Trump accused of pandering to white nationalists
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Four congresswomen attacked by US President Donald Trump in tweets widely branded as racist have accused him of pandering to white nationalists ahead of the 2020 vote. In response, they have urged Americans not to take the bait of his "divisive rhetoric."
Defiant in the face of widespread criticism, Trump renewed his call for the four women of colour to get out of the US "right now".
"These are people that hate our country," Trump said Monday. "If you're not happy here, you can leave."
Far from backing down, Trump dug in on comments he had initially made a day earlier on Twitter that if lawmakers "hate our country," they can go back to their "broken and crime-infested" countries.
Trump also accused the four Democratic congresswomen -- who are of Hispanic, Arab and African-American origin -- of having "love" for US "enemies like Al-Qaeda."
Although Trump did not name his targets, his remarks appeared to be aimed at four outspoken minority lawmakers, that include Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
Three of the women were born in the US and one, Omar, was born in Somalia but came to the US as a child.
"He’s launching a blatantly racist attack on four duly elected members of the United States House of Representatives, all of whom are women of color,” said Omar, whom Trump accused of being an Al Qaeda sympathizer.
“This is the agenda of white nationalists, whether it is happening in chat rooms, or it is happening on national TV, and now it’s reached the White House garden,” Omar said.
Eye on 2020 vote
"These women are taking this out of context," reckons Marc Porter, chair of the organisation Republican Overseas in France.
"He is out there defending his point of view and his supporters' point of view, defending them from these women who call themselves The Squad. To me, they are more like a bunch of bully girls back in school, and the president feels like he and his supporters have been attacked by them and he's responding to it," Porter told RFI.
Trump's comments appear to be aimed at firing up his mostly white electoral base in the lead up to the 2020 presidential vote
"What you’ve got here is the ingredients for the storm whipped up on social media by Trump, which is let’s call it what it is: racism, his distrust of other countries," says Scott Lucas, a professor of US politics at Birmingham University in the UK.
Trump's outburst was the latest episode in a presidency in which he has skittered from condemnations of black athletes kneeling during the national anthem to insults lobbed at developing countries to a defense of protesters at a white supremacist march.
"It's an election tactic.Whether it’s coming from Donald Trump or his advisors, they will try to run for Trump’s reelection next year on the idea that extremists--enemies of the US--have taken over the Democratic party and are trying to subvert the country from within. That’s the way you tar your political foes," Lucas told RFI.
Analysts suggest that Trump's comments may also be aimed at deepening divisions within the Democrat party, which has been riven by internal debate over how best to oppose his policies.
That plan "backfired" said Meredith Gowan Le Goff, a member of the group US Democrats abroad in France.
"The Democrats rallied around and unified because it clearly showed his willingness to throw gasoline on a situation to try and inflame it on a race basis," she told RFI.
Republicans were slow to respond to the president's tweets. Several said he was out of line Monday, while others defended him.
"The president is saying that America has advanced much further than other countries, he says it in his own way which is harsh but he's trying to make a bigger point," Porter of the Republican Overseas group insisted.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said Trump's campaign slogan truly means he wants to "make America white again," announced Monday that the House would vote on a resolution condemning his new comments, forcing lawmakers to go on the record.
"I often don't agree with the words and the choice that the president makes but if we put aside our sensibilities and start to think more realistically he's trying to make the point that if these four congresswomen stopped complaining we can make America great again," Porter said.
The Democrats' resolution "strongly condemns President Donald Trump's racist comments" and says they "have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of colour."