Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) has occupied headlines after issuing an unwavering call for the impeachment of President Trump. Speaking to a crowd of enthusiastic supporters after her historic swearing-in, the freshman lawmaker relayed a conversation with her son in which she boldly claimed that “We’re going to impeach the motherf***er!” After her comments, the room exploded in cheer. The rest of Washington exploded in outrage.
Although profanity is not a foreign tactic to American politics, news outlets honed in on her use of expletives. Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce called Tlaib “radical” and her comments “disrespectful.” A recent op-ed in the Washington Post even highlighted criticisms from Democratic party leaders, stating that Tlaib “handed Democrats their first controversy of the new term.”
What this op-ed and other commentary on Tlaib’s remarks fail to acknowledge is the root and sense of frustration that Tlaib’s comments rose out of. In the past few months, the U.S. has seen a range of injustices, from having families separated at its southern border to having federal workers work without pay in a government shutdown. The outrage over Tlaib’s comments is not only misguided, but hypocritical in the face of the controversies and offensive language that has consistently emerged from the President’s Office.
The highest office in American government has been occupied by an individual who has a proven track record of making profane comments. In late 2017, Trump challenged NFL owners to refer to protesters as “sons of b******” and kick them off the field. A few months later, Trump infamously referred to Haiti and the nations of Africa as “sh**thole countries.” He also questioned the intelligence of leaders, from Congresswoman Maxine Waters to NBA star Lebron James. The bullying, racist dog-whistles, and casual sexism that has seemed to become a norm in the Office of the President would seem to be a more justified cause of outrage.
Some caught on to this double-standard and expressed their support of Tlaib. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) not only stood by her remarks, but pointed out the hypocrisy of Republican outrage:
“Republican hypocrisy at its finest: saying that Trump admitting to sexual assault on tape is just ‘locker room talk,’ but scandalizing themselves into faux-outrage when my sis says a curse word in a bar,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “GOP lost entitlement to policing women’s behavior a long time ago. Next.”
Even actor Samuel L. Jackson endorsed Tlaib’s remarks, applauding her for her “clarity of purpose” in her remarks last week.
However, politicians and pundits alike insisted that Trump’s past inflammatory comments do not excuse the use of profanity by Tlaib, and that her remarks mimic the rhetoric used by Trump. An article in the Atlantic suggested that incoming progressive Democrats are mirroring the tactics of Trump to criticize him. ABC News analyst Matthew Dowd even acknowledged that Trump has said far worse than Tlaib, but argued that “vulgarity won’t drive out vulgarity, and bullying won’t drive out bullies.”
The temptation to compare Tlaib’s remarks to Trump’s remarks is not only a faulty comparison, but a failure to acknowledge the harrowing consequences of his use of profanity. Referring to countries as s**thole countries is not just a use of foul rhetoric, but coded language meant to fuel anti-immigrant sentiment. Encouraging NFL owners to refer to protestors as sons of b****** is not just a use of nasty words, but a way to deride and discourage those who have dared to speak out against injustice. It is no secret that Trump has used profanity. It is also no secret that his profanity is followed by unabashed bigotry and violence.
There has indeed been a double-standard towards the use of profanity and expressions of anger by women, particularly women of color: those who openly swear, and openly express anger are seen as anomalies to norms of niceness. However, the selective outrage over Tlaib’s comments stems less from her use of profanity, and more from her fearless, unapologetic, and zero-tolerance attitude towards Trump and his policies. It is easier to express outrage over the use of swearing than to express outrage over the circumstances that led to it.
Despite the selective outrage directed towards Tlaib, she has stood by her comments. In a tweet released on Friday, she stated that she would “always speak truth to power.”
A changing face of Congress, talk of impeachment, and fearless incoming progressive lawmakers may have ignited waves of disapproval, but they have also ignited waves of people who want truth spoken to power, and will see that it is carried through.