“Send her back!” That was the chant which rose from the crowd at a Donald Trump re-election rally in Greenville, North Carolina last night. The woman the crowd called to effectively deport is duly elected member of Congress named Ilhan Omar. Somali by birth, Omar immigrated legally to the United States as a child and is a naturalized citizen of this country. She graduated from Minneapolis’ Edison High School and North Dakota State University. In 2016 she was elected by Minnesota’s 5th District to represent them in the U.S. Congress. President Trump is the President of the United States of which she is a citizen. Yes, she is a Democrat and her political positions (particularly concerning Israel) are positions many find deeply offensive. She is Muslim. She is a person of color. She presses an agenda with which I do not personally agree. But none of that changes the reality that she is, in fact, an American and as such, protected by the same inalienable rights afforded us all.
“Send her back” suggests she does not belong here and mechanisms exist to expel her.
“Send her back” suggests America is only for the “we the people” who are “us” and not the any and all who are citizens. That’s a depth of division both dangerous and soul-concerning.
Pause for a moment and ask yourself what you think it means to have the guaranteed right of the first freedoms? Does freedom of religion cover the freedom to believe differently or nothing at all? Does freedom of speech cover the freedom to say things others find offensive? Does freedom of protest cover the freedom to seek to change the very fabric of the culture? I may not like it, but the American experiment in representative democracy means the people of the 5th District of Minnesota were free to elect and send a citizen representative to Congress who is Ilhan Omar. They sent her to D.C. and now they are hearing other Americans chant about their representative, “send her back.”
Revisiting our 7th grade Civics class is in order here. Three things must exist for a particular government to be recognizable as democratic: democracy, constitutionalism and liberalism. “Send her back” threatens all three.
Democracy or rule by the people requires free and fair elections. In 2016, Donald Trump was elected President and at the same time Ilhan Omar was elected to the U.S. Congress. Free and fair elections. Democracy at work. Democracy threatened the welfare of candidates – or elected officials – is attacked by supporters of rival parties.
Constitutionalism is the second leg of our national stool. Chanting Send her back denies or restricts the basic freedoms of conscience, religion and expression guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America. Both Donald Trump and Ilhan Omar took oaths to uphold, protect and defend that Constitution.
Third is the principle of liberalism. This one can be confusing because the word liberal and classic liberalism mean very different things. Classic liberalism doesn’t mean you’re a liberal by the contemporary definition. Classic liberalism means you value the free exchange of ideas and a marketplace of ideas where the best ideas win. Similarly, tolerance does not mean every idea is equally valid or truthful. Classic tolerance is quite the opposite. True tolerance holds that all people are equal but all ideas are not equal. Some ideas are actually better than others and we weigh the relative value of ideas through the free exchange in the public square.
Therefore the most democratic approach to Ilhan Omar is to engage her ideas and contrast them with the better ideas of real tolerance toward people of other faiths (including Jews), positive pluralism, pro-life dignity, etc.
In America we are all small d democrats in that we are all part of a representative democracy that only works if we all mutually uphold the constitutionalism and classic liberalism upon which it was all built – by those who came from other lands to create a nation with a unique government: of the people, by the people and for the people, one and all.