The risky lure of Rashida Tlaib’s angry T-shirt

by | Sep 29, 2019 | Detroit Free Press, Comment | 1 comment

Many of us can remember our parents saying “Don’t sink to their level” when dealing with bullies. Former first lady Michelle Obama made a reputation off the phrase, “When they go low, we go high.”

None of this seems to take root with congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who last week showed her approach to President Trump’s latest mess by announcing she will be selling T-shirts that read, “Impeach The MF.”

For $29 apiece.

The money will go to her re-election efforts. Since she only got elected last year, apparently, when it comes to bald political ambition, she has at least one thing in common with the man she wants to throw out.

The phrase “Impeach the MF,” stems from something Tlaib screamed at a rally of supporters the night she was sworn in. Only she didn’t use initials. She used the whole word. “Motherf—-r.” Loudly. And in riling up a base by screaming vitriol, she shares another thing with the man she wants to impeach.

Tlaib took a ton of heat for that outburst. She actually apologized for the “distraction” it caused. But months later, she’s doubling down on that distraction — and charging $29 to boot.

This isn’t something someone else is hawking. Tlaib herself tweeted out the offer, saying, you can wear “what you feel.” She even attached an ad with the shirts on hangers and the phrase “GET YOURS TODAY!”

All that’s missing is “Buy one, get one free!”

Since Tlaib unveiled her T-shirt idea, there has been considerable debate over its efficacy. Some say Trump warrants such anger. Others say no president deserves to be castigated that way by a member of Congress.

But I am concerned less about what this stuff does to the president.

I’m concerned about what it does to us.

We’re starting to act like Trump

You are what you allow yourself to become. And when elected officials like Tlaib take to selling “MF” to make a point — and we celebrate that — we become more and more like the very administration that is being protested.

Yes, I know angry people are tired of being told that civility is important. Just as children get tired of being told to go to sleep. That doesn’t mean the message is wrong.

Discourse matters. Where your anger takes you matters. Tlaib’s lack of concern for the impression she makes to people who don’t share her vocabulary — or, more importantly, to their children — is astonishing. But it shouldn’t be emulated. Or cheered.

You can be angry without resorting to that word. You can be righteous without using maybe the nastiest phrase in the English language to make your point.

And if you say, “It’s justified” because “look at what this President has done!” well, here’s another thing he’s done.

He’s made us more like him.

Is that what you want?

Think about how consumed we are by Trump’s presidency. There is no oxygen in the room. Our anger towards him, or our angry defense of him, literally leaves us exhausted by the end of the week. Friends are lost. Families divide. Every move he makes. Every tweet he blasts out. It’s all become lighter fluid on charcoal.

Remember when we didn’t hear about a president’s actions for a few days at a shot? And certainly not controversial actions that left us arguing every minute?

By making our every conversation — or if Tlaib has her way, even our T-shirts — all about Trump, we are living in the world he seems to most enjoy. Where everything is about him. Good or bad.

It’s like that old joke where the egotist says, “But enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do YOU think about ME?”

That’s 2019.

And if you say, “We have no choice, this President has crossed all lines, he’s dangerous!” well, that may be true.

But how does shouting “MF” gets us closer to solving those problems?

Anger fades. Reason lasts longer.

Here’s the historical truth. Presidents come and go. Young people may think the country has never been as angry as Trump is making it, but they weren’t around when Lyndon B. Johnson was accused of sending our sons to die, when Richard Nixon was considered a crook who’d do anything to hold his power, or when Bill Clinton disgraced the office by having sex with an intern in the White House.

There was tremendous anger during all those eras — and demands that the president be thrown out. Ironically, Clinton is now a hero to many who think Trump invented bad behavior.

The point is, anger burns red hot. But anger fades. Reason lasts longer. It’s why we need to trust it, rather than the ripping fury that has all of us contorting like zombies.

We should expect our leaders to take a high ground — especially when one of them won’t. That’s why they were elected. To set examples. To show the way.

Not to make money off a profane slogan. In the category of “getting things done,” that ranks pretty low.

Perhaps I can’t help feeling this way. I work a lot with children. So I think about the moment when, in our proud political anger, we pull on one of Tlaib’s T-shirts, march outside, and a kid innocently asks:

“What does MF mean?”

That moment isn’t worth giving to anyone. Not Trump. Not Tlaib. We have to live with ourselves longer than either of them will be in office.

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.

1 Comment

  1. Theresa Ramus

    She is so disrespectful. I just hope that she doesn’t get elected again. It is just such a shame to see her anger displayed like this.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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