Ilhan Omar interview: Trump is a racist tyrant – but the United States is strong enough to survive his presidency

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isNormally, Ilhan Omar would be referred to in a different way. At 37, she is a progressive star with an inspiring story, a charismatic young MP and a national political figure in her own right.

But these are not normal times, and things being as they are, it’s hard to tell her story without also talking about the President of the United States, Donald Trump – a man with whom she shares virtually no attributes, but whose story is nonetheless connected to his.

This is because the pair represent two very different versions of the American Dream. One who values ​​ostentatious wealth, excess, bravado and gold-plated bathroom accessories. And the other: an immigrant success story and an unlikely trip from a refugee camp to the United States Congress.

More than that, they represent two different Americas. In November, voters will have a choice between themselves. The reluctance of so many to accept people like Omar as part of American history was the driving force that put Mr. Trump in the White House in 2016. If he wins again, that sentiment is likely to shatter. ‘deepen.

The president stoked this animosity – this racism – throughout his four years in power, making Omar a lightning rod for his base. On Tory Radio, Fox News, at Trump rallies, his name is a two-minute hate signal.

“I happen to embody multiple marginal identities. I am a woman, I am black, I am a refugee, an immigrant, a Muslim and I wear a hijab. And all of these identities have been vilified by the right… and militarized by Donald Trump, ”she said. The independent.

“For me, this understanding allows me to be resolute in how I shamelessly present myself, advocating for policies that make our country a more equitable society.”

Ilhan Omar is campaigning with her husband Tim Mynett at the Richfield Farmers Market on August 8, 2020 in Richfield, Minnesota(Getty)

It helps to consider one of the more frequent attacks directed against Omar, who was first elected by Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District in 2019. Tucker Carlson, Fox News commentator and Trump confidant, l ‘deployed frequently, framing his journey from refugee to citizen as a gift that should buy his silence. “After everything America has done for Omar and his family, she hates this country more than ever,” he said last year, and has repeated since.

And yet, even in times of national crisis, when many cannot see past the catastrophe of the moment, when democracy is at stake, Omar has remarkable hope for his future.

“Of course, we are alarmed at what we are witnessing right now, but there is a distinction between those who have lived with conflict and unrest but have institutions strong enough to resist, and those who engage in civil war and become a failed state, ”she said.

“I believe we have some very good institutions here in the United States that have withstood four years from Trump and can withstand a lot of things. It is one of the largest constitutions in the world. “

Omar’s ability to identify the deep structural problems America faces and to recognize its potential for change is rooted in its own history.

She was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1982, the youngest of seven siblings. Her mother died as a child, leaving her father – a teacher trainer – and grandfather to raise her.

Her family was forced to flee when civil war broke out in 1991. She vividly writes this first experience of war in her recently published memoir, This is what America looks like: my journey from refugee to congressman.



Our goal right now is to defeat Donald Trump – but for us it’s not the destination, it’s the opportunity to get closer to the destination

Ilhan Omar

“Suddenly, out of nowhere, we heard massive gunshots and men screaming. Our trip ended abruptly. Chaos immediately erupted in the back of the truck, ”she writes of this fateful escape.

“People crawled over each other without caring, struggling to get out without getting shot. We jumped out of the truck, forgetting to take the few things we had brought from home. I was barefoot as we ran as fast as possible towards the makeshift border with the sound of guns firing in the back. The sun set and we had no water, but we continued.

Omar and his family managed to flee the country to Kenya, where they lived in a refugee camp for four years. In 1995, they immigrated to the United States, arriving first in Virginia, then two years later in Minneapolis.

His first years in America were difficult. In her book, she writes that she was a victim of racism and bullying, but also of how she learned to defend herself (in her book, she describes herself as “small but a good fighter”).

She also shared how her first impressions of America were so different from the one she expected, the one her father had described: a country where everyone had the same chance for success. His first impression was disappointment.

