Cap Times Idea Fest: Ilhan Omar advises voters to consider election 'in a very personal way'
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar said the nation has "already endured too much" under President Donald Trump's leadership as she called for political change and urged voters to personalize the upcoming election and this moment while they cast their ballots.
Slamming Trump as "a fascist dictator, wannabe tyrant," the Democratic congresswoman from Minneapolis decried his "dangerous" policies and rhetoric, which Trump often uses to target Omar herself.
"It really speaks to the weakening of our democracy and our politics, when people are no longer interested in debating ideas but are interested in debating identities and their energy spent on vilifying individuals, then the whole country is at a loss," said Omar, who spoke with Cap Times associate editor John Nichols for this year's Idea Fest.
One of the country's first two Muslim women elected to Congress in 2018, Omar, who won a five-way Democratic primary for her seat, recalled worrying that Democrats wouldn't be able to win the House and change a 181-year-old rule that prohibited head coverings from being worn on the floor.
Fearing that Republicans in leadership would refuse to alter the practice and "find ways to obstruct the right that I had in the Constitution to serve," she remembered feeling surprised to enter the chamber in the majority and "have that process actually be a lot easier than I expected." She was the first person to wear a hijab on the House floor.
Fast forward nearly two years and the country finds itself in the midst of an ongoing reckoning with racism and the continuing COVID-19 crisis, which has left more than 200,000 people dead in the U.S., a milestone that was hit last week.
Omar, whose father passed away over the summer due to complications from COVID-19, accused Trump of prioritizing his re-election chances over speaking honestly about the seriousness of the pandemic.
Calling it "devastating" to live in a county with a leader "who doesn't understand the responsibility of what it means to be president," Omar said Trump lacks regard for life and "the pain that so many people have experienced."
On the protests that have sprung up decrying police brutality in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police this summer, Omar was confident that "the movement in the street" was going to "require all of us to meet this moment" as elected officials.
Ilhan's district includes the entire city of Minneapolis.
"Minneapolis is going through its own transformation right now," she said. "Our state is going through a transformation."
Looking ahead to November, Omar said it was crucial for Trump not only to lose this cycle but for individuals to ensure that "this is a completely embarrassing election for him" that brings with it down-ballot victories for officials "that are going to be responsive."
In the meantime, Omar encouraged individuals to personalize the contests and decide "what is truly at stake for you and your loved ones."
"It's not only voting that gets somebody elected," she said. "Not voting in itself is political. That will eventually get someone into office; it just might not get the person that you are most comfortable with into office."
Omar noted she's been "personally impacted multiple times" under decisions the Trump administration has made, leading her to cast a ballot this fall to, in part, try to undue the damage that's been done to her family and ensure a safer future for them.
"If you can't think holistically about what it means for everyone else, if you can't think about what it means for our movement, because it means a great deal, I want you to think about it in a very personal way," she said. "Whatever it is that personalizes this moment for you in understanding that this man can no longer be our president."
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