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Opinion | Michael A. Cohen

Does Trump know what it means to be an American?

From left, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rep. llhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) respond to remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen to go back to their "broken" countries, during a news conference Monday.
From left, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rep. llhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) respond to remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen to go back to their "broken" countries, during a news conference Monday.(J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

President Trump’s racism is so profound and so essential to his political persona that it no longer seems possible to be shocked by it. Yet this weekend, with a vile Twitter rant telling four Democratic congresswomen of color to “go back” to the countries they came from, Trump not only reached a new low, but he also reminded us once again of how contemptuous and fundamentally unaware he is of what it means to be an American.

“Go back” from where they came. This is pure and unadulterated racism — the kind of thing you might expect to hear from a beer-swilling yahoo perched for far too long on a bar stool. But for this president, it’s pretty much what we’ve become inured to over the past four years. We saw it when he came down that escalator at Trump Tower to accuse Mexican immigrants of being rapists and criminals. We heard it when he said a Mexican-American jurist couldn’t judge him fairly because of his “heritage,” when he called African and Latin American countries “shitholes,” and when he said there were good people on “both sides” of a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va.

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This is not a case of the president being misquoted or taken out of context, as his enablers and defenders like to claim. It’s not the president fanning the flames of racism.

This is an old white man, alone in the White House, spouting knee-jerk, nativist bigotry that he believes to be true. But it’s also so fundamentally anti-American that it should outrage all of us, no matter what our political persuasion.

America is a unique country in that it’s based — at least in theory — on a creed and an idea. There is no allegiance here — again in theory — to blood or soil, religion or tribe, but rather to the notion that “all men are created equal” and that they are endowed “with certain unalienable rights . . . Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

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It’s why the president, every officeholder, and every soldier swears an oath not to the nation, but rather to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

It’s why any person can emigrate to the United States and become a citizen, with the same rights and same identity as someone whose family has been here for several generations. Under the law, but also by tradition, there is no difference. One doesn’t have to agree with or even like the Democratic members of Congress Trump criticized to recognize that their views and perspectives are as valid as any other American.

Trump’s Twitter rant turns this entire concept of America on its head. For him, the mere act of being a person of color arouses suspicion. It makes you, in the eyes of Trump, somehow, less of an American. If you have the temerity, as Trump put it on Twitter, to “tell the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” that’s even more of a mark against you — which is a bit hard to reconcile with a president who coined the phrase “American Carnage” to describe this nation on the day he took office.

One might imagine that being an elected member of Congress would give someone a fairly obvious platform to tell one’s fellow Americans “how our government is to be run,” but for Trump, being nonwhite is a disqualification. Indeed, the president doubled down on Monday morning, suggesting that Americans have to “love our country” . . . or “they can leave.” It’s as simple and as contemptible as that. In Trump’s America, one should be judged not by the content of their character, but by the color of their skin.

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Yet, Trump doesn’t suggest that any white American should leave the country if they don’t properly love it — even if they come from a country with a lousy government. Explicit in his words is the idea that one’s identity as an American is inextricably linked to the color of their skin. If they look like Trump and his followers — they can stay. Even if they criticize Trump and his policies. If they look different and criticize America . . . get out.

And for all Trump’s complaints about Democrats being insufficiently adoring of America, the only person in this sordid mess who consistently demonstrates hatred for this country is the president, who shows, over and over again, that he has not a clue what being an American actually means.


Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.