Trump vs. The Squad: The demonizing of dissent

There was a time when this country was torn apart by endless protests against the Vietnam War.

I was paying close attention, since I was eligible for the draft, as mass demonstrations, campus takeovers and political denunciations were widely criticized but ultimately helped turn the country against that ill-fated war.

The point is that dissent in America can be messy, polarizing, excessive–but also fundamentally healthy. Just like democracy itself.

The issue arises, of course, because of President Trump lambasting the four freshman Democratic congresswomen as “hating” the country (along with his “go back” to where you came from rhetoric).

As Trump and some Republicans shift the focus to the left-wing views of AOC, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, the question of when it’s acceptable to criticize the country comes into sharp relief.

I don’t agree with some of the rhetoric coming from the so-called squad, especially that of Omar. But they are U.S. citizens and duly elected members of Congress.

Every national politician, candidate and officeholder finds fault with America’s problems.

If they’re incumbents, they talk about how they are making things better and will do even more if reelected. If they are challengers, or in the opposition party, they focus on what a horrible job their rivals have done and how the country will go to hell unless they take over.

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Take Trump, for example, in his inaugural address.

He spoke of “American carnage,” of “mothers and children trapped in poverty,” “rusted-out factories,” lousy schools and “crime and gangs and drugs.” Could opponents have said he was trashing the USA? Obviously Trump was laying out the challenges he planned to tackle.

As president, Trump has harshly criticized the FBI, the DOJ, the CIA, Congress, the courts and the “fake news” media, not to mention some of his own appointees (most of whom are no longer there). His detractors have said he’s been awfully harsh, considering he occupies the White House. But that’s his right.

The New York Times, digging further into his past, put it this way:

“America stinks. At least that’s what Donald J. Trump seemed to be saying before becoming president.

“He did not believe in ‘American exceptionalism,’ he said, because America was not exceptional. Instead, it was a ‘laughingstock’ that was no better than Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia. By promising to make America great again, he made it clear that he believed it was not great anymore.”

On the other side, Tlaib, the Michigan congresswoman, was arguing against supporters of Israel earlier this year in a debate over legislation involving potential boycotts of Israel. Some of the bill’s supporters, she said, “forgot what country they represent.”

That’s a classic anti-Semitic charge, accusing Americans who happen to be Jewish of “dual loyalty.” And when her colleague Omar said of Israel’s supporters on the Hill that it’s “all about the Benjamins, baby,” the Democrats who just voted to condemn Trump watered down a resolution condemning such talk to the point that it didn’t even name her.

In a smart Politico piece on anti-Trump outrage, former editor-in-chief John Harris said some presidential supporters who think he sometimes goes too far also find “enjoyment” in his attacks.

“They don’t endorse racism, but admire Trump for seeming not to care that Nancy Pelosi calls him racist. … They see him puncturing liberal pieties, and offending elite sensibilities broadly, and like it. His partisans don’t need to agree with Trump’s words or actions — they may even find some of them off-putting — and still find the indignation of Democrats and the media more off-putting.”

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So it comes down to tribal loyalties.

I just think the media, and political analysts, need to be consistent here. To lambaste conditions in America doesn’t mean you hate America. Sometimes the pols go too far, but dissent has been in our collective DNA since the rebellion against King George.