No one enjoys criticism. It is a normal human reaction to become defensive when someone vociferously objects to our opinions or actions. It is unpleasant to have one’s shortcomings or ideas placed under a microscope for review. In the age of social media and a 24-hour news cycle, politicians and other public personalities receive an immediate reaction to things they might say or do. These responses (and, often, attacks) can be most unpleasant, to say the least.
However, how a person responds to such criticism says a lot about the individual. It also is indicative of how well-founded or legitimate the critiqued policy or opinion might be. And in the toxic political environment in which we find ourselves, it seems the knee-jerk reaction is to attempt to shut down the critic, rather than to engage in a meaningful debate about the issue and have an honest exchange of ideas.
So many times, when a person criticized President Barack Obama, the immediate charge was that he, or she, was racist. In an interview with the BBC, Oprah Winfrey said: “There is a level of disrespect for the office that occurs. And that occurs, in some cases, and maybe even many cases, because he’s African American.”
Former president Jimmy Carter told “NBC Nightly News” in 2009: “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man.”
No doubt there were people who stood against Barack Obama simply because of his skin color. However, much of the criticism of our forty-fourth President was due to a disagreement over his policies and methodologies. I worked with President Obama personally as a part of the casualty affairs mission at Dover Air