Opinion: As an immigrant, I've heard the 'go back' drumbeat for years. How can conservatives stand idly by when Trump tweets as much?

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President Donald Trump didn’t invent bigotry. It’s always been there, just beneath the surface where America’s collective conscience could pretend it didn’t exist.

Immigrants like me know it because we’ve endured the incessant “go back” drumbeat from the moment we set foot on American soil. Every generation of immigrants has endured it, from the Africans, the Irish, the Chinese to the Mexicans.

But Trump propelled bigotry into mainstream America. We can’t pretend it doesn’t exist, as Republicans collectively tried to do Sunday after the president’s attack on four nonwhite congresswomen.

With few exceptions, conservatives remained silent. Those who spoke up have little or nothing to lose, politically speaking. 

Are they really as racist as Trump?

We’ve known for years that Trump didn’t get to the White House alone. The Republican Party put him there. Republicans, even those who at times appear to be sensible conservatives, put him there. They’re our neighbors, our co-workers, our doctors, our bank tellers. And yes, some of them even call themselves our friends.

Why were these conservatives collectively silent over Trump’s racist rants? I can think of one reason. They're as racist as Trump.

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In a tweet, Trump aimed at Democratic U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts.

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world,” Trump said in a series of tweets.

He went on: “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Never mind that three of the four nonwhite congresswomen, who have been feuding with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were born in the United States. Omar was born in Somalia but is a U.S. citizen.

This is painful. And it's not OK

Democrats’ rebuke was appropriately swift. But Trump’s tirade achieved something else.

It distracted from the increased criticism over the conditions of immigration detention facilities and the weekend immigration raids. It kept the nation in a perpetual rift, and it sent minorities spinning down the memory lane of generational racism of “go back to where you came from.”

The fury against Trump’s racial slurs consumed the nation Sunday. It’s infuriating to think of conservatives enjoying their weekend as if nothing had happened – some even savoring the pain and anger of so many.

MORE: Trump says House Democrats should apologize

Yes, Trump’s attack inflicted pain. It plunged a dagger into an already bleeding heart of a nation of immigrants where people of color aren’t welcomed.

It plunged a dagger into friendships, acquaintances, neighbors. Can we look into a Trump supporter’s eye and not say anything over his or her silence, even if that person is otherwise friendly?

It plunged a dagger into efforts of anyone who had held out hopes of finding common ground in this toxic political environment.

The conservatives who remain silent over Trump’s disparaging remarks and his policies against nonwhites may think they're getting away with it. But they’re fooling themselves.

Elvia Díaz is an editorial columnist for The Republic and azcentral. Reach her at 602-444-8606 or elvia.diaz@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter, @elviadiaz1.

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