Ruben Navarrette: The Squad shakes up the Washington establishment — on both sides of the aisle

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette
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SAN DIEGO -- The Squad is making politics in America great again. And a lot more fun.

Major props to Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar for keeping it real. They speak their mind, and they stand their ground. The Squad is always on a war footing, ready to respond to criticism. The freshmen break rules, defy convention, and skewer sacred cows. And they don't curtsy to leadership.

They're pushing the United States to be better, but also the Democratic Party. It's easy for liberals to claim they support diversity, especially when acting superior to conservatives. But it can be harder to put up with all that diversity entails. The Squad make clear that -- while they have to work alongside Democratic House leaders, they don't take orders from them.

This is what diversity looks like. Democrats ought to treat the Squad with more respect -- even when the insurgents offer a different view, or challenge the hierarchy. Most of all, the Squad need not put up with condescending cracks from anyone who wants to diminish their achievements.

And that's true across party lines, whether those attacks are coming from President Trump or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.


Pelosi stumbled first. Last week, according to media reports, the speaker scolded progressives -- including members of the Squad -- in a closed-door meeting. She supposedly told them not to air their grievances and blast colleagues on Twitter. She also talked down to the freshmen, pointing out that tweets are not power and reminding them that they only have four votes.

Recall Pelosi's rude comments to CBS' "60 Minutes" in April. Asked about "AOC and her group," Pelosi snarked: "That's like five people." Pointing to a coffee table, she said: "This glass of water would win with a 'D' next to its name in those districts."

One hopes that the experience of dealing with four women of color, and members of Congress, who aren't afraid to challenge her has taught Pelosi how hard it is to walk it like you talk it when it comes to race, tolerance and progressivism.

Just a few weeks ago, Pelosi defensively told a reporter that she was a "progressive." But when progressives squared off against moderates over the crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, Pelosi sided with the latter.

It is also not a good look for the Speaker to single out a group of "women of color" for scoldings. Ocasio-Cortez told The Washington Post: "But the persistent singling out ... it got to a point where it was just outright disrespectful ... the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color."

Enter Trump, who needs to make everything about him. He interrupted a necessary civil war within the Democratic Party. As conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh noted, Trump ignored the first rule of politics: When your opponents are brawling among themselves, grab some popcorn and stay out of the way.

Of course, Trump couldn't stay out. His ego wouldn't let him. In any circus, he needs to be in the center ring.

So Trump jumped into the fray. He tried to defend Pelosi against the implication that she was racist for singling out the Squad for a condescending scolding. He did so by being racist and singling out the Squad for a condescending scolding.


Then the Squad pushed back against Trump, and the president responded. Back and forth, they went.

Along the way, Trump sparked a conversation over the common insult of telling people of color to "go back" to one country or another, even when they were born in the United States.

Speaking this week from the White House, Trump seemed to reference the Squad when he said: "If you're not happy in the U.S., if you're complaining all the time, very simply, you can leave. You can leave right now. Come back if you want, don't come back, it's OK, too. But if you're not happy, you can leave."

As a Mexican American who has written about immigration for 30 years, I wish I had a nickel for every time I was told to "go back to Mexico." My entire family and I could fly first class to Puerto Vallarta.

Still, don't miss the hypocrisy -- on both the left and the right. Liberals who were offended last week that anyone could accuse Pelosi of racism couldn't wait to do the same to Trump. Conservatives who delighted in seeing Pelosi accused of racism took offense when that charge was again leveled at Trump. The deck never runs out of race cards.

It's no wonder so many Americans hate politics. Maybe the Squad can change some of that.
Ruben Navarrette can be reached at

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