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Opinion | Diane Hessan

Trump vs. the Squad — voters weigh in

Rep. Ayanna Pressley spoke as congresswomen Ilhan Abdullahi Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York looked on at a press conference in Washington.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley spoke as congresswomen Ilhan Abdullahi Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York looked on at a press conference in Washington. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Over the last several days, I have been in conversation with my panel of 500 voters about the conflict between President Trump and four progressive Democratic congresswomen. The general themes I have heard are:

• Shock that Democrats are taking the bait, one more time, as if it is news that the president made a racist remark.

• Disgust that our president has stooped this low.

• A belief that this is a smart and devious ploy by Trump to position the four women as the heart and soul and face of the Democratic Party, labeling them — and all Democrats — as radical socialist America-haters.

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For a deeper dive, here is a sampling of notes written to me by some of the voters on my panel:

Joseph, a Republican from Texas:

Wow, what an explosive message from Trump! My initial reaction was shock. Was this political suicide? I read it again and admitted that these are my thoughts too.

I know I’m not a racist. I am Hispanic, and I didn’t feel it was a racist tweet. I don’t think anyone knows what racism is anymore. It’s used so often, it’s lost its bite. Not a single person in his base left because of that tweet, and I think it actually did more to raise awareness about what these particular Democrats have been spewing for a while,, which is much more racist if you consider the anti-Semitic quotes from one of them.

They won’t denounce Antifa, not even for the assault on an ICE center where the American flag was replaced with the Mexican flag. My president says what he feels like no other politician has ever done, and lives with the consequences. It may cost him an election, but he never strikes out while letting the pitch sail by. I’ll take that over running and hiding. We’ve got a country to run. We need people who love our country and want to make it the best possible place to live. I guess that’s why they come here in droves.

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Nina, a Democrat from Michigan:

He is a racist. Anyone still supporting him is a racist. I am furious and upset Every. Single. Day. I can barely think straight. I keep upping my game of wearing politically “provocative” clothing. I find myself sizing people up in public, watching and waiting for people to be offensive. I don’t know what my reaction will be, but I am enraged.

He is disgusting. I want him impeached, yesterday.

Julian, a Democrat from Massachusetts:

I find the whole thing infuriating and sadly all too familiar as a half-Asian, half-European, first-generation American. Under even the weakest microscope, the sentiment is stupid. What makes you more American than me? Your skin color? You are conveniently forgetting everyone that got here before you or your ancestors; and even then, it’s a stupid argument. American-ness is not about who got here first, because we all know who that was. American-ness is about the values you hold. And those values are pretty damn well stated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Your rights are the same as mine. Doesn’t matter what you believe or worship. Doesn’t matter what you look like. That’s what the flag stands for.

Tim, an Independent who voted for Trump, from Colorado:

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What an idiot. He can’t seem to stay out of his own way. The only thing I can think of is that he feels the more that AOC and the others are in the spotlight the more it makes Democrats look really liberal, which will put off the moderate voter. But it equally makes me dislike Trump, so it leaves me feeling left without a choice in 2020.

Katie, a Republican from North Carolina:

I don’t care much for any of those women, but as usual, Trump needs to be more mindful of what he says. Show a little maturity and restraint. But I guess that’s why a lot of people like him.

Suzy, a Republican from Ohio:

All five of them need to stand in a corner. No doubt that Trump is oafish. As soon as I heard it, I rolled my eyes. OMG . . . could he have started a bigger fire?

My hopes are that soon someone lets him know that when his opposition is slinging mud at each other, he might wanna sit back and watch and not step in the fray.

Kathryn, a Democrat from Massachusetts:

I’m really ashamed of top-ranking Republicans. Regardless of how you feel about the politics of this particular group of women, telling brown people to go home is classic. Finally, do we really need to see who votes on whether Trump said a bad thing? Do we really need to vote on a resolution to call this guy America’s Racist Uncle in Chief at this point?

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Nancy, an Independent who voted for Clinton, from Connecticut:

I have begun to be shell-shocked by this president. My first reaction was horror of the words posted and Republican leadership’s reactions (or lack thereof), and my second reaction was that we should not make so much of his stupid tweet bombs and maybe he wouldn’t continue to behave as such a juvenile in public.

David, a Republican from Pennsylvania:

The Democrats have no troubling singling out Trump for a supposedly racist statement, but they could not do the same thing to Representative Ilan Omar a few weeks ago. It had to be “softened” to a general statement condemning all hateful statements. Give me a break. The hypocrisy is breathtaking! (But not surprising). A pox on both their houses. I don’t think Trump is racist, but he is stupid. The Squad accused Pelosi of being racist a few days ago. They all suck. This will most likely lead to four more years of Trump. Republicans are stuck with Trump. Democrats are just stuck — we could use a good candidate!

Jeremy, a Democrat from Massachusetts:

If you remove the racial dimension, Trump’s attacks on the four lawmakers are deeply problematic for other reasons. I disagree with far-left politicians like AOC about many things. But I also recognize that dissent and critique play important roles in maintaining the health of our society — and also in pushing us collectively toward the types of introspection that make a better future possible. To me it seems the discourse in Trump’s tweet is intended to delegitimize dissent in ways that are deeply corrosive to the long-term health of democracy.

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Jim, a Republican from Pennsylvania:

This is the USA — and both sides have freedom of speech.

If burning the flag can be considered a legal form or protest, why can’t sending a tweet saying, “If you don’t like it, get out”?

No one has ever seen anything like Trump — and that is fantastic in many ways. Why? More people are getting actively involved in politics than I can remember in my lifetime, whether they love him or not.

A lot of people like Trump, as arrogant and narcissistic as he may come across at times, because, quite frankly, he focuses on the issues that need to be fixed.

The house is having an emergency vote on his “tweets”? Why don’t they focus on their job and fix problems like immigration at the border?

Pat, a Democrat from Washington:

I’ll admit my first impression of the four new congresswomen is that I wasn’t a fan of them. They seemed more adept at getting media attention than actually doing the job.

I always tell myself I’m not going to be surprised because Trump has revealed over and over this is who he is, but here I am surprised. As for congresswoman Omar, who actually did immigrate here, I can’t think of a more hurtful and poisonous thing to say to an immigrant. The reaction by the GOP to Omar as a whole reminds me of when Obama first took office; it’s a loathing so extreme that the bigotry behind it is obvious.

Dan, an Independent from Minnesota:

I was really disappointed in Trump’s comments, because I came to the realization that it’s entirely possible that he is personally not racist, but he has no problems exploiting race as an issue to divide people for his own benefit. He is, after all, a businessman, and I can see him justifying this kind of rhetoric as “just business” in his own mind. I think that’s just as bad, if not worse than racism itself. Also, I worry about how the relative silence from the GOP will normalize this kind of rhetoric.

Robert, a Republican from Massachusetts:

I have a hard time believing the president is this brilliant. Maybe some of his campaign people came up with the strategy to start a debate with the four congresswomen. By starting this political storm with the Squad and getting every Democrat riled up, it could be putting a new face on the party that he will be running against in 2020. This strategy could draw back many independents and moderates who got him elected the first time.


Diane Hessan is an entrepreneur, author, and chair of C Space. She has been in conversation with 500 voters across the political spectrum weekly since December 2016. Follow her on Twitter @DianeHessan.