18 April 2019
18 April 2019

The United States Congress is on a spring recess for two weeks… but as long as there are tweets emanating from the presidential IPhone, the political wars of Washington go on.

Two Twitter rants set the pace as legislators were preparing to head home for their break and they are continuing to resonate in the nation’s capital.

One deals with immigration… the other with Islamophobia. Both say a great deal about the man in charge and the tone of the already underway 2020 race for the White House.

The rant perhaps most fraught with emotion is a Trump-endorsed smear-campaign against a Muslim member of the House of Representatives.

Democrat Ilhan Omar, a new congresswoman from the state of Minnesota, is a Somali-American who spent a chunk of her childhood in a refugee camp. She is outspoken, particularly concerning what she perceives as injustices against members of the Muslim community here and around the world. In so doing, she has become a target of the political right.

Last month, she outlined her views in a speech to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group. She talked about the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and how the acts of the few had created a backlash against the many.

Her exact words were: “CAIR was founded after 9/11, because they recognized some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

It did not take long for critics on the right to seize on her words on social media — claiming she belittled the horror of the 9/11 attacks, and that CAIR itself was a terrorist organization.

Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw of Texas retweeted the anti-Omar posts and added: “First member of Congress to ever describe terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11 as ‘some people who did something.’ Unbelievable.”

The war on Omar escalated as short clips of her speech — with her thoughts on 9/11 taken totally out of context — went viral on the internet.

Easily forgotten by her critics was the fact that speech took place just days after the horrific shootings at two mosques in New Zealand by a white-nationalist-inspired gunman that left 50 people dead. THAT is what inspired Ilhan Omar’s comments — the link between words of hate and acts of extreme violence against member of her faith.

Her frustration and concern are evident when you look at her entire speech.

“Many of us knew this would get worse, (because) we finally have a leader, a world leader in the White House who publicly says “Islam hates us,’ who fuels hate against Muslims, who thinks it is okay to speak about a faith and a whole community in a way that is dehumanizing, vilifying and doesn’t understand — or at least makes us think he doesn’t understand — the consequences his words might have,” she said.

And here was her point: we do not have to stand for this….we have a right to speak out when the terrible acts of a few become a jump off point for turning against all members of one faith.

I was a reporter covering the White House when the 9/11 attacks… and I remember then-President George W. Bush’s words at the Washington Islamic Center six days later:

“Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.”

Donald Trump wasn’t listening then… or now.

With the online attacks on Ilhan Omar growing, he was only too happy to chime in and escalate the rhetoric.

He tweeted a video of clips from her speech interspersed with graphic footage from the 9/11 attacks. Trump attached a caption “WE WILL NEVER FORGET.”

His supporters, by and large, loved it. Meanwhile Democrats rose to her defense, accusing the president of once again stoking fear and putting Ilhan Omar’s life in danger.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brought up the presidential tweet during a visit with American troops in Germany saying: “The memory of 9/11 is sacred ground and any discussion of it must be done with reverence… the President shouldn’t use the painful images of 9/11 for a political attack.”

And speaking of Ms Pelosi…

She was one of the intended targets of an almost simultaneous presidential Twitter barrage on immigration. Yes, we had what Americans call — to use a baseball metaphor — a “double-header.”

Trump was playing the hits on his IPhones. First, the rant against Ilhan Omar, and then a new round of tweets against opponents of his get-tough stand on immigration.

He said his administration is giving serious consideration to a plan to take undocumented migrants taken into custody at the southern border and “dump” them in so-called “sanctuary cities” — municipalities that have chosen to limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

And most of these cities and towns are governed and represented in Congress by — you guessed it — Donald Trump’s Democratic Party foes. They include San Francisco, where Speaker Pelosi lives.

Of course the whole notion of “dumping” immigrants is likely illegal and will do nothing to appease the problem at the border where the government is trying to turn back unprecedented numbers of would-be asylum seekers fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.

We all know it…the President knows it… but that is doing nothing to keep him from posting these emotional tirades on social media with one goal in mind: to rev up his political base.

Meanwhile, Ilhan Omar is is getting so many death threats the Speaker of the House has had to order a special security detail to protect her. This, as the situation at the border grows even worse.

Like the Emperor Nero who, legend has it, played his fiddle while Rome burned, Trump is responding to the problems plaguing this country by playing on the presidential smartphone.

Not only did Nero play music while his people suffered, but — according to historians — he was an ineffectual leader at a time of crisis.

Sound familiar?


Paula Wolfson

Paula Wolfson is a veteran Washington correspondent who has covered three presidents and six presidential campaigns. She was the White House bureau chief for the Voice of America before switching to commercial radio, where she reported on science and health care policy, Recently she returned to her first love and is writing once again on American politics and foreign policy for halimiz.com

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