PRESIDENT Donald Trump singled out four coloured members of the United States House of Representatives in his recent tweets.
He told them to “help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came from”.
He had accused them before of “spewing some of the most vile, hateful and disgusting things ever said by a politician”.
He even told them, “If you hate our country or if you are not happy here, you can leave.”
Trump’s action is beyond the pale of decency in politics.
For someone holding the highest office in the mightiest country in the world, making such a statement shows how the United States has changed since he took office three years ago.
The United States has been a country beyond recognition of late.
Under Trump, it has compromised all the principles it held true – openness, tolerance and magnanimity.
He fanned the anti-immigrant sentiments.
His stand on Muslim countries is worrying, so the “Muslim ban” he imposed isn’t too shocking. The list goes on.
But calling the four congresswomen who criticised him “haters of America” is something else.
Except for Ilhan Omar, a Muslim born in Somalia and a naturalised US citizen, the rest are all US-born.
Other than Ilhan, Rashida Talib is also a Muslim.
In fact, they are the first Muslim women to be elected as members of the House.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came from a Puerto Rican family and Rashida’s family are Palestinian immigrants.
Ayanna Pressley is a black representative from Boston.
The attacks on Ilhan since she was elected have been particularly harsh.
Jeanine Pirro, a Fox News host, was yanked from the air for making an unprovoked attack on Ilhan and her religion.
Tucker Carlson, also of Fox News, called her a “grievance monster who hates the United States”.
Thanks to Trump, we are witnessing a new low in American politics.
To speak ill of sons and daughters of immigrants in a country of immigrants is something else.
For Trump, it is almost a pattern now – making remarks uncalled for as a president.
Naturally, the country erupted in bitter recriminations over those tweets.
But knowing Trump, he will not apologise; in fact, he boldly proclaimed: “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”
To which Ocasio-Cortez responded in a tweet, “You’re right, Mr President – you don’t have a racist bone in your body. You have a racist mind in your head and a racist heart in your chest.”
In the United States, toxicity is in the air.
Racism is rearing its ugly head. The white supremacists are emboldened. The voice of anti-immigrant groups is getting louder.
Bigotry knows no borders. Immigrants as a whole are facing a backlash in countries where fervent nationalistic sentiments are at play.
In predominantly white countries, the voices of right-wing and supremacist groups are becoming deafening.
Australian-born Brenton Tarrant, who filmed himself on a shooting rampage at a Christchurch mosque, is the kind of right-wing extremist we fear.
As much as the rise of militancy in any religion is condemned, we must be on the lookout for the Tarrants of the world.
But more important is the rise
of ferocious identity contestation based on race and religion the world over.There is nothing wrong with nationalist or religious zeal. But taking it to the level of undermining and marginalising others is something else.
The rise of nationalist parties in Europe is one example.
There is always the argument about the changing landscape of
the “European character” with the influx of immigrants.
Immigrants, too, have changed the United States, and not necessarily for the worse.
The talk about “if you are not happy, go back to your country of origin” is nothing new.
We have heard that uttered many times by individuals and groups to minorities. We have seen it happen here in Malaysia, too.
There are some who are taking that path, conveniently telling individuals from the other races to do so.
Those targeted are born here. They have no other place to go. Criticising a policy is not being disloyal.
Speaking their minds as what the four congresswomen in the United States did should not be construed as disrespectful or hating the country.
As much as we must register our outrage against Trump, we must also be mindful not to do the same to our fellow Malaysians in any circumstance.
That is the lesson we should learn from this ugly episode in American history.
Johan Jaaffar was a journalist, editor and for some years chairman of a media company, and is passionate about all things literature and the arts. The views expressed here are entirely his own.