During President Trump’s attack on Rep. Ilhan Omar he said: “And she looks down with contempt on the hard-working Americans, saying that ignorance is pervasive in many parts of this country.” Trump directly quoted an interview Omar did with national affairs correspondent John Nichols on the inaugural episode of Next Left, The Nation’s new podcast where politics gets personal with the next generation of leading progressive politicians.
Nichols is available for comment from Madison, WI, to explain how Omar’s comments were entirely mischaracterized and how, ironically, Trump is reaffirming Omar’s critique.
“It’s an interesting dynamic,” says Nichols. “What Omar was actually talking about was the way in which politicians, in this case Republican politicians, manipulate information to achieve political ends. And about her interest in countering the misinformation. If anything, Omar was putting her faith in the power of information, and dialogue, with people who do not share her views. She’s talking about challenging the politicians who foster misconceptions about refugees, and about presenting information that might counter those misconceptions—not about insulting voters.”
At the time of its airing, Omar’s Next Left episode was widely picked up by conservative media from Breitbart to FOX—with headlines like “Ilhan Omar: ‘Ignorance Is Really Pervasive in Many Parts of This Country’” and “Ilhan Omar on Trump voters: ‘Ignorance really is pervasive in many parts of this country” and “Ilhan Omar insults Republican voters: ‘Ignorance really is pervasive in many parts of this country.’”—which is likely how it came to the attention of the president and/or his staff. Nichols can also speak to how this right-wing echo chamber misinforms the president’s worldview.
The Republicans are really good at misinformation and sort of really reorganizing facts to sort of paint a picture that really eventually is not rooted in fact…. And so it is not that they might not be knowledgeable about [resettlement programs], but they use it as a tool to stir up hate and division. And ignorance really is pervasive in many parts of, of this country. And as someone who was raised by educators, I really like to inform people about things that they might be ignorant to, willingly or unwillingly.
There’s a reason that I got elected to be in Congress and it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a refugee, an immigrant Muslim or woman, or Black woman. It’s because I am someone who has a particular lens about how we approach policy domestically and internationally and to many of the people here my approach is more threatening to them. And I think for them it is more pleasant for me to just be seen as like this person who, you know, is sort of like an example of like hope still being alive, which is wonderful. But I’m someone who is agitated about things, the way things work here. I’m someone who believes that Congress needs to be beholden to the people and not special interests, that we have to be consistent in our values, whether they are domestically or internationally, and that fighting for prosperity shouldn’t be that hard. We don’t have to settle.
ABOUT: From the grassroots to the ballot box, we are witnessing an explosion of progressive political energy. New candidates are running for offices high and low—and they’re winning. In Next Left, a new podcast from The Nation hosted by national-affairs correspondent John Nichols, these insurgent politicians let us into their lives, tell us
their stories, and explain how they plan to change our country for the better. New episodes air every Tuesday.
Founded by abolitionists in 1865, The Nation has chronicled the breadth and depth of political and cultural life from the debut of the telegraph to the rise of Twitter, serving as a critical, independent, and progressive voice in American journalism.