Because everything has to be about Donald Trump always, Trump decided to expand himself to fill the void in the middle of the ongoing, perfectly empty outrage campaign against Ilhan Omar, by tweeting out a video of the 9/11 attacks combined with the brief and innocuous quote from Omar that professional Islamophobes had decided to pretend had been dismissive of terrorism. Because Donald Trump is only a symptom or a consequence of something far worse than himself, while some Democrats responded with forthright condemnation and some with wobbly dismay or halfway acquiescence, the most powerful Democratic politician in the country decided to agree with him.
Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House and the only Democrat in control of any part of the federal government, delivered this contribution to the controversy, via Twitter:
The memory of 9/11 is sacred ground, and any discussion of it must be done with reverence. The President shouldn’t use the painful images of 9/11 for a political attack.
As we visit our troops in Stuttgart to thank them and be briefed by them, we honor our first responsibility as leaders to protect and defend the American people. It is wrong for the President, as Commander-in-Chief, to fan the flames to make anyone less safe.
Pelosi, or whoever tweets for her, sent these messages out hours after the first wave of Democratic reactions, in which Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders had immediately settled on the terms of response: to specifically identify Trump’s attack as Islamophobic, and to defend Omar specifically. Not every other Democratic candidate did this, or did it without being told to, but it was and is the appropriate thing to do, morally and politically, while an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim political movement accuses an individual member of Congress of being a terrorist sympathizer.
The Speaker’s complaint about a failure of “reverence” could have been, and may have been, as much a rebuke of Omar as of Trump.
Instead, the leader of Omar’s congressional delegation decided to ignore her, or worse. The only offense, as Pelosi described it, was that the “memory of 9/11” had been insulted—as if the memory of 9/11 were the one receiving death threats, or as if the Trump administration had sought to implement a ban on the memory of 9/11 coming into the country. The Speaker’s complaint about a failure of “reverence” could have been, and may have been, as much a rebuke of Omar as of Trump. It took another day before she tweeted out an acknowledgement that the president’s video was “dangerous.”
Kirsten Gillibrand did defend Omar, but likewise chose to preface her defense by siding with Omar’s attackers:
As a Senator who represents 9/11 victims, I can’t accept any minimizing of that pain. But Trump’s dangerous rhetoric against @IlhanMN is disgusting. It’s a false choice to suggest we can’t fight terrorism and reject Islamophobic hate at once—a president should do both.
Amy Klobuchar, too, endorsed the premise of Trump’s attack on Omar while claiming to be opposed to the attack itself:
Someone has already been charged with a serious threat on Congresswoman Omar’s life. The video the President chose to send out today will only incite more hate. You can disagree with her words—as I have done before—but this video is wrong. Enough.
The only way to disagree with Omar’s words—which were, again, “Some people did something”—is if, like Donald Trump and the New York Post, you have chosen them as a blank surface onto which to project your loathing of Muslims in general and a black Congressperson in a hijab in particular. David Frum, as part of his work at the Atlantic telling liberals to embrace bigotry before the bigots do, took the occasion to write about the Democrats “Falling Into the Ilhan Omar Trap,” describing Omar as “reckless,” “uncriticizable and unmanageable,” and having a “propensity to provoke.”
This warning about recklessness came from the same David Frum who wrote, and took credit for writing, George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech. His advice here was presented, according to the note at the end of the column, as “part of ‘The Speech Wars,’ a project supported by the Charles Koch Foundation, the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, and the Fetzer Institute.”
Frum is a disingenuous creep but he is also a dumb one, and the core of his expressed concern (toward the Democrats, whom he despises and opposes) was so perfectly stupid it was clarifying: the mistake the Democrats made, according to Frum, was not to have turned against Omar before Trump could use her as a weapon against them.
Aside from what this said about Omar, and where exactly a Muslim leftist could or could not fit into American politics, it was completely wrong about Trump. No one has ever improved their position by anticipating what Trump wants and giving it to him. In other contexts, Nancy Pelosi has made it clear she knows this perfectly well.
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, said nothing.