Heading into 2020, Donald Trump and his administration are focused on a singular goal: to see him elected President of the United States for another four years.
It’s fair to assume, then, anything Trump says or does between now and November 3, 2020 is intentional. There isn’t a moment to waste when there’s so much at stake.
So it speaks volumes that Trump was preoccupied with belittling women at his campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina on Wednesday night. Reading a pre-written speech off a teleprompter to a riled-up stadium of supporters, Trump renewed his racist attacks on the four Democratic congresswomen known as ‘the squad’. He reiterated his rhetoric of the last week and then upped the ante, calling them “hate-filled extremists” who should “leave” America. He spoke at length particularly about Ilhan Omar, representative from Minnesota and squad member, falsely claiming she supported terrorist group Al Qaeda. When the audience started chanting “send her back” – a riff on the “lock her up” chant about Hillary Clinton frequently heard at Trump rallies in the lead-up to the 2016 election – Trump just paused and smiled.
He called representative Rashida Tlaib “vicious”. He falsely claimed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had called US border patrol agents Nazis and made fun of her Hispanic name, calling her “Cortez” because he didn’t “have time” to say it properly.
To invoke Mariah Carey’s iconic clap-back to Eminem, who frequently disparaged her in public: Why you so obsessed with me?
Trump knows the value of his rallies to feed his base, so it’s telling he devoted so much of it to tearing women down. It wasn’t just Omar and the squad; he also took aim at Elizabeth Warren, one of the leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination. He mentioned Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden only briefly, even though they’re polling equally as well if not better than Warren.
What it tells us is this: Trump knows he is not popular with women – his assault on women’s health and reproductive rights and the relentless accusations of sexual harassment have ensured that – and he knows his election in November 2016 galvanised millions and millions of women across the US, who are counting the days until they can vote Donald Trump out and America’s first female president in.
Trump knows that as a unified force, American women can end his presidency. So he’s trying to make the Democrats afraid to nominate a woman to run against him in the presidential race (it may be no coincidence both Warren and Kamala Harris recently soared in the polls). He’s also invoking the trope of the unstable, emotional, incapable, difficult woman, slandering and mischaracterising these progressive women to make Americans think twice about voting for the Democratic party.
Trump’s strategy is, however, a gamble. His rhetoric could push away moderate voters, and only give his opponents and enemies more fuel to use against him.
There’s certainly been an outpouring of support for Omar.The morning after Trump’s rally, the 36-year-old was swarmed by a pack of journalists and photographers as if she was a Kardashian-Jenner, stopping traffic in Washington DC.
“I am not [scared for my safety],” she said in response to questions about the “send her back” chant.
Just asked Omar about the chants, and she says of Trump: "I believe he is a fascist." Responding to Lindsey Graham, who said if she were wearing a MAGA hat Trump wouldn't have said 'go back:' "Because I criticized the president, I should be deported?" pic.twitter.com/Pdgtozu6x6
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) July 18, 2019
“What I’m scared for is the safety for people who share my identity. This is not about me. This is about fighting for what this country should be and what it deserves to be.”
Defiant on Twitter – Trump’s preferred boxing ring – Omar shared a quote from the late civil rights activist and poet Maya Angelou.
“You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
-Maya Angelou https://t.co/46jcXSXF0B
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) July 18, 2019
Hundreds of thousands showed their support with likes and retweets, including rapper Cardi B.
She posted a photo of Omar, the caption a modern feminist war cry courtesy of Beyonce’s Formation lyrics:
“You know you that bitch when you cause all that conversation.”