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The Broader Attack Behind Trump’s ‘Go Back’ Where They Came From Slur

| July 15, 2019

The president is making repeated suggestions to American members of Congress to 'go back' to th countries they came from. (White House)

The president is making repeated suggestions to American members of Congress to ‘go back’ to th countries they came from. (White House)

By Jeffrey C. Isaac

This week Donald Trump, the awful man who currently occupies the U.S Presidency, brought his racist, xenophobic, and authoritarian campaign against liberal democracy to a new low, taking to Twitter both to denounce four Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives, women of color all, and to imply that they are “aliens” who don’t belong in the country:

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. 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.

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar, the four women in question, are of course U.S. citizens—as the Constitution requires of all members of Congress. The first three are indeed “from” the U.S., having been born here—it is worth remembering that the Trump administration has endorsed the idea of eliminating “birthright citizenship”—and the fourth, Ilhan Omar, who first arrived in the U.S. in 1992 as an asylum-seeking refugee from Somalia, has been a naturalized citizen since 2000.

Trump’s despicable tweets, like so many of his statements, were immediately and rightly denounced as racist and xenophobic by a wide range of journalists and virtually all Democrats, though no major Republicans. (Of his many hundreds of racist comments, these tweets perhaps most resembled his 2018 comments about immigrants “from shithole countries.”)

Yet while these comments surely further fueled the vicious, racist right-wing attacks against AOC and her colleagues in “The Squad,” it would be a mistake to reduce them to their racism. For they also articulated a broader reactionary agenda that goes beyond racism and that targets the left in general.

This was made clear this past weekend by the remarks of Trump’s Sycophant Number One, Senator Lindsey Graham, who went on television to defend Trump from the charges of racism:

We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists. They hate Israel, they hate our own country. They’re calling the guards along our border, Border Patrol agents concentration camp guards. They accuse people who support Israel of doing it for the Benjamins. They’re anti-Semitic. They’re anti-America. Don’t get down, aim higher. . .  We don’t need to know anything about them personally. Talk about their policies.

This morning Trump followed Graham’s lead, slightly shifting his rhetorical ground while doubling down on his attack:

When will the Radical Left Congresswomen apologize to our Country, the people of Israel and even to the Office of the President, for the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said. So many people are angry at them & their horrible & disgusting actions!

In so doing, Trump made clear that his racism, powerful as it is, is linked to a broader hostility to the left, and to a campaign of red-baiting that has been central to his Presidency—only a few short months ago, in his February 2019 State of the Union address, he declared that “we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country”—and that will clearly loom ever larger as November 2020 approaches.

How far will this campaign against the broader political left go in the months to come? What forms might it take if Trump were to win re-election in 2020, and have another four years to do his damage?

It is worth recalling that a hundred years ago another woman of the left drew the ire of another President, this one, Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. As the Jewish Women’s Archive explains: “On December 21, 1919, Emma Goldman, along with 248 other radical ‘aliens,’ was deported to the Soviet Union on the S.S. Buford under the 1918 Alien Act, which allowed for the expulsion of any alien found to be an anarchist.”


Goldman, born in 1869 in Kovno, Lithuania, came to the U.S. in 1885, as did millions of Eastern and Southern European immigrants during the closing decades of the 19th century. Goldman was an anarchist; a crusader for worker rights, women’s rights, and sexual freedom; and, as both a supporter of the Russian Revolution in 1917, and an outspoken opponent of U.S. entry into World War One in 1918-19, she became a targetof government surveillance and repression. The “Palmer Raids,” launched by Attorney General Mitchell Palmer in late 1919 to arrest and deport “foreign radicals,” took place in over 30 cities in 23 states; arrested between 6000 and 10,000 individuals; and led to deportation of almost six hundred resident aliens. Goldman was one of them. Along with her collaborator (and lover), Alexander Berkman, she was convicted; imprisoned; briefly detained, ironically, on Ellis Island; and then expelled from the country (while at Ellis Island, they co-wrote a powerful pamphlet, “Deportation, its Meaning and Menace: Last Message to the People of America”). While she was not originally “from here,” she was expelled less because of her ethnicity than because of her ideas.

