President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Greenville last week showed extreme positions on the right and left continue to edge away from the fringes and creep toward the center.
Swift condemnation followed the crowd’s chant of “Send her back” directed at Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat the president has criticized. Omar was born in Somalia and became a U.S. citizen. Critics on the left are correct that calls for her deportation are odious and un-American.
Equally troubling is the haste with which Trump’s detractors decided to shoot the messenger, wrongly holding East Carolina University responsible for the crowd’s chant and the president’s words. Many students, alumni and community members say ECU should have denied Trump and his supporters a platform by refusing to rent the Minges Coliseum to the Trump campaign.
That, of course, would have been unlawful. East Carolina is a public university, and as a government institution, it can’t discriminate on the basis of viewpoint against either guest speakers invited by student groups or political campaigns seeking to rent its facilities. Doing so would violate the First Amendment and may also run afoul of the North Carolina’s 2017 campus free speech law.
Conservatives have a problem with nativism and nationalism in their ranks. Liberals have a problematic impulse to embrace censorship and de-platforming. Neither of these extreme positions is healthy for American democracy.
Citizenship and identity
The groundwork for the Greenville chant was laid July 14 when Trump tweeted that a group of four progressive Democratic congresswomen known as “The Squad” should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came” before tackling domestic reform.
In the quartet of lawmakers, only Omar is foreign-born. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashid Tlaib of Michigan were all born in the United States. Critics, commentators and mainstream media outlets labeled the tweet racist.
Trump tried to pivot away from targeting critics based on their ethnicity. At the Greenville rally, he refined his message to a more generic “love it or leave it,” which could apply to any American. If you don’t like the United States, he suggests, why not try your luck somewhere else? That view conflates constructive criticism meant to improve one’s home country with being anti-American, but so long as it’s broad enough to include everybody, it’s not inherently racist.
Supporters broke out in a spontaneous refrain of “Send her back” after Trump listed a litany of complaints about Omar, including past anti-Semitic statements.
The error of “Send her back” is that too many conservatives see Omar’s citizenship as conditional and revocable. People who profess to love the United States must understand that naturalized Americans are just as American as natural-born citizens. There is no difference. Anyone who says otherwise is misguided at best and nativist at worst.