Trump’s racist comments challenge Republicans, media

In calling out bigotry, some are direct, others dodge

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley encouraged the public to “not take the bait,” yesterday, referring to a series of racist tweets from President Trump as a “disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern and consequence to the American people.”

Trump had criticized four progressive congresswomen, known as “the Squad,” in a series of inaccurate birther-esque posts, saying, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” He said the four minority lawmakers — three of whom were born in the US — came from “countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe.”

One could argue that this is exactly the kind of distraction that is needed to unsettle conservatives and anyone who has grown accustomed to normalizing xenophobia and racism.

The group of four women includes Pressley, who grew up in Chicago and was born in Cincinnati, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was born in the Bronx, Rashida Tlaib, born in Detroit, and Ilhan Omar, who settled in Minneapolis as a Somali refugee and gained citizenship six years before Melania Trump.

Gov. Charlie Baker jumped head first into the issue calling the president’s statements “disgraceful,” “shameful and racist.”

“The bottom line here is, you are a public servant and if you’re in a job where you’re a public servant, you should behave that way. And tweets like that send a horrid, debilitating, hateful message that there’s just no place for public discourse,” Baker said, calling on fellow Republicans to send a similar message.

Former governor Bill Weld, Trump’s Republican challenger, tweeted, “Mr. Trump clearly lives in a world fueled by his own frenzies.”

Utah senator and former Massachusetts GOP governor Mitt Romney got pulled aside at Logan Airport by NBC Boston, but stumbled through an answer that included a criticism of the congresswomen, calling their views “not consistent with building a strong America,” and softballing his take on Trump, saying he fell “far short” in that effort. Asked whether Trump’s comments were racist, Romney punted. “That’s all I’ve got, thanks,” he said, walking away from reporter Alison King.

Meanwhile, media headlines range from Time magazine’s blunt “Congresswomen targeted by Trump’s racist tweets,” to NPR’s “Lawmakers respond to Trump’s racist comments: We are here to stay,” to the New York Times‘s “Trump aides, not eager to defend his tweets, also don’t condemn them.” The Boston Globe runs a timeline called “Trump’s racially related comments,” to which commenters replied by “fixing” the headline to include the word “racist.”

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

In an effort that could be considered as capitalizing on the potential clicks from the “disruptive distraction” Pressley warned of,  the Globe, Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times are asking readers on Twitter to message them if they’ve ever been “told to go back to your country,” prompting a flood of comments from immigrants and people of color who have dealt with the issue long before the tenure of Trump.

The Washington Post explored the media’s handling of the issue and how to characterize Trump’s invective, including a statement from the paper’s editor, Marty Baron, on how the Post chose to describe the president’s comments. “The ‘go back’ trope is deeply rooted in the history of racism in the United States,” said Baron. “Therefore, we have concluded that ‘racist’ is the proper term to apply to the language he used Sunday.”