As Bob Dylan once noted, “it’s easy to see without looking too far that not much is really sacred” in American life, despite the false front of piety that often guides our public conversations.
Just look at what the first week in December has brought us. When it comes to the contrast between what we say we care about as a nation and what our actions reveal, I’ll reference the video of Republican Congressmember Lauren Boebert of Colorado targeting Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
Omar is a Muslim, making her an easy foil for Boebert and others in Trumpland. The prevailing presumption, promoted by far-right activists and media profiteers, is that Muslims are terrorists by default. This is an old line of attack, as Omar frequently points out, spun from hate, xenophobia, and racism.
In Boebert’s video, she can be seen at a recent fundraising event held in Colorado, warming up the crowd with casual jokes about Omar being a backpack-carrying terrorist, as well as a member of the “Jihad Squad.” Boebert appears on camera as a Sarah Palin-like version of an unapologetically harsh yet folksy and idealized Republican woman who is capable of toting a gun while wearing stiletto heels.
The camera captures only a slice of Boebert’s audience, which appears to be older white men clutching pints of beer and laughing a bit nervously at her careless antics. Only a few days after this video was made public, another one emerged from a previous Boebert fundraising event, where she tells a different version of her alleged, and reportedly false, encounter in an elevator with Omar.
What’s even worse, perhaps, is that the latest Boebert video to come to light includes her calling Omar and her fellow Democratic Congressmember Rashida Talib of Michigan, who is also Muslim, “blackhearted, evil women.” Boebert is likely less of a source for this hatred than a mirror of it, reflecting the ugly rhetoric that appeals to the Trumpian wing of the Republican party.
Reducing this to a political game, however, isn’t the right approach. Certainly, Kevin McCarthy has continuously excused Boebert’s behavior, fearful that any blowback from Trump will prevent him from becoming the future Speaker of the House.
Or, as New York’s Democratic Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put it, “Kevin McCarthy is so desperate to be speaker that he is working with his Ku Klux Klan caucus to look aside & allow violent targeting of WOC [women of color] members of Congress.”
McCarthy recently brushed off Boebert’s actions, along with those of her equally offensive colleagues, Marjorie Taylor-Greene and Paul Gosar, as “things we would not want to deal with.” In fact, when asked by reporters about his apparent refusal to condemn Boebert’s words, McCarthy played the victim, saying he had been treated poorly by both Omar and Ocasio-Cortez and never received an apology for it.
I wonder how many death threats McCarthy has received throughout his political career. One would be too many, of course, but could he possibly be dealing with anything that compares to the racist, anti-woman, anti-Muslim threats Omar has endured? I doubt it.
Women’s lives are cheap in the United States, aren’t they? On the one hand, we have people like McCarthy excusing the behavior of Boebert and Gosar, in particular, as if it’s all no big deal.
Meanwhile, we have the U.S. Supreme Court on the brink of overturning Roe v. Wade.
This is the moment that a women’s studies professor I had in college years ago warned our class about. “If you think your rights and the rights of women are somehow guaranteed, think again,” she told her wide-eyed, unbelieving students.
Now we are living through it.
No one I know wants to face an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. But, then again, no one wants to face domestic violence, or the pain of being forced to raise a child all alone, without equal access to health care, child care, or paid family leave. (Let’s not forget the relatively high maternal mortality rate in this country, especially for Black women.)
Even Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s suggestion this week that abortion shouldn’t be necessary, since pregnant people can simply give their babies up for adoption, stands as a form of violence against women. It is unacceptable that women’s lives should be so misunderstood and poorly represented today, as if carrying a child to term (even if rape or incest occurred) and then parting with it is some easy task, for either the baby or the parent.
The stakes are incredibly high these days; the Supreme Court’s pending decision regarding abortion rights in Mississippi and the entire country epitomize the degree to which women’s lives are casually used as chess pieces, for political and religious purposes.
It’s easy to see, as Dylan wrote, that not much is really sacred after all.