Now that he’s president, Donald Trump is insistent that criticizing America or him — especially if you’re a Democratic congresswoman of color — is somehow beyond the pale. Alluding to such critiques on Friday afternoon, he said, “you can’t talk that way about our country. Not when I’m the president.”
Those comments came days after Trump advised four progressive congresswomen of color to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” before they criticize the American government. (Three of the four congresswomen Trump was alluding to were actually born in America, and the fourth is a Somali refugee who is now a naturalized citizen.)
On Sunday, Trump explicitly conflated criticizing America with unpatriotic behavior, tweeting, “I don’t believe the four Congresswomen are capable of loving our country” and characterizing them as “weak & insecure people who can never destroy our great nation” — as though duly elected members of Congress somehow stand apart from the nation they serve.
The irony, however, is that before he became president, Trump was an outspoken critic of America in general, and President Barack Obama in particular.
In recent days, Trump has repeatedly denounced Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) for a comment she made in March that wasn’t even critical of him, but that instead took aim at incrementalist policies supported by more moderate members of Congress that she described as being “10 percent better from garbage.”
“This idea of 10 percent better from garbage shouldn’t be what we settle for,” she said.
Trump, however, has misconstrued Ocasio-Cortez’s words in an effort to make people believe she actually compared America with garbage. She didn’t. But in an especially ironic twist, Trump in October 2014 did the very thing he’s now falsely accusing Ocasio-Cortez of doing.
“The United States, under President Obama, has truly become the ‘gang that couldn’t shoot straight,’” Trump tweeted then. “Everything he touches turns to garbage!”
Trump went even further 10 days later in a tweet quoting a follower of his who compared the country to “shit.”
Just a month before he launched his presidential run, Trump lamented that “our own country is going to HELL” and blamed “our stupid politicians.”
Dozens of examples like this could be cited. During the Obama years, Trump wrote that “our country is going to hell,” “broken,” falling apart,” “truly in a mess,” and — in another memorable one posted just before his presidential run — “a laughing stock that is going to hell.”
And it wasn’t just tweets — during his presidential campaign, running down America was a regular part of Trump’s speeches.
CNN put together a montage of Trump -- who now that he's president thinks criticizing America is an unpatriotic thing to do -- saying things like, "how stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country?" pic.twitter.com/iNrUHOXfqu
Trump’s criticisms of the Obama-era America extended all the way through his inauguration, during which he said he was taking the reins of a country mired in “American Carnage” — and have continued to the present.
So what’s the difference now? Trump was pretty direct about it on Friday: He’s president, and he conflates criticism of him with unpatriotic behavior. He said as much during his rally last Wednesday in North Carolina — the same one in which his fans directed racist chants at Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) — when he characterized Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)’s criticisms of him as evidence that she’s “not somebody who loves our country.”
But that explanation isn’t satisfactory for those who believe no president should be above criticism. And during an interview on the most recent installment of Fox News Sunday, White House policy adviser Stephen Miller struggled mightily to explain why taking aim at the president was okay while Obama was in office but isn’t now.
Miller first insisted that Trump, in contrast with Ocasio-Cortez and company, is a champion of “the principles of Western civilization,” the implication being that Obama and the congresswomen of color he’s been feuding with are not.
“There’s a fundamental distinction between people who think that we need to lean into and strengthen America’s core values — whether it be our constitutional values, the rule of law, the principles of Western civilization — or people who think that we basically need to turn American into Venezuela,” Miller said.
Host Chris Wallace interrupted Miller to note that “people can have a legitimate difference of opinion about policies ... under the constitution that you so believe in, and I believe in, the First Amendment allows everybody to say it.”
Miller ultimately resorted to arguing that Trump’s policies are right whereas Obama’s were not — and that therefore, Trump was justified in criticizing the government in a way the Democratic congresswomen in question are not.
EXCLUSIVE: Stephen Miller, Senior White House Policy Adviser on Fox News Sunday talks to Chris about the difference in President Trump and the Squad pic.twitter.com/Hy7zVPkZnJ
The disconnect between what Trump said then and what he’s saying now wasn’t the only thing Miller struggled to explain during the Fox News Sunday interview. Pressed on how Trump has falsified Ocasio-Cortez’s quote in an effort to portray her “garbage” comment as more incendiary than it actually was — “she didn’t say the country was garbage, she said some of the policies she opposes are garbage,” Wallace noted — Miller claimed, unconvincingly, “It’s literally impossible to read the quote that way.”
Then again, as is the case with many things having to do with Trump and his behavior, it’s hard to explain the inexplicable.