Editorial: Republicans Use Shame As A Weapon To Silence Elizabeth Warren

The following is an editorial by PoliticusUSA co-publisher Sarah Jones.

When Republicans voted to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren Tuesday night on the Senate floor, they justified it by using shame. “It wasn’t the right thing to do” and “The Senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama,” they lectured.

This matters because this is how Republicans silenced dissent under George W. Bush, and way too many liberals and Democrats fell for it then. In order for Republicans to continue to abuse this nation, the nation has to agree at some point. That will happen by a quiet acquiescence among pundits and then Democrats, conceding to the accusations of “it wasn’t right” “it was rude”.

That acquiescence is the final leg to fall before the true assault begins.

The tenets of our nation are under relentless attack right now under the Trump administration, which makes W’s look like a play date for dictators. We can’t afford to let this tactic work now.

Republican Orrin Hatch justified the silencing of Warren with this ironic claim to a moral high ground as he defended the attempt to confirm a person who worked to steal liberty from American citizens due to their skin color, “Even if what she said was true, it wasn’t the right thing to do.”

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Warren of impugning the motives of Sen. Jeff Sessions, who has been nominated for U.S. attorney general, by reading a letter about his work record, “The Senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama.”

If the facts impugn Sessions’ motives and conduct, that would be his fault, not Warren’s. As Ms. King wrote, “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.” This conduct is his own, and reporting it is not impugning anyone’s motives.

Senator Warren didn’t let it work; she took Coretta Scott King’s letter outside to the hall and read it on Facebook live, a video that as of this writing at 9:51 AM on Wednesday morning has 5,862,192 views and counting.

But listen again to the words of these Republicans, for they are echoing their comments about the anti-Trump protesters and indeed any reporting of the truth about the Trump administration, which Kellyanne Conway has dubbed the act “haters” as Steve Bannon declared the press to be the “opposition party”.

If you weren’t around during the Bush administration you might not remember the country, liberals and Democrats as well, being silenced by stern lectures that it wasn’t right to criticize the president while we were at war. The country music group the Dixie Chicks were censored by the entire nation and banned by radio stations when they said, “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”

Contrast that with the way Republicans gleefully and boastfully treated President Obama, yelling at him during a 2010 joint session of Congress, with an inaccurate charge of “You lie!” meant to smear the President’s attempt to provide all Americans with access to affordable healthcare.

Watch here to refresh yourself on what Republicans thought was appropriate under Obama:

Michael Moore used a 2003 Oscars speech to rail against the Iraq War and a Republican president who was, many felt at the time, basically appointed by the Supreme Court, and “liberal Hollywood” turned their backs to him. I was working there then, and the feeling was that this was simply the wrong way to do this, it was rude and disrespectful. Moore was booed for saying, “We like non-fiction, as we live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elects a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it’s the fiction of duct tape or fiction of orange alerts we are against this war, Mr Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you.”

It might have been rude, but it was also necessary. A study has shown that nationalism can be used to enable and legitimize authoritarianism. This requires the consent of the people, which is achieved in moments like the shunning of Michael Moore and the shaming of the vagina hats protesting Trump.

This is the part we must not forget. We must not be so afraid of criticism that we shirk our duties to speak out against assaults on freedoms. Martin Luther King, Jr spoke out about this in his April 16, 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail, noting (paraphrasing) that people often say it’s the wrong time to speak out.

MLK opened his letter, “My Dear Fellow Clergymen: While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities ‘unwise and untimely.'” He observed, “You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.”

Where was the Republican concern for respect for the most basic rights for black Americans last night? They valued selling a whitewashed lie to the American public about Senator Sessions over even allowing a reading of his record of assaulting the rights of vulnerable citizens.

The Kentucky Democrats shared this today:

Republicans are making the charge “It wasn’t right” now in defense of people with known racist and misogynistic records. They aren’t working for the people. They are working for a small subsection of the Republican Party base, with an end goal to undermine and destroy the values of freedom and access to opportunity for all that make this country great.

Do not let these words silence you even for a moment. Republicans are not standing on any moral high ground, indeed they are actively working to destroy our fragile, imperfect but aspirational democracy.

The moral high ground here is in the dissent. There is no morality in the work of elected Republicans right now. They are actively working for Putin, against freedom and liberty, and against the hopeful, welcoming spirit of our country.

When the facts impugn your motives, the right thing to do is self-reflection, not silencing of the facts.