Rep. Ayanna Pressley said that President Donald Trump’s recent attacks against Rep. Elijah Cummings and herself will only encourage the spread of white supremacy throughout the country.
“This rhetoric is dangerous because it does embolden and fan the flames of white supremacy and xenophobia,” Pressley said during an interview with Boston Public Radio on Thursday. “So, it has been a challenging time, just what has been unleashed in terms of the venom and vitriol.”
In July, Trump sought to exploit public tension between Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Reps. Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who have collectively dubbed themselves “the squad,” in a series of racist tweets.
“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,” Trump wrote in a July 14 tweet. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
When she first read about Trump’s tweet, Pressley said she did not want to focus on it, and felt that it was a distraction from the “callousness and corruption of [his] administration.” The congresswoman, however, eventually came to see it differently. Though she said she believes that the president’s goal may have been to distract the public from things like former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony, Pressley said the blatant racism Trump exhibited shines a light on the way he views citizens of color.
“At the end of the day, he’s accomplishing exactly what he seeks to do, and that is to dehumanize,” Pressley said. “It’s not a distraction as much as it is the manifestation of what he aims to do, and that is to dehumanize black and brown people.”
In an interview with CBS’ “Face The Nation” on Sunday, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said in response to criticism of Trump’s tweets that “everything that Donald Trump says is offensive to some people,” and that while Mulvaney understands why the tweets were perceived as racist, “that doesn’t mean that it’s racist.”
Pressley did not just reserve her criticisms for Trump. Following the president’s tirade against her, Cherokee Guns, a gun store in Murphy, North Carolina, erected a billboard calling the four congresswomen “idiots.” The town of Murphy is in the district of Rep. Mark Meadows, Pressley’s colleague on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. She said she was disappointed that Meadows stayed silent on the issue.
“I said ‘Look, this is your chance. Maybe you’ll get it right now. This is your district. This is dangerous,’ and crickets. No response,” Pressley said.
Pressley is also upset with Meadows for not making a more forceful statement against Trump in light of his bullying of Rep. Elijah Cummings. On Monday, Meadows broke his silence on the issue in a text to CNN, where he praised both Trump and Cummings and said he did not think either man was racist.
“I was so outraged at his lack of rallying around our chairman Elijah Cummings, who he considers a close friend, in the wake of the attacks that he received about his character and the city that he represents,” Pressley said.
While much of the attention has fallen on her, Pressley said that Trump’s comments are indicative of a harsh reality many people of color face every day. She said she feels fortunate to be witnessing the media coverage of Trump’s tweets while “operating from a seat of privilege.”
Pressley pointed out that the same day she found out about the tweet, the family of Eric Garner was informed the Department of Justice will not prosecute the officer responsible for Garner’s death.
“I think what this administration has done under the leadership of the occupant of this White House is to weaponize our identity, is to weaponize our race, to weaponize our gender, to weaponize our party,” Pressley said. “So, we are simply the face of that for which he has great contempt.”