Opinion

Greenville after Trump: ‘Everything that has been done is undone.’

After the fallout from the “send her back” chant, some in Greenville are chanting to themselves about Donald Trump — “Don’t come back!”

Greenville City Council member Rose Glover, an African-American, said she hopes the City Council will discuss the Trump rally’s damage to the city’s image at its next meeting on Aug. 12. “In order to start some healing we all need to sit down and talk about it,” she said.

The raucous rally led by the divider-in-chief presented Greenville to the nation in a carnival mirror, a grossly distorted image of a place that has addressed and largely overcome racial tensions.

“We’ve had problems and we’ve been able to sit down and work on those problems so we can all live here together,” Glover said. But she said the viral video of an overwhelmingly white crowd chanting “send her back” about an Africa-born congresswoman pushed the city’s progress backward.

“It only takes 13 seconds to really change the whole thing,” she said of the crowd’s chant. “Everything that has been done is undone.”

Now she’s wary that Trump, a president committed to winning re-election by splitting Americans along racial lines, may not be done with her city. She said, “Needless to say, he’ll probably be back because he thinks this is one of his bases.”

In fact, the county that includes Greenville, Pitt County, supported Hillary Clinton over Trump by 41,824 to 35,691.

The rally at East Carolina University’s Minges Coliseum was widely condemned as a racist spectacle after Trump attacked the patriotism of Somalia-born Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, and the crowd responded with the chant. It echoed a Trump tweet that said Omar and three other Democratic congresswomen of color should go back their countries of origin, even though all but Omar were born in the U.S.

The chant dominated the news and brought criticism to ECU for hosting the event and stained the reputation of a college town that’s proud of its diversity and racial relations. ECU officials issued a statement defending free speech on campus and stressing that it could not deny the Trump campaign access to Minges Coliseum.

Nonetheless, Tremayne Smith, an African-American and former ECU Student Body president, sent a letter signed by more than 200 alumni to the university to “unequivocally express what the university’s official statement did not: we categorically denounce the expression of racism on our campus.”

The letter said: “To all those who were offended by that horrid display of vitriol — especially people of color and immigrants of all religions — know that as a university, this is not who we are. This is not how we are.”

The city of Greenville received more than 50 phone calls and website comments about the rally from around the country, said city spokesman Brock Letchworth. Typical of the comments was this one from California: “I would be so ashamed of my city — Greenville — after that Trump rally and send her back chant. Are most of those people from your city or were they imported for the hateful chant?”

The reaction has been hard to take for the city of 93,000 named for the Revolutionary war hero Nathanael Greene. He was a Rhode Island native and a top officer to Gen. George Washington, the leader who later who set the standard for presidential dignity that Trump so regularly violates.

The day after the rally, Greenville Mayor P.J. Connelly issued a statement saying, “Hate will never have a place in our community. The behavior that was on display last night is not reflective of the Greenville I know and love.”

But it is reflective of the behavior Trump knows and loves. The city should resist any future effort by the Trump campaign to again cast Greenville as the Redville of Trump Country.

Barnett: nbarnett@newsobserver.com, 919-829-4512.

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