At the age of eight, Ilhan Omar fled her native Somalia, a country ravaged by civil war and poverty. She and her family spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp before immigrating to the United States for a better, safer life. Today, Omar serves Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District in the House. From refugee to congresswoman, Omar’s life story is that of the American Dream, although Omar herself does not see it that way. But not everyone delights in the young congresswoman’s success.
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
Tweeted by President Donald Trump at 8:27 in the morning on Sunday, July 14, the president targeted Ilhan Omar, telling her to leave the country where she serves in elected office and has been a citizen since she was 17 years old. The other “Democrat Congresswomen” to whom the president refers are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA). All three were born in the United States.
The idea that people of color should go back to their ancestral homelands when they disagree about the way the country is being governed is despicable and racist. The message of Trump’s tweet is clear: dissenting people of color are not welcome here.
As a democratically elected congresswoman, Omar has an obligation to tell “the people of the United States how our government is to be run,” and as a citizen, she legally has the same rights as any American—by birthright or otherwise. And yes, as a recipient of asylum in the United States, Omar should, at least in part, credit her success to the generosity of the American government and all the opportunities that living in America can afford an ambitious, young person. Should Omar be grateful to the United States? Absolutely. Should her status as an immigrant-turned-citizen color her ability to speak her mind? Absolutely not. The asylum Omar and her family received in the United States did not come at the price of free speech. Omar should watch what she says not because she was born in Somalia, but because what she says is often wrong.
On her sharp criticism of the United States, Americans are justified in their grumblings that she would call the U.S. a disappointment or a “broken promise.” There is something to be said for tact in terms of phrasing dissatisfaction for a country that is amazing in so many ways. The idea of the American utopia is a myth; and while I understand that eight-year-old Omar could believe in such a naive notion, she is now an educated adult who should recognize that being able to go from refugee to congresswoman should count for something. To be clear: Omar is allowed to say what she wants, and those who hear her are equally allowed to make their qualms with her known.
While her criticisms of America should be tolerated at the very least in the name of free speech, Omar’s anti-Semitism is unequivocally disgusting. Bigotry is not American, progressive, or moral. But ironically, Omar’s most high-profile critic is far from being a model of civility and morality himself.
Donald Trump is racist: among other things, he propagated the racist “birther” conspiracy; he has called migrants from below our southern border “criminals” and “rapists;” he called Haiti and many African nations “shitholes;” and perhaps worst of all, the president defended white-nationalist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, as some of the “very fine people on both sides.”
And on the relationship between gratitude for our country’s opportunity and giving back in the form of service, the fact that this latest attack on Omar is from the keyboard of Donald Trump, the famous draft-dodger himself, is awfully rich.
Our political leaders must embody American values: they should love their country; they should improve their country; they should serve their country. But apparently, that’s a little boring for modern America, which has developed a penchant for electing bigots. Such people hold views counter to the American ideas of the “melting pot” and respect for our nation’s history as a country built by slaves and immigrants. Whether racist like our president, or anti-Semitic like the congresswoman from Minnesota’s fifth, some of our current politicians are far from America’s best, and they should not be leading us. Why don’t they go back and fix their totally broken, bigoted mentalities from whence they came? Maybe then they can come back and show us how it’s done.