I made a New Year’s resolution to stay away from angry politics. It took less than a week to blow it.
The dynamite to my best-laid plans came off the lips of newly minted Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who, shortly after being sworn in last week — before she took a single vote or created a single piece of legislation — announced at a very public event her intent regarding the President:
“We’re going to impeach the motherf***er.”
So long, New Year’s.
I have searched as best I can and believe, to date, no high-profile politician has publicly called President Donald Trump “a mother****er,” despite the rash of incendiary things he has done. And certainly not a member of Congress.
Which is why I feel compelled to write about Tlaib’s choice of words, because it’s a new low in a cesspool of human relations we call politics, and to not acknowledge that is to indirectly condone it, especially since Tlaib is from our backyard, Detroit, and more especially since she defended her comments by saying that’s how people in our city speak.
“We say colorful things in interesting ways,” she told WDIV-TV.
Uh, no. We don’t. Calling someone a “mother****er” isn’t colorful, it’s profane. It’s not interesting, it’s lazy. And it’s not really how many of us want the rest of the country to view our vocabulary here in the Motor City.
And since Tlaib’s title is “Representative,” I’m disappointed she didn’t know that.
No defense of that word
Now, I’ve already run through the knee-jerk defenses. You do that any time you wade into political waters today.
Here they are:
1) President Trump is horrible and deserves it. Deserves what? A word we consider one of the worst profanities in our language? To what effect? He becomes no less admirable by you calling him a “mother****er.” But you do.
2) President Trump has used that language. It is true, Trump often uses vile and insulting language, including in a resurfaced video from 2011. And? So what? Dropping to the same level, using an expletive in front of a cheering, partisan crowd, doesn’t make you better than him, which should be your goal. Actually, you end up looking a lot like him.
3) People are just criticizing Tlaib because she’s a woman. Come on. Any first-day member of Congress who said “We’re going to impeach the mother****er!” would be getting this attention.
4) Tlaib has been talking about impeaching Trump even before these comments. Fine. If that’s what she wants to attempt in her first term, she’s entitled to try. No one is arguing that. (She might want to get into her office first.)
But to use that as a defense to justify “mother****er,” especially when talking about her young son, and how her victory was an inspiration to him, doesn’t get her one step closer to taking down the President. As some political pundits have noted, it actually hurts the cause.
Coming with guns blazing to impeach a President historically backfires, which is why so many Democrats who privately would like nothing more are actually criticizing Tlaib’s verbal rush to impeach, saying they should wait until the Mueller investigation or other things have fleshed out. When your own party is distancing itself, it’s probably not good strategy.
Tlaib upholds status quo
Look. I know a single insult isn’t the end of the world. I know this President is so frequently off the rails, he makes people crazy.
But words matter. Especially today. That’s why we criticize Trump’s tweets. That’s why a single utterance of a racial epithet or a sexual suggestion can get you fired.
And that’s why Tlaib doubling down is particularly disappointing. When asked about her choice of words, Tlaib didn’t apologize or take them back. Instead, she said “It’s probably exactly how my grandmother, if she was alive, would say it.” Well, I don’t know. Defending your profanity by invoking a grandma who has passed away isn’t a particularly nimble defense, or even a nice one.
Nor is Tlaib making this statement: “I think President Trump has met his match.” Tlaib, still in her first week of federal government service, was elected with about 163,000 votes for a seat vacated by John Conyers. This President, disturbing as he often is, was elected with nearly 63 million votes. Before any first-time Congressperson starts announcing who is a match for whom, maybe get to Washington and do something.
Finally, there’s her defense, “I will always speak truth to power,” something she tweeted out, which again is redolent of a Trump maneuver. I’ve heard this phrase misused constantly.
“Speaking truth to power” is a concept that may go back to ancient Greece, and has been invoked and utilized by pacifist groups, civil rights groups, and towering social-justice figures like Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi. When Gandhi famously said of the British ruling India, “Good government is no substitute for self-government” he was speaking a truth (self-rule) to power (imposed rule.)
The same cannot be said of “We’re going to impeach the mother****er.”
Tlaib, who at 42 is not a kid, should know better. I’d like to think she’d set a better example for her own children, aged 7 and 13, but that’s not my business; the example she sets for our children is. They will hear and study the things she says. Her election was notable. As a woman in a largely men’s field, and a Muslim in an overwhelmingly non-Muslim body of government, she was representing change.
Her profanity last week — and her vigilant defense of it — doesn’t sound like change from our current status quo. It sounds like more of it.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.