Days after President Donald Trump’s racist declaration that four congresswomen of color — three of them American-born — should “go back” where they came from, the response from most members of the party of Lincoln continues to be ... nothing. At a moment that requires a clear denunciation of this deeply unAmerican rhetoric, most Republican members of Congress from the St. Louis region, as around the nation, have offered only shameful silence.
Even after Trump’s continued attacks against a Somali-born congresswoman inspired chants of “Send her back!” at a rally Wednesday, most elected Republicans have let the crickets respond. This should negate any claim they have to any principle beyond craven political survival.
Trump Sunday tweeted that “Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe” should “go back” to “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
For three of the congresswomen he was clearly referring to — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib — that would mean going “back” to, respectively, New York, Cincinnati and Detroit. The fourth, Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., immigrated from Somalia as a child.
You don’t hear whites — say, Irish Americans or Italian Americans — in 2019 being told to go “back where they came from.” Today, that particular expression is intended to deprive people of their Americanness based on skin color and ethnicity. It’s racist to its core, and those who don’t call it out enable it.
Yet of the almost dozen Republican members of Congress who represent Missouri and southern Illinois, precious few have made any public statements at all about it, clearly fearful of upsetting Trump’s base.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., offered a milquetoast suggestion that Trump confine his comments to policy. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., did better, chiding “comments that make many Americans feel unwelcome in the nation they call home.” But both statements were couched in timid both-siderism, calling out Democratic policy views as if their offenses were on par with Trump’s.
Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., meanwhile, lunged to Trump’s defense with an obtuse tweet chiding critics who “interpret” racism in Trump’s remarks. Read them again, congressman; no interpretation is necessary.
From most of the region’s GOP delegation, though, as with most congressional Republicans in the country, the response has been a cowardly, mute void. This includes, notably, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., the freshman senator who has had no problem speaking his mind on pretty much every other issue out there.
Given the bright red line that Trump has so enthusiastically crossed this week, the question of whether to continue supporting him — either assertively or through inappropriate silence — is no longer merely an indicator of party loyalty or policy priorities; it has become a test of courage, character and fundamental decency. And these elected officials have failed it.