Deportation and denaturalization is currently making a comeback. Rafia Zakaria, writing last year in The Nation on “How Trump is Stripping Immigrants of their Citizenship,” drew links between the administration’s tactics and those used a century ago against Goldman:

The Trump administration’s push to pursue denaturalization should be considered as one piece of the jigsaw that is closing off the United States to nonwhite individuals. Beginning with the Muslim ban, now upheld by the Supreme Court, extending to the vastly sped up ICE raids in areas with large Latino populations, to the detention and separation of asylum-seeking families at the border, these bits and pieces come together to reveal a worldview that accords with white nationalism.

Emily Pope-Obeda, writing last year in Jacobin on “Expelling Dissent,” described the ways that the Trump administration was upgrading the effort to deport immigrants active in the sanctuary and immigration rights movements:

This string of deportations and detentions, while appalling, are anything but unprecedented. For well over a century, the US government has used its deportation powers to suppress opposition, intimidate movements, and silence critics. Frequently, it has acted in especially targeted ways, cracking down on individual leaders to send a message to any foreign-born activists who might consider speaking out. 

While both Zakaria and Pope-Obeda recall the treatment of Goldman and other “alien” dissenters, they center their accounts on the ways that Trump seeks to close borders and to enforce a racially and ethnically exclusive conception of citizenship, using the power of the state to deport “dangerous aliens” and thus to undermine immigrant rights.

Trump’s recent Tweets are clearly motivated by xenophobic racism. But they also raise the specter of an even broader targeting of individuals because of their ideas, with a special emphasis on those who either are or might be considered “socialist.” In this way, they bring to mind not simply the horrible treatment meted out to Goldman, but the treatment meted out to thousands of other WWI dissenters, most famously Eugene V. Debs, who could not be told to “go back to where you came from”—Debs was a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant from Terre Haute, Indiana—but could be told to stop criticizing the government nonetheless. Debs did not run afoul of the 1918 Alien Act. But he did famously run afoul of the 1917 Espionage Act; his widely-publicized anti-war speech in Canton, Ohio in June 1918, led to his arrest, conviction, and imprisonment, and was part of a massive wave of anti-socialist repression (On this topic, I strongly recommend Ernest Freeberg’s Prisoner of Democracy: Eugene V. Debs, the Great War, and the Right to Dissent).

Trump’s racist Tweets are ominous both because of their xenophobia and because of their hostility to democracy. What Emma Goldman said at her deportation hearing on October 27, 1919, is worth quoting at length:

Every human being is entitled to hold any opinion that appeals to her or him without making herself or himself liable to persecution. Ever since I have been in this country—and I have lived here practically all my life—it has been dinned into my ears that under the institutions of this alleged Democracy one is entirely free to think and feel as he pleases. What becomes of this sacred guarantee of freedom of thought and conscience when persons are being persecuted and driven out for the very motives and purposes for which the pioneers who built up this country laid down their lives? And what is the object of this star chamber proceeding, that is admittedly based on the so-called Anti-Anarchist law? Is not the only purpose of this law, and of the deportations en masse, to suppress every symptom of popular discontent now manifesting itself through this country, as well as in all the European lands? It requires no great prophetic gift to foresee that this new Governmental policy of deportation is but the first step towards the introduction into this country of the old Russian system of exile for the high treason of entertaining new ideas of social life and industrial reconstruction. Today so-called aliens are deported, tomorrow native Americans will be banished. Already some patrioteers are suggesting that native American sons to whom Democracy is not a sham but a sacred ideal should be exiled. To be sure, America does not yet possess a suitable place like Siberia to which her exiled sons might be sent, but since she has begun to acquire colonial possessions, in contradiction of the principles she stood for over a century, it will not be difficult to find an American Siberia once the precedent of banishment is established. . .

