Louisiana’s history has been touched by the tragedy of banishment, as in the 18th century, when the British questioned the patriotism of Acadian residents of Canada and told them they weren’t welcome to stick around anymore.
Those displaced ancestors of the Cajuns landed in Louisiana, enriching the life of a young nation, the United States, in which citizens aren’t supposed to be bullied to leave just because they seem different or question their government.
That’s why those of us who live in this part of the world should be especially grieved by President Donald Trump’s assertion that four Democratic members of Congress, all women of color, should go back where they came from because they’ve dared to question his policies. Three of the women were born in the United States, and one is a naturalized citizen like the president’s wife. His suggestion that these political rivals are somehow aliens of their own country evokes age-old prejudices that have plagued the South, especially, since the origins of this republic. Louisiana’s role in that troubled past should tell us all we want to know about the consequences of racial conflict.
It’s tragic that Trump is peddling bigotry, but of course he didn’t invent it. One of the recent targets of his tweets, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, has trafficked in appalling antisemitic slanders that her fellow Democrats, to their shame, have lacked the will to fully address.
Prejudice should be condemned wherever it’s practiced, but as the presumed leader of the free world, Trump has a special obligation to demonstrate democratic ideals. His fellow Republicans should call him out when he fails that standard.
Louisiana GOP gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone typically blamed the controversy on “liberal media outrage,” although the reliably conservative Fox News journalist Brit Hume had concluded that Trump’s tweets were “nativist, xenophobic, counterfactual and politically stupid.”
U.S. Rep Ralph Abraham of Alto, who’s also running for governor, signaled another thumbs-up for the president. “I’m sick and tired of people tearing this country down and constantly talking about how bad they think we are ... . If you hate this country that much, you are free to leave at any time,” Abraham told his social media followers.
Telling critics to love America or leave it is rhetorical swagger, but real courage it is not. A free people settles its civic differences at the ballot box after reasoned and vigorous debate, not by urging those with whom they disagree to disappear.
This nation, whose birthday we marked this month, was born of dissent, and disagreement should never be demonized as un-American.
That cannot be the Louisiana way, nor can it be the destiny of the greatest country on earth.