The 116th Congress, the members of which were officially sworn in on Thursday, contains a lot of firsts. The first two Native American women to serve as representatives. The first two Muslim women to serve as representatives. The first openly gay congresswoman from Kansas. The first Latina representatives from Texas.
While these are important benchmarks in their own right, there is also a notable difference in the tone of Congress. This historically young, historically diverse, and historically – though still not proportionally – female Congressional intake has already begun airing out the stuffy tone of America’s august legislative body.
One of those leading that charge is Rashida Tlaib, the new representative from Michigan’s 13th district and one of the two first Muslim women to serve in the House of Representatives – and she is wasting no time in making her voice heard. “We’re gonna go in there,” she said, speaking to the progressive organising group MoveOn just hours after she was sworn in, “and we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.”
This caused the predictable backlash of pearl-clutching from Republican circles, whose faux-outrage at the swear-word would, perhaps, have had more moral weight if they had not spent the previous three years justifying their support for a president who boasted of “grabbing” women “by the pussy,” and attacking Democrats for their “political correctness”.
Tlaib has shown admirable form and consistency in this area. “Courteous behavior can’t be reserved for someone who labels hard-working Mexican immigrants who have come to pursue the American Dream as ‘rapists’,” she wrote in an op-ed in 2016 for the Detroit Free Press, after having been ejected from a Trump event for demanding he read the constitution.
“Social niceties are not in order for men who would turn away refugees fleeing for their lives based on their faith to have them suffer in camps,” she continued. “And complacency is not warranted for a presidential candidate who denigrates a mother and father who have lost their child in the ultimate sacrifice of military service.”
Tlaib is right. The age of civility is over. Trump has killed it stone dead. But what Trump and his lackeys don’t understand is that it was never about following rules of polite verbiage. Civility should not be about following the rules of an age-old white male-dominated political ecosystem; sanitised, polite language should not be seen as a stand-in for true civility, which is about respect and common humanity.
Those are ideals which the Republican Party started to abandon back in the era of Newt Gingrich’s total war speakership in the 1990s and which it fully rejected in 2016 when they selected Donald Trump – that motherfucker to whom Tlaib refers – as its nominee. It’s about time there were politicians on the left who rejected the right-wing paradigm of polite viciousness, and instead use vicious language to push a higher ideal. That’s the civility to which we should aspire.