A recent profile of Rep. Illan Omar by the Washington Post made waves because of its revelation that the congresswoman lied to a group of high school students about witnessing racism and injustice in a Minneapolis courtroom. In an anecdote lifted almost verbatim from the plot of “Les Miserables,” Omar claimed she saw a “sweet, old… African American lady,” who had spent the weekend in jail for stealing a $2 loaf of bread to feed her “starving 5-year-old granddaughter,” handed an $80 fine. Omar, unable to control her emotions, blurted out, “Bullsh—t!” in the courtroom.
But Omar’s lies aren’t nearly as revealing as when she tells the truth. In that same speech to the high schoolers, she said “I grew up in an extremely unjust society, and the only thing that made my family excited about coming to the United States was that the United States was supposed to be the country that guaranteed justice to all. So, I feel it necessary for me to speak about that promise that’s not kept.”
The promise that’s not kept. Consider the disconnect between that statement, the seething resentment behind it, and the reality of Omar’s own life story. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine an American success story more demonstrative of America keeping its promise. Omar’s family fled civil war in Somalia when she was a child and spent four poverty-stricken years in a Kenyan refugee camp before the United States, in its generosity, granted them admission to America as refugees.
Here, safe from the violence and chaos of their home country, they flourished. Omar received a college education, started a family, won election to the Minnesota State House at age 34, and two years later, became a member of Congress.
The Left Has an Inverted View of America
What, one wonders, does Omar have to say for the country that has given her so much? Mostly, that it has failed to be the Hollywood utopia she was promised as a child, that “the classless America that my father talked about didn’t exist.” Of course it didn’t exist. There’s no such thing as a classless society, anywhere. That’s something everyone learns, or should learn, as they become an adult and encounter the real world.
Instead, Omar takes it as evidence that America is based on a massive lie—a promise not kept, as if America actually promised a classless society free from inequality, poverty, and the manifold trials of human existence. According to this way of thinking, past mistakes and injustices, whether in foreign policy or civil rights, simply reveal the hypocrisy of America’s founding ideals. The United States was fatally flawed from the beginning, conceived in sin, and deserves only damnation.
Such thinking is now commonplace and mainstream. Witness the recent Fourth of July scrum of sports stars and media outlets quoting—and utterly misunderstanding—Frederick Douglass’s famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
The Washington Post, Time Magazine, and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick all cited the 1852 speech as a condemnation of America for its hypocrisy, confirming their present-day animus toward their country. WBUR Boston ran a commentary piece from a young black woman about why she doesn’t celebrate the Fourth, citing Douglass’s speech and declaring the holiday “a festivity with no substance, a celebration with no soul.”
They are of course wrong. Douglass concludes his condemnation of American slavery with an appeal to America’s founding. The Constitution, he writes (in all caps), “is a “GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT” and the principles of the Declaration of Independence are to him a source of hope. He wrote and believed this in the face of American injustice and oppression incomparably worse than anything we have today. So did Martin Luther King Jr., for whom the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were a “promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”
For Social Justice Warriors, America’s Promise Is a Lie
This is not how elites in academia, media, entertainment, and the Democratic Party see America today. That’s why corporations like Nike repudiate American symbols like the Betsy Ross flag at the slightest provocation. That’s why Democrats, including several major presidential candidates, now support reparations for slavery (Sen. Elizabeth Warren even claims America owes reparations for denying tax breaks to gay couples before the legalization of same-sex marriage). That’s why NBC News thought fit to publish a story about how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s great-great-grandfather owned slaves, and how that fact was somehow relevant to McConnell’s opposition to reparations.
For these people, America today isn’t much better than it was in Douglass’s day. There’s a telling anecdote in the Post’s Omar profile about a young political activist and fundraiser from Omar’s district named Filsan Ibrahim. Like Omar, Ibrahim and her family fled war-torn Somalia and were taken in by the United States. Like Omar, she and her sisters all went to college. And Like Omar, she has a jaundiced view of the country that adopted her:
‘All of America is focused on people’s backgrounds,’ Filsan said. ‘It’s all anyone cares about. You can’t come here and just be an American unless you are white. Otherwise you are a Somali American, an African American, an Asian American.’
‘It’s bulls—,’ her sister agreed.
‘Hilarious,’ her other sister added.
A few days later Filsan, her mother and her sisters attended a fundraiser and rally for nine Somalis who had been convicted in 2016 of trying to travel to Syria to fight on behalf of the Islamic State.
The irony is that the hyper-focus on people’s backgrounds is a feature of the left, not the right. Democrats and progressives are the ones who push for hyphenation and separation according to ethnic and sexual identities, while conservatives generally try to see people as individuals.
Ultimately, it’s both sad and frightening that Omar and these young women, for whom America has been a lifeline, can’t see that social justice culture and identity politics, which have seeped into the mainstream, have betrayed them and turned what should have been to them a great blessing—a home in America—into a curse.