raised in Chicago. She moved to Boston to attend college, but when her mom (who had raised her) became ill, she left school to help support her. Ms. Pressley became interested in politics; she worked for Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II, and then for Senator John Kerry. Eventually, she ran for office herself... and won. And later, she ran for congress, and won that election too.
I've heard her speak many times, and I can honestly say I've never known her to be anti-American. I've never known her to be anti-Jewish or anti-Israel either. I've never known her to be anything close to a Communist, and I would not associate her policy positions with Socialism. Yet, President Trump accused her of all of this. He also said if she doesn't like this country, she can go back to where she came from-- in Ms. Pressley's case, that would be Boston, and before that, Chicago. (Her mother and father were also from Cincinnati, and then Chicago.)
Needless to say, I found the president's remarks outrageous. Yes, I know-- they were mainly directed at three congresswomen he especially loves to hate: Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But here again, I have a problem with Mr. Trump's assertion that they all "hate America" and are "probably Communists." I grew up in the McCarthy era, and a lot of innocent people lost their jobs after being smeared by the senator, who often used accusations of disloyalty whenever someone was not as conservative as he felt they should be.
I rarely agree with Ms. Omar, and at times I don't agree with Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. But like their colleague and friend Ms. Pressley, they were all elected, and they have every right to speak their mind. Just because they disagree with the president, or dislike his policies, doesn't make them anti-American. I have very bad memories of 2003-2004, when former Vice President Dick Cheney would accuse anyone who opposed the war in Iraq of being disloyal and hating America. (Those of us who opposed the Iraq War loved America, but we vehemently opposed going to war against a country that hadn't attacked us.) And yet, here we go again in 2019-- if you disagree with the president, he (and his friends at Fox News) will claim you hate this country.
I'd like to tell you it doesn't matter what the president says, but sadly, it does. He has a megaphone. He can spread fake quotes to millions (no, Ms. Omar never said she's "proud of Al-Qaeda"); he can persuade his supporters that he is "fighting back"-- standing up to these four "disgraceful" women, who are being disrespectful to him. He can encourage haters to hate, and praise them if they hate the same folks that he does. And he can insist that anyone who complains about his policies or disagrees with the way he acts can "go back to where they came from."
I understand that Mr. Trump's supporters elected him to destroy the status quo and upend the customs and conventions of politics. They seem to believe that courtesy and civility are no longer necessary; they seem to delight in his rudeness, and they applaud him even when his comments are dangerously bigoted. But in wanting the house to be burnt down, I dread to think what comes next. If it's okay to be openly bigoted, if our president (whose rhetoric sets the tone for how we communicate) thinks it's acceptable to tell four congresswomen that people like them aren't welcome in America, where do we go from that?
It was Edward R. Murrow, during the McCarthy era, who said we must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. He then said, in words that could also relate to Mr. Trump, that Senator McCarthy was trying to make us afraid, so that we would be distrustful of each other and easier for him to manipulate. Murrow said, "He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it – and rather successfully." He then quoted Shakespeare, noting that "Cassius was right. 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves..." And that is my question: will we continue to accept and normalize the kind of America Mr. Trump has given us? Will we sit passively (or send an outraged tweet) as our great republic continues to break into hateful factions and Mr. Trump continues to exploit them? Only you know the answer. So... now what?