Friday, August 2, 2019

TRUMP VS 'THE SQUAD': DISSENTING WHEN YOU'RE THE OTHER


By Lily Hikam*)

By now, every one would have read the headlining news of President Trump telling four sitting Democratic congresswomen, best known as "the Squad" to “go back to where they came from”. These congresswomen in question are Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, four of the most high profile legislators due to their outspokenness and their willingness to tackle issues that other sitting congresspersons would rather stay mum about. Chief among those issues are calling out AIPAC, an Israeli lobbying firm, and its massive influence on the US political discourse, exposing the depth of corruption in the legislative process, and stopping US interventionism abroad.

Another striking thing about the Squad is the fact that none of them are Caucasians. Which is to say that they are all women of color. They were elected in the last midterm elections where a wave of previously underrepresented demographic in the United States’ population voted overwhelmingly for representation from people who most resemble them, changing the face of Congress and Capitol Hill, from one that best represented American population in the 19th century to one that is more representative of the current demographic!.

The POTUS (President of the United States) attack, though vicious and unsubstantiated, is unfortunately not shocking since it’s not the first or even second time that he has ever attacked a woman of color who dared criticize or stand up against him. Other than the the Squad, another congresswoman, Ms. Maxine Waters of California, also an African-American woman, was similarly dubbed as “unhinged” by Mr. Trump.

But what did “The Squad” do to warrant such a treatment? Was the attack just motivated by the color of their skin and their gender?

As mentioned earlier, the Squad has been critical of almost every policy proposed by the Trump Administration. Ilhan Omar, for example, has been critical of Trump’s willingness to turn a blind eye towards the Saudi-led war on Yemen, his vetoes on Congress’ attempts to stop said war and his administration’s attempt at interventionism in Venezuela. Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, has been championing Palestinian rights and has repeatedly criticized Israel, something unheard of in American political discourse until now.

Moreover, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has made it her mission to fight for Progressive policies, exposing the corruption and the broken political system in which laws and legislations that are drafted are made for the benefit of the campaign donors, not the voters. Ayanna Pressley’s advocacy on behalf of battered and abused women and her support for Planned Parenthood, an organization that has been a thorn in the side of many conservative Christians that overwhelmingly voted for Trump, made her a target of attacks too.

But to only look at who was currently at the helm of the Executive branch is to miss the big picture entirely. The Squad has been consistent in their criticisms of the policies of the United States government, not just policies proposed by the Trump Administration but policies that the Trump Administration carried over from previous presidents.

For example, they are critical of the immigration raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and has spoken out boldly against the deplorable living conditions of migrants that are being detained at the detention facilities along the border. To be clear, these detention facilities didn’t just spring up from the ground like daisies. They were planned and built long before Trump took office, a legacy of the Obama administration. Another example is their harsh criticism toward White House's multiple vetoes on House resolutions to stop providing arms to Saudi Arabia as they engaged in siege warfare in Yemen, effectively making the United States complicit in war crimes and continuing the tradition of turning a blind eye to human rights violations conducted by US allies.

These women were just exercising their rights to dissent and to criticize their government when one perceives it to be wrong and unjust. They were exercising their first Amendment rights of free speech but they were unfairly smeared and demonized for it, and their “American-ness” called into question because of it. It raises an important question: "Would they have received the same treatment had their skin color were of the right shade, had they look like everyone else whose Americanness were never question but accepted at face value?"

I think not.

Had they fit the undoubtedly antiquated mold of “American”, they would be lauded for standing up to an unjust and inhumane policy, for criticizing their country because they care and wanted to make their country better. But because they are perceived as the “Other”, they are demonized for it and told to go back to where they came from, even though they’re just as American as Apple pie. The chants from the Trump campaign rally crowd telling him to “send her back” is indicative as to how these women are still perceived by some sections of society.

These women aren’t seen as equal citizens with full rights as they are, rather as someone who should just shut up and accept things the way they are and if they don’t like the way things are, they can get out. Yet somehow this same treatment isn’t applied to a certain someone who also criticized their country.

Ironically, on the campaign trail, Donald Trump spent a lot of time criticizing America, calling it a third world country and that the country was “going to hell”. What was even more jarring was that some of Trump’s criticism of America, such as him wanting to end the wars, fix the infrastructure, stop outsourcing of jobs, are the same thing the Squad are currently fighting for. Yet calls for him to go back to where he came from were nowhere to be heard. Maybe criticisms sound better uttered from the mouth of a White man? The fact that he is now attacking these women for doing the same thing he did, just in a more elegant manner, speaks to how big of a hypocrite he really is.

Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” These words were falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson, yet the origin of this quote was from the legendary historian, Howard Zinn, spoken when he was asked about his opposition to the Bush Administration’s war on terror and how the government had seemingly labeled all dissenting opinion to be unpatriotic. Criticizing one’s country is not unpatriotic, or Anti-American or even Anti-Indonesian. We criticize and dissent because we want our country to be better, to improve from the status quo and stagnation.

Nobody should be made to feel as if their opinion meant less or have their loyalty and citizenship questioned for having a different opinion. The very nature of democracy allows for different opinions to flourish, to foster discussions and discourses that would steer the country in a better direction.

*) PhD candidate
Cardiogenomics Clinical and Research Program
Department of Biological Chemistry
School of Medicine, the University of California,
Irvine, California, USA.
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