US political discourse turns ever uglier – even between party colleagues

America Letter: Anti-Muslim rhetoric and slanging matches have real consequences

Ilhan Omar during a press conference addressing anti-Muslim comments made by Lauren Boebert. Photograph: Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times

Ilhan Omar during a press conference addressing anti-Muslim comments made by Lauren Boebert. Photograph: Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times

 

Observing US politics at close hand since arriving in Washington, one thing stands out; the lack of civility that exists in the discourse not just between some politicians and their opponents but also between those in the same party.

In Ireland there are politicians who may not like each other and who disagree widely on policy, and there may be strong verbal clashes in the Dáil, but the language used and the actions taken are nowhere near as extreme as those now taking place increasingly among some on Capitol Hill.

Last month a Republican congressman from Arizona, Paul Gosar, was condemned by Democrats after he posted a violent cartoon video depicting him killing New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden.

For days this week American media has been fascinated by a feud between a number of female politicians, which originally stemmed from comments by one Republican that appeared to suggest that a Muslim Democrat member of Congress could be a suicide bomber.

This row spiralled outwards, drawing in others and ultimately leading to one right-wing Republican politician calling another, more moderate congresswoman “trash” while she in turn was accused being “bat sh*t crazy” and using extreme language to raise money.

The focus is now on whether the Republican House of Representatives minority leader Kevin McCarthy is prepared to step in and try to impose some discipline on his troops. Some media commentators have suggested that McCarthy may be reluctant as opposing right-wingers in the party could jeopardise his chances of becoming speaker of the House if the Republicans win back control in the midterm elections next November – as seems likely on foot of current polling numbers.

Lift story

It all started when a video was posted on Twitter in which Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert likened Democrat representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota – who is Muslim and wears a hijab – to a terrorist.

In the video, Boebert claimed a Capitol police officer ran towards a closing lift door in which she, one of her staff and Omar were inside.

“I look to my left, and there she is: Ilhan Omar. And I said ‘Well, she doesn’t have a backpack, we should be fine,’ ” Boebert said. The congresswoman then allegedly turned to Omar and said, “The Jihad squad decided to show up for work today.”

Omar denied the interaction ever happened and added: “Fact, this buffoon looks down when she sees me at the Capitol.”

“Anti-Muslim bigotry isn’t funny and shouldn’t be normalised,” Omar tweeted subsequently. “Congress can’t be a place where hateful and dangerous Muslim tropes get no condemnation.”

Amid criticism of Islamophobia, Boebert apologised “to anyone in the Muslim community I offended with my comment about Representative Omar”.

The two women later had a phone call that by all accounts did not end well.

Boebert said Omar had wanted her to apologise publicly. Boebert said instead she had told Omar to make a public apology to the American people for her “anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-police rhetoric”.

Republican spat

Enter at this point two other Republican congresswomen: firebrand right-winger Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and the more moderate Nancy Mace of South Carolina.

Last Sunday Mace criticised her fellow Republican Boebert for her comments about Omar.

“I have time after time condemned my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for racist tropes and remarks that I find disgusting and this is no different than any others.”

Greene then waded into the row: “@NancyMace is the trash in the GOP Conference,” tweeted the Georgia Republican about her colleague from South Carolina on Tuesday morning. “Never attacked by Democrats or RINO’s (same thing) because she is not conservative, she’s pro-abort. Mace you can back up off of @laurenboebert or just go hang with your real gal pals, the Jihad Squad. Your out of your league,” she tweeted. Rino is a term used by some on the right for those t hey see as “Republican in name only”.

Mace didn’t take this lying down and described Greene as a “grifter who made extreme comments to raise money”.

Greene, however, has the ear of Donald Trump and suggested that the former president would support a candidate who would challenge Mace to run as the Republican nominee in her district in the elections next year.

Some may see all this as good knockabout politics in the social media era.

However, words can have consequences.

Omar this week said she had received death threats and she played a voicemail that had been left for her.

In the profanity-laced recording, a man’s voice says: “You will not be living much longer, bitch,” and that “we the people are rising up”. He calls Omar a “traitor” and says she will stand trial before a military tribunal.

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