Words can make us laugh and they can make us cry. Words can raise us up and they can put us down. Words can inspire and they can condemn.

Most words are innocent, ways to convey information, emotion and knowledge.

Sometimes, though, when combined in certain ways, words convey hate and intolerance. Such is the case of President Donald Trump's tweets about four Democratic freshman representatives who call themselves "the Squad."

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan -- all women of color -- are trying to pull the Democratic Party to the far left, a direction many people don't want the party to go. Their rhetoric can be inflammatory, it can be intemperate, it can be uncomfortable to hear. They even have been feuding with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who now seems far more moderate than she was just a year ago.

But, like the restof us, the four representatives have a sacred right under the Constitution to speak freely, to express themselves. Just as they have the right to speak, the rest of us have the right not to listen, to ignore and, yes, to express our own opinions.

But the president crossed the line -- in fact, obliterated it -- in his tweets starting a week ago.

"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," President Trump tweeted last Sunday.

"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!" the president wrote in a three-tweet thread.

Of course, the country Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib would go back to is -- wait for it -- America. All three were born here. Omar came to this country some 20 years ago as a refugee from the horror that is Somalia. She worked hard and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. America is her country, too.

The words the president used were harsh, but they also were racist and beneath the dignity of the president of the United States. "Why don't they go back ..." is a phrase that carries heavy baggage' particularly to people of color. It calls up sour memories of slavery, when hundreds of thousands of black Africans were transported to this country in chains, to be sold to work the farms and fields from dawn to dusk. In the 150 and more years those slaves they were "freed," the hated "go-back" term was a way to keep African-Americans down, in the place this country assigned them for far too long.

Tell a white person to "go back to where they came from ..." might cause him or her to take umbrage, but ultimately shrug it off. Tell a black person the same thing, and it sends a message that that person is not wanted here.

The president knows this. We all know this. That's why most of us never would use the term.

That Trump would use it against four women of color is particularly galling. Even worse, when called on, Trump doubled down and said lots of Americans agree with -- and that's particularly sad in 2019. Trump suggested the four congresswoman should apologize. Nonsense, it is the president who should apologize -- but, of course, he never apologizes for anything.

Yes, the president has the right to speak his mind, just as the four congresswomen do. But with that great freedom goes great responsibility. Unfortunately, the president ignores that responsibility.

That doesn't mean the rest of us should. All of us, white and black, young and old, should denounce President Trump's despicable tweets. We should do it publicly and forcefully. Tell the president he is wrong and that tweet was unAmerican.

We had hoped the Congress would take the lead in doing so, but, our senators and representatives for the most part kept their head in the sand or issued tepid releases that frequently took aim at the Democrats. This isn't a partisan issue, though. Racist remarks are racist remarks, no matter who speaks them.

Like the four congresswomen, don't like them. Support or oppose their goals. But don't tell them to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."

They came from here or rushed to get here. They are Americans, as are we all. We are in this together and we should do our best to get along.

We love America, but that doesn't mean we can't be critical and offer a different direction to take -- and when racist comments are made, we should denounce them immediately.

(1) comment

Richard Woodward

You write, "We all know this," and I would like to think it were true. Yet the President stood at a rally while an arena full of supporters chanted, "Send them back!" Apparently, if "we" ever knew that such racist comments were wrong, the President has taught a lot of "us" that it isn't, that's it's OK to chant hateful racist phrases. This president has done such harm to the spirit of our country. I only hope that damage is not permanent.

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