“It doesn’t sound like the America you promised,” she later recalls, telling her father. He replied, “Well, we haven’t come to our America yet, you just have to be patient. “

Omar became a U.S. citizen at age 17, in 2000, the same year Mr. Trump ran his unsuccessful first campaign for president. Sixteen years later, at age 34, she won her first political race when she was elected to the Minnesota State House of Representatives. On the same day, Mr. Trump won the presidency.

Their victories were both historic and seemingly contradictory. As Omar became the highest ranking Somali Americans elected to power, Trump was on a path that would see him use the power of the presidency to block the arrival of refugees like Omar to America. The confrontation between them was inevitable.

Almost four years later, does she feel the American dream – the one she represents – has been tarnished by the Trump presidency?

“It certainly is,” she replies, pausing for a moment before continuing.

“America… for so many people living abroad, including myself when I lived in a refugee camp, is a place where people have the opportunity to keep their promises. And the idea that the United States was seen as a place of refuge, as a place where, as my grandfather said “eventually everyone becomes American”, is now ruled by a xenophobic and racist tyrant, who does not not include. whatever is fundamental to American identity – it’s a shock to a lot of people.

A year after his election to the State House of Representatives, Omar summed up his new role in an appearance on Trevor Noah. Daily show: “I am America’s hope and the president’s nightmare,” she said.

The following year, she ran for the House of Representatives and made history again by becoming the first Muslim woman elected to Congress along with Rashida Tlaib. Omar became the first woman to wear a hijab in the House, which overturned a 181-year ban on headgear.

Tlaib and Omar, along with other progressive young women of color Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, became known as “The Squad”. All have become the target of the president’s racist attacks.

But in no time, they have established themselves by more than their opposition to Trump. The Squad has emerged as the leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, struggling with its own party leaders to shift it to the left on key issues. They had the momentum of the presidential primary campaign (three of them backed Bernie Sanders, while Pressley backed Elizabeth Warren).

Ultimately, in these abnormal times, voters saw former Vice President Joe Biden as the candidate with the best chance of defeating Trump. Omar, however, refuses to see this as a defeat for the progressives.

“I know that every primary school exit poll people have supported the policies that we advocate: ‘Medicare for all’ polled 60, 70, 80 percent in every state. Things like canceling student debt, the Green New Deal, solving our housing crisis and putting in place a humane immigration system have also been the subject of very high polls, ”says- she.

“So, for me, this is not a rejection of the policies that we advocate. We know that when we have the opportunity to have a conversation with people, people are with us. “

Right now, however, Omar and The Squad are focused on one thing: defeating Trump in November. This task is made more difficult by a White House apparently determined to undermine the integrity of the democratic process. Trump has repeatedly attacked the reliability of the postal ballots, without providing any evidence, and has argued without reason that the election will be rigged against him.

Many observers are bracing for the possibility that the president will not step down if he loses. But Omar’s confidence in the system is strong.

“The president is really good at doing whatever he can to distract from the crisis he finds himself in: his inability to govern, his corruption, and many of us think his very presence is a threat.” for our democracy, that’s why he’s an impeached president, ”she said, listing the various ways the president attacked the voting process.

“And again, because of the strengths of our institutions, we see states taking actions that allow people to participate. [in the election]. »

Amid all the noise, she believes voters will give Trump a defeat in November.

“People right now are really awake to the reality of who this president is. [They are] no longer attracted to the facade of electing a foreigner to come and fix Washington, ”she said.

“He abused the trust of the public. And in Minnesota, even in some of the places where he had people supporting him, they know they elected a jester and are eager to right that mistake. “

But she also has plans for what comes after Donald Trump. On the first day of Biden’s presidency, if he wins, Omar will once again focus on persuading his own party to implement progressive policies she has long championed.

“Our goal right now is to defeat Donald Trump – but for us it’s not the destination, it’s the opportunity to take one more step towards the destination,” she said.

“This destination is the one that prompts the Biden administration to provide medicare for all, free 45 million Americans from chains of student debt, end the climate catastrophe that lies ahead and focus on immigration policies that are humane.

“More importantly for me, a lover of democracy, to do whatever we can to strengthen our democracy so that when someone like Trump is elected he doesn’t have the capacity to threaten it like he has. fact.

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