Its message was reprehensible.
Its intent was crystal clear, as was the inspiration for the nasty, racist meme shared Friday on a key Illinois GOP Facebook page.
We suspect that in time we'll learn how a movie-inspired poster featuring the four Democratic congresswomen of color who had the temerity to criticize and attack the president on the issues wound up on the Illinois Republican County Chairmen’s Association Facebook page.
But we care less about how the "Jihad Squad" meme came to be there than we do about how we can seize the occasion to attack such messages of hate and divisiveness.
That starts with refusing to spread the ugly meme that grew out of an equally ugly tweet by President Donald Trump, which was condemned as racist by the Illinois House last week. For that reason, we choose not to share the fake poster containing unflattering images of the Democratic women referred to as "The Squad": U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and a hijab-wearing Ilhan Omar.
Of course, the mock poster inspired by one for the movie "Gangster Squad" is available on the internet to anyone who wants to view it, even after the Illinois GOP chairmen wisely took it down from their Facebook page and state GOP leaders condemned its inclusion there. Haters still will be able to find it with little effort, but why should we make it any easier to do so?
The message itself, however, should be widely shared and roundly condemned and its racist underpinnings are likely to be clear to all but the most radical of the president's anti-immigration base: the folks who punctuate Trump's rally speeches with shouts of "lock her up" and "send her back."
It's also important to denounce the president's claims that people who disagree with his views must hate "our" country and that these women should go back to "their" home country despite the fact that they all are American citizens who chose to stand for election and serve their nation in Congress. And to reject the Facebook post's claims that for them, "Political jihad is their game," and, “If you don’t agree with their socialist ideology, you’re racist.”
We have, of course, encountered Democratic zealots who reflexively levy such charges against those who simply do not share their views on every topic. Take, for example, our editorial board, which continues to have concerns about the economic impact of some of the social policy reforms some Democratic leaders are espousing. But disagreeing on policy issues and calling out our leaders' math is not spreading hate or racism. It's a critical ingredient in a healthy democratic republic.
How do you tell the difference? It's easier than you think if, for example, you can set aside partisanship and carefully consider the president's tweets and comments and the meme they inspired. Then, once you see this message for what it is, do not remain silent.
Remember, hate is a powerful weapon, which is why race has so often played a key role in Republican, and yes, Democratic politics. Remember Bill Clinton's "Sister Souljah moment" -- a key point in his presidential campaign, when he criticized comments the hip-hop artist had made about the 1992 Los Angeles race riots?
It's important to note, however, that using race and hate to win elections also carries a steep price. The "Jihad Squad" poster, for example, did the Party of Lincoln in the Great Emancipator's home state no favors in efforts to grow its ranks following the drubbing GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner received at the hands of Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
There's also danger in tagging these four American citizens with the terrorist tag beyond what it does to our state, the body politic and our national fabric. Left unchecked, that message presents a danger to every American of any color and every religion. And that danger is amplified the longer it is ignored.
So, starting today, speak up and speak out whenever you hear it.
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