I strenuously protest against this despotic law and its star chamber methods of procedure. I protest against the whole spirit underlying it—the spirit of an irresponsible hysteria. . .  the people can only profit by a free discussion of the new ideas now germinating in the minds of thinking men and women in society. The free expression of the hopes and aspirations of a people is the greatest and only safety in a sane society. In truth, it is such free expression and discussion alone that can point the most beneficial path for human progress and development. But the object of deportations and of the Anti-Anarchist law, as of all similar repressive measures, is the very opposite. It is to stifle the voice of the people, to muzzle every aspiration of labor.

Trump hates immigrants. He hates people of color. He hates worker rights. He hates journalists, and scientists, and educators. He hates democracy. He must be removed from office. For I do not think that constitutional democracy can survive another four years of his awfulness.

Jeffrey C. Isaac is James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. His books include: Democracy in Dark Times (1998); The Poverty of Progressivism: The Future of American Democracy in a Time of Liberal Decline; and Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion.

30 Responses for “The Broader Attack Behind Trump’s ‘Go Back’ Where They Came From Slur”

  1. Jim says:

    It seems any time a minority is criticized it is racist. It really gets old. For years if a northerner moved to Florida and complained we would say if you do not like here move back. If Trump had said this to 4 white politicians with Canadian roots there would not be a whisper. Time to stop this garbage that every time a minority is called to task that one is called a racist .

  2. Rob Jr. says:

    The imbeciles now says they “Hate our country”.

    So says a punk ass, cowardly draft dodger who has the balls to hug himself around the American flag..

  3. mausborn says:

    At least the truth about Trump and the Republican party is there for all to see. Regardless of who wins in 2020, it is stunning to realize that tens of millions of our fellow citizens are hopelessly prejudiced. It will take generations and maybe another Civil War to get past this. Trump is the symptom. GOP is the disease. It has been for a long time, as the Lee Atwater quote makes clear. Thank you for your continuing clarity.

  4. Vinnie says:

    Thank GOD for President TRUMP !!!!

    MAGA 2020

  5. Mandy says:

    Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar, the four women of the Apocalypse. They are the Devils Tools.

  6. kathy roberts says:

    These people you refer to above do not have respect for our country or the office of President. They are advocating for the advancement of forces intent to take over our country as we know it AND yes, veering towards socialism. That doesn’t mean those of us that would love to see them ousted are racist……it simply means we love our country and what it stands for. The above article is nonsensical… should not serve in office & be advocating for other than our own citizens. They actually want to invade, overrun our country, out breed us, etc. as part of the Muslim 100-year plan. It’s not a joke. They have already infiltrated our government in many positions & have a call out for the next election to have 5,000 more Muslims run for political offices. They are told to use deceit or whatever means necessary to accomplish their mission. They ultimately intend to kill infidels that do not accept their beliefs. I don’t care to see our Nation turn into a third world nation that practices some of their horrible ways. You have to watch out for the enemies within, because they are definitely already here.

  7. mausborn says:

    Yes, they are fixing the totally broken and crime infested places they came from………………..The UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!!!

    This isn’t about politics, this is about a disgusting human being who holds the highest office in the country. It’s a disgrace and 2020 can’t come soon enough.

    Name a single problem that Trump has fixed. And be specific, so we can fact check you. I dare you to reply.

  8. Shell says:

    “Trump hates immigrants. He hates people of color. He hates worker rights. He hates journalists, and scientists, and educators.”

    The fact that the writer and his ilk had no problem with Trump – in fact, they sang his praises – when he was making money hand over fist and giving away gobs of it to people and organizations that included every one of those mentioned in the above quote, and them, speaks volumes about the writer and his ilk.

