"So now we know what the 2020 election will look like. It will be “the Squad” versus the mob. On one side is thoughtful and engaged criticism coupled with a progressive legislative agenda. On the other side is a dangerous throng spewing cheap insults, racist taunts and explicit threats.
The four Democratic congresswomen known as the Squad – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota – held a dignified news conference on Tuesday, responding to Donald Trump’s racist attacks on them. The mob was in full force on Wednesday night, during a campaign rally staged by the president in Greenville, North Carolina. At that event, Trump shamelessly slandered the Squad, labeling them “hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down”.
There is probably no better definition of this president, a man who has repeatedly proven that he is a hate-filled extremist who is constantly trying to tear our country down. But never mind that for now.
Instead, let’s reflect on what happened while Trump slung his barbs and accusations at Somali-born Ilhan Omar. The crowd began chanting. “Send her back!” they yelled. “Send her back!”
This is frightening. Yes, it recalls the 2016 chants against of “Lock her up” directed against Hillary Clinton, but those were frightening, too! And, as the New York Times’s Charles Blow noted on Twitter, “‘send’ is a massive leap forward from voluntarily ‘leave’”.
What we have here is a mob calling for the deportation of a sitting congresswoman, and they are laughing and smiling while doing so. Trump, meanwhile, basks silently in the racist glow of their words.
Of course, it’s no surprise that Omar is the primary focus of this mob’s ire. Of the four congresswomen who make up the Squad, only Omar was born outside the United States, and Omar is black, a woman, a refugee and a Muslim. She has also proven that she will not be cowed by massive political pressure to abdicate her principles. Omar stands at the intersection of almost all the things that Trump directs his minions to revile.
And I suspect Omar’s grace also gets under their skin. On Twitter, Omar responded to the chant by writing: “I am where I belong, at the people’s house and you’re just gonna have to deal!” In another tweet, she quoted a poem by Maya Angelou: “You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
Omar’s responses exemplify her courage. The mob’s chants reflect nothing but their cowardice, for you’d have to be a fool not to recognize how spineless it is whenever a mob turns on an individual.
But even more significant is the fundamental difference between the Squad and the mob, and by Squad I don’t mean only these four congresswomen. All who fight to fulfil the ideals of the country and represent the will of the people are in the Squad. They are the people. Those who demand that any and all criticism be subordinated to party and nation belong to the mob.
“While the people in all great revolutions fight for true representation,” Hannah Arendt once wrote, “the mob will always shout for the ‘strong man’, the ‘great leader’. For the mob hates society from which it is excluded.”
A glimmer of that mob hatred was on display on Wednesday, but let’s be clear. We have only just begun to see the mob in this election campaign. And what has always worried me more than Donald Trump himself is the mob behind him. What should be concerning to us is not that we, as a nation, have unleashed Trump. What’s most troubling is what Trump unleashes in us.
- Moustafa Bayoumi is the author of How Does It Feel To Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America. He is Professor of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York"
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