In the News: Trump's Controversial Tweets
This article is part of Common Sense Media's news literacy initiative, which is designed to help families build critical thinking, perspective taking, and conversation skills about news and current events.
Even though President Trump often grabs headlines with his prolific Twitter account, your kids may have noticed widespread reaction to his tweets directed at four Democratic congresswomen of color. Kids may not initiate a conversation about this, but it's a story they might have a lot of questions about. Take a few minutes to use the talking points below to check in with them, clarify any misunderstandings, and give them some food for thought.
What's the story?
Tweeting on Sunday, July 15, the president wrote that four liberal congresswomen of color should "go back" to the "broken and crime infested" countries they came from, despite the fact that all are American citizens. Three of the women -- Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan -- were born in the United States, while Rep. Ilhan Omar was born in Somalia and arrived in the United States as a child. All four, known on Capitol Hill as "The Squad," are outspoken critics of the Trump administration. After the president defended his remarks the next day, the congresswomen responded with a joint statement during a press conference. Trump's tweets drew widespread censure from Democratic politicians, but there was a mixed response from Republicans -- some rebuked the president's words while others spoke out in his defense or remained silent. On Tuesday, July 16, the House of Representatives voted in favor of a resolution condemning the president for "racist comments," with the vote largely following partisan lines.
Where's the tension?
President Trump has a long history of making controversial remarks about race and immigration. During his campaign kickoff in June 2015, he declared that many Mexican immigrants were "rapists." In the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, between white supremacists and anti-racist demonstrators in 2017, he said there were "some very fine people on both sides." Last year, he pondered why immigrants were admitted to the United States from "s--thole countries" in Africa. Suggesting that four women of color -- all of whom have criticized his administration -- should leave the country follows Trump's pattern of disparaging people of color and, in general, nonwhite cultures and countries. The president's comments became a flash point for debating his words and his administration's actions relating to race and immigration, and news media has struggled with the moral dimension of covering Trump and whether or not to use the word "racist."
Some Republicans and Trump himself have argued that his comments are not racist. During a campaign rally on Wednesday, Trump's supporters briefly chanted "Send her back!" in reference to Rep. Ilhan Omar, who was born in Somalia, demonstrating that the president's words have resonated with some of his supporters.
Why your kids have heard about this
Reactions to the president's tweets have been widespread on both news sites and in social media, with some people denouncing the words and others supporting them. Teens may have noticed the hashtags #RacistPresident or #RacistInChief on Twitter, and some celebrities of color such as Trevor Noah and Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi responded. At the same time, #IStandWithPresTrump has also been trending, as people voice their support for the president on Twitter.
Talk to your kids about ...
If your kids seem unclear on what's happening, give them an overview of what's taken place. Use the following talking points to have an open conversation about the story and encourage kids to think critically about what they're seeing and hearing about it.
- The different sides to this debate. Discuss the various opinions over this issue. Is it unpatriotic to criticize our government? Why, or why not?
- Perspective taking. Regardless of your political opinion, model empathy, compassion, and critical thinking by talking through the perspectives of both sides. Do you know anyone who is from a different country? How would they feel about being told to "go back" to it? Why do some people get angry when they hear criticisms of their country or of their president?
- Misinformation and bias. Have you or your kid seen any claims or opinion pieces about the four congresswomen or about what President Trump said?
- Racism. What makes an action or a word racist? What is the difference (if any) between racist words and actions and being a racist? Why are news outlets struggling with whether to use the word "racist" in coverage of this incident?
- Rules for public discourse. Should politicians (or citizens) challenge ideas without personally attacking those in disagreement? What might that sound like?
Get a little more context to the story by looking at how different publications cover it.
- Columnist Mark Davis argues on Townhall that Trump's tweets are a perfect example of his "brawler style" discourse and are grounded in policy positions he disagrees with -- not racism.
- NPR's Code Switch discusses why journalists shouldn't use the word "racist."
- The New York Times Politics section analyzes the history of the "go back" phrase.
- The Hill reports on Trump's campaign rally where the "send her back" chants happened.
Beyond the news
Use these books and videos to explore the topics of race, immigration, and politics.
Books to Help Kids Understand the Immigrant Experience (book list)
Eye-opening stories of what it's like to make a life in a new land.
We the People: Immigrant Stories and Experiences (YouTube web series)
Lighthearted immigration stories challenge and humanize.
The Hate U Give (movie)
A powerful, thought-provoking drama about race, activism.
Knock Down the House (movie)
A documentary about underdog Democratic congressional hopefuls, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Time for Ilhan (movie)
A documentary about the Somali American Congresswoman's first political campaign for a Democratic seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives.