I was disappointed that the president railed against “The Squad,” the four most outspoken freshmen Democratic congresswomen, who also happen to be of color: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.

In his Tweetstorm last month, he said:

• “The Dems [are] trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them …”

• “That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!”

• “We will never be a Socialist or Communist Country. IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE, YOU CAN LEAVE! It is your choice, and your choice alone. This is about love for America. Certain people HATE our Country.”

Obviously, the president knows these U.S. representatives are Americans. They come from New York, Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota. Three were born in the U.S. and the fourth came here as a child. And he has seen that they support laws and inquiries to support Americans.

I’m concerned that this expression of anti-female opinion is extremely problematic for all Americans as we edge closer to the 2020 election. I realized immediately that the point was really not to weigh in on The Squad, it was to weaken Democratic electoral potential. And I’m tired of seeing women subject to such vitriol at work.

Frankly, it is smart for the president to malign The Squad and link problematic rhetoric about communism to the urban areas they represent and the Democratic Party. It’s an effective approach. It revitalizes the Second Red Scare of the 1940s-50s and uses our tolerance for criticism of women.

We don’t notice that this kind of rhetoric has a wide negative impact. It weakens our respect for government, ostracizes urban areas, challenges the Democratic Party and party unity.

Recently, a North Carolina gun shop owner put the images of the four members of The Squad on a billboard headlined, “The 4 Horsemen Cometh.” “Cometh” was crossed out and replaced by “are idiots.” The owner, refusing to apologize, has just taken down the billboard, but he has also advertised bumper stickers (and I would not be surprised if he had targets printed, too.)

He and the president deny being racists. The owner claimed that he would have put anybody — male, female, white or of color — if they acted like or held the same views as The Squad. But I don’t think so.

The president and the shop owner felt free to be hostile with those House members because they are women and of color.

Because we respect women less than men, we keep them out of leadership roles. In the 115th Congress (2017-2018) women held only 115 of the 535 seats. Though it was a record number, that represents only 21% of the seats. Women make up 50.8% of the population.

In 2015, 42% of U.S. women claimed to have experienced discrimination at work. On par, women earn less, get passed over for promotion and receive less support from senior management than men doing the same jobs. For Congresspeople, we are Senior Management.

In Congress, the expression of gender and race discrimination and unjustified criticism don’t just injure The Squad, they create unnecessary electoral challenges for Democrats in 2020, they stoke white nationalist sentiment, weaken respect for government, negatively impact the government’s ability to exercise democratic power and worsen already existing polarization.

To have any hope of a future democracy, we cannot safely continue to hold varying standards of respect for different citizens. It is time to reject bad habits, like seeing women and those of color as second-class citizens.

May we be so intolerant of unwarranted criticism against our mothers and sisters that we save ourselves.

The author, formerly of Dubuque and the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, is an assistant professor and pre-law adviser at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Her email address is adrienne.jones@morehouse.edu.

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