    Here are a couple of news flashes for you, Jeffy, gratis. You’re not a “liberal”, you’re a Leftist. The country survived Obama, we’ll survive Trump.

    This is politics, it’s not personal. Stop taking it so, and stop making it so when you deal with others.

  9. David T Schaefer says:

    Could not agree with this article more. Congress needs to impeach this idiot. Republicans need to wake up as well as his base this is causing so much divide in this country . Trump you and your family YOU NEED TO GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM…..

  10. atilla says:

    Yeah Trump. We can use you here in Flagler County to be a leader because we do not have one.

  11. Fredrick says:

    What a bunch of trash….. If what he says “upset you” I must have missed your article that contains all the crap the four “Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives” have said about him and others, …. Do you even listen to what they say? Their fake outrage?? Didn’t one of them call him a “fucker”??? How many times have they called him a Nazi? This scrap you write is nothing more than the same one sided liberal stuff that got him elected and will assure he get’s re-elected. Now the democrats will have to put their arms around the “4 woman of color” and move the entire party to their far left views….. He plays the libs like a finely tuned Stradivarius. So that us deplorables can understand, that a fiddle.

  12. hawkeye says:

    while I dont like some of the things President Trump says ,I also dont like the way that it is a one way street, I have seen and heard many evil things about Trump, including on this forum, he has been called dump, drump, rumpf, and numerous other names.As much as he shouldnt say some of the things he says ,the same should apply to the negative names he is called. I have heard obama called “black o’sambo” and bush called shrub and some liberal bitch rubbing her vagina and saying her bush is smarter than george bush,all of this is equally as wrong.We ,as a group, seem to have lost all sense of dignity and manners and this didnt start when trump got elected.It has got to the point where you cant hardly have a conversation any more without someone getting ready to flip out. this has a lot to do with the generation that never heard the word “no” and when something dont go their way they overreact to everything.

  13. Richard says:

    No comment for this article as it is just more of the same crap against our president and his president also which he absolutely hates. Just more of the “same ole, same ole” Plus the word racist has been so overused that it has no actual meaning anymore. Everyone is now a racist! Sitting by the sidelines reading the comments and SMH.

  14. Minnie says:

    Thank you president trump for having the courage to say the real truth and thing that need to be said. The race card has been played one too many times! Why aren’t the four of them tagged with racism when they call our people white supremist time and time again!

  15. Leslie says:

    I agree with Frederick!

  16. flagler1 says:

    Trump is clearly the lesser of many evils.

  17. Mary Fusco says:

    While I do not agree with everything that Trump is advocating. can anyone please explain to me how a man that has been in office for less than 4 years be responsible for all the misery in this country? I guess everyone was happy as a pig in sheet 4 years ago. Citizens of this country really need to take their heads out of the sand and stop looking for someone to blame. Is Trump unpolished? Yes. Was Obama a polished politician and put it in with vaseline? Yes. It’s totally time for the American public to take responsibility for their actions and stop blaming everyone else.

  18. NicholeinFL says:

    To the anti Trump, anti American “writer” , it’s crap like this that makes me and many others I’m sure, want to vote for this savior of a President again ! President Trump has brought this country back to the top ! He is the hardest working President of my time. While Obama said “those jobs aren’t coming back”, Trump got them back and then some ! When he said ” you didn’t build that” to small business owners, Trump helped those small business owners. The vets, the military, the work force ! This country is thriving again because of this President! I agree with him. If you’re in congress, you don’t trash your own country! You don’t like it, go back to where you came from or work with the President to get things done ! Enough of the phoney baloney racist crap. He’s done MORE for minorities than Obama. Does the big bad tough guy scare you ? Buckle up butter cup for another 4 years ! #MAGA

  19. Fredrick says:

    @mausborn…… All you have to do is look at the economy and not only the record low unemployment numbers but the actual number of people employed. Remember… the economy was going to tank when he was elected, it was going to be the end of times…Keep up the rhetoric and the push to the farther and farther left. The Dems, have nothing, no solutions, just negative attacking of the President. I think he is a slime ball, but I did not vote for him because I wanted him over for dinner. I voted for him because the other option was not an option at all. It would have been nothing more than the same liberal crap. We knew what we were getting with him. And he has done what he has said he would do.
    Here is another thing you can fact check. Recognized Jerusalem as the capital if Israel.

