Trump’s racist tweets risk damaging the fabric of American society further

A visceral debate on racism and immigration has again gripped the United States, after President Donald Trump attacked four Democratic Congresswomen of colour, asking them to return to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”. His tweets raised a furore over their racist tenor and exacerbated the sense of bitter polarisation, given the strident ongoing debate over Mr. Trump’s zero-tolerance approach toward undocumented migration. The House of Representatives, under Democratic control, voted to condemn Mr. Trump’s remarks as racist, marking the first such reprimand of a sitting President in over a century. Not only did that Congressional rebuke to Mr. Trump pass mostly along partisan lines, by a vote of 240 to 187, but other senior Republicans including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell defended the President against the racist label. Nevertheless, Mr. Trump hit back again at the four Congresswomen — who have adopted the moniker “the Squad” — on Twitter for what he called their “horrible and disgusting actions”, “racist hatred”, and for being “anti-America”, “anti-Semitic”, and possibly communist sympathisers.

Stepping back from the immediate, acerbic terms of this exchange, the bigger concern is that these hateful comments risk damaging the fabric of American society further, as they are an unmistakable and painful hint from their President that legal immigrants, especially people of colour, are not welcome. Yet, there can be no denying the significance of immigrants as a demographic cohort of the country. More than 44.5 million immigrants, at least 13.7% of the overall population, reside in the U.S.; one in seven U.S. residents is foreign-born. Mexicans, Indians and Chinese immigrants are respectively the largest sub-groups within this cohort. It was little surprise then, that Ilhan Omar, one of Mr. Trump’s targets, situated the comments in the agenda of white nationalism, arguing that given the direct contravention of U.S. constitutional values implied, it was time to consider impeaching him. Yet impeachment would be an option only if the Senate were also to come under Democratic control, or if there might be some conceivable reason why Republicans would break with their recent record of siding with Mr. Trump no matter how egregious his conduct. A more tedious, but deep-rooted approach would be for liberals of all hues to engage in a meaningful dialogue with their conservative detractors, over what they could agree on as a common minimum agenda and values that could anchor their nation’s march into the 21st century. If a nationwide conversation of this sort, aimed at discovering a reasonable middle ground is not undertaken, the very idea of the American dream, of a meritocracy built on harnessing talent from around the world, will unravel fast.