HIMMAT is starting off as a blog by Rajmohan Gandhi who has written on the Indian independence movement and its leaders, South Asian history, India-Pakistan relations, human rights and conflict resolution. His latest book is Modern South India: A History from the Seventeenth Century to the Present (New Delhi: Aleph, forthcoming).

Four American women

Four American women much in the news, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, first attracted fame when they were elected as Democrats to the House of Representatives at the end of 2018, and next when they were willing to be described as ‘The Squad’ of progressive Democrats.

Now President Trump has given the four women a fresh boost by tweeting that they should ‘go back’ to their countries of origin, and by reiterating to them, despite wide attacks on his tweet, ‘You can leave if you are not happy here.’

Who are these four women? Ocasio-Cortez represents one of New York City’s districts in the Congress, Omar the city of Minneapolis. Tlaib’s constituency includes much of Detroit, while Pressley represents large sections of Boston. In current US terminology, Ocasio-Cortez would be categorized a Hispanic, Omar a Somali-American, Tlaib a Palestinian-American, and Pressley an African-American. 

All are ‘women of colour’, another description they welcome. While three of the four were born in the US, Omar arrived as a six-year-old refugee.

If Omar and Tlaib are the first Muslim women ever to be elected to the US Congress, Pressley is the first African-American woman from Massachusetts to win a House seat. Usually referred to as ‘A.O.C.’, Ocasio-Cortez, whose ‘Green New Deal’ proposal won wide attention, calls herself a Democratic Socialist, as does Tlaib. 

Not surprisingly, The Squad has had an uneasy relationship with the Democratic Party’s more conventional leadership, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi symbolizes, but for the moment at least Trump’s unabashedly racist attacks seem to have united the party. Controlled by Democrats, the House of Representatives has voted to condemn Trump for the remarks, though with the support of only 4 Republican members.

However, the impact on America as a whole of the Trump-Squad controversy is hard to estimate. There are those who claim that in the current climate the ‘racist’ label that others have given to Trump, and the ‘Anti-American’ label he has given to The Squad, would help him electorally.

In this view, prejudice against non-whites, immigrants and Muslims should be seen as an American reality, and one that could continue to help Trump. The sentiment may shift from region to region, and from time to time, but it’s there. 

If the Democrats are to regain the White House, they would do so not because America as a nation has gone beyond race or religion, which it has not. They would do so if more Americans are attracted by the personality and policies of their candidate than by what Trump offers.

Interestingly, The Squad has for the moment occupied the stage that should belong to Democratic challengers to Trump in next year’s contest. United in their dismay and disgust with Trump, America’s Democrats at this juncture are divided on who they want as his replacement in the White House.

To return to ‘Go back where you came from’, those are words that aggrieved, annoyed or drunk white Americans may at times throw at someone from a different background. Indian-Americans too, or students from India, may on occasion to hear the phrase, which is an off-spring of the view that America belongs to certain white groups. 

In this view, virtually everyone else, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa – all except Native Americans, who add up to inconsequential numbers -- are Americans only by permission of the country’s rightful owners, who may withdraw their permission at any time. 

Even when these non-whites are American citizens, and even if their forebears were American citizens. They are Americans under sufferance, from whom true Americans, so the cry goes, should take their country back. 

Is racism then becoming as acceptable in the US (where I am typing this) as communalism has become in India? Is racial tolerance or racial equality becoming as politically incorrect as secularism has become in India?

Probably not. Yet it remains concerning that no prominent person in the Republican establishment has categorically repudiated the Trump tweet against the four Congresswomen.

Our risky planet

Populism and its rise