  20. Fredrick says:

    Rep Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice”

    So if you don’t march in lock step with “WHAT” you are sit down and shut up!!!!

    BIGGOT!! RACIST!!!!! I am sure Mr. Issac above will have a strong opinion here thet he will publish. Or maybe even Pierre will speak up to show how this racist and bigoted comment should not be stood for. Come on now guys… truth is a two way street…..

  21. Dave says:

    Minnie if “your people” are truely white supremacists as you claim they are in your statement, then you by definition youbare racists and also part of a terrorist group that should be investigated.

  22. Ritchie says:

    Regardless of what these ladies said and regardless of all about them, the response they received is devoid of substance.
    Is telling them to go back to where they came from and describing their roots as filthy and horrible the best response?

    I don’t think so. This response is running away from facts and substance and using insults. If this is what some of us likes, that’s OK. We cannot all agree on things.

  23. flagler1 says:

    All this anti-Trump just makes his base stronger…they just don’t get it.

  24. mausborn says:

    The economy started growing in 2009 under Obama and continued to grow through Obama’s tenure. Obama laid the foundation for the booming economy that Trump inherited. Trump just presides over it, so people credit him which is historically inaccurate. The economy is garbage unless you’re rich.

    This thing in the White House is riding President Obama’s JOCKSTRAP!.

  25. marlee says:

    Just a reminder….

    “Our roads and bridges are falling apart, our airports are in Third World condition, and 43 million Americans are on food stamps,”

    When Vladimir Putin attacked the notion of American exceptionalism in 2013, Trump publicly sided with Putin.

    Donald Trump said, “I will build a great wall—and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me—and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

    “McCain is not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

  26. Alphonse Abonte says:

    One step closer to Socialism with this rhetoric. Trump did this to align Pelosi with these anti- American politicians.Now the Dems BACK the SQUAD.Remember when Democrats cared about America, I don’t. It is about THEM. This gives a clearer picture of the Democratic party, Socialism at the beginning. Keep America great. Vote Republican.Show me a city in chaos, it is run by Dems. i.e. San Francisco, Chicago, New York,the list goes on.

  27. Fuggetaboutit says:

    Everything is racist. The President is racist, our founding fathers were racist, the moon is racist, the sky is racist…. Are you getting the picture? So the problem is about race and not behavior? Let’s keep ignoring that elephant in the room. LOL

  28. Dave says:

    Thankfully we have Obama’s economy going right now but once the doings of Trump start to catch up we will be in trouble. Also San Francisco is not in chaos,in fact quite the contrary. The only problem in San Francisco right now is the rich people coming in and causing rental prices to skyrocket displacing the locals that grew up there.

  29. Fredrick says:

    Sorry @Mausborn but nice try but that bridge left when Obama said a magic wand would be required to bring jobs back. Then you all backed that up by saying if Trump was elected it would be the end of times for the economy. Well the magic wand was elected. Didn’t take much just someone smarter than your Savoir the Boy King. The left including the media has thrown everything they can at him and things still are growing and booming. Look who is benefiting. Look who is working again and bringing home a paycheck, off of food stamps and paying taxes. Black unemployment all time lows, Hispanic unemployment all time lows, Woman in the work force all time highs… Yeah your story about only the rich are benefiting is BS. All Americans, even liberals who fight him tooth and nail are benefiting….But wait… since he has changed things to put all these people back to work he must be racist….. so tired of this crap. You are ensuring he elected for another term as the Dems more and more insignificant.

  30. bill nelson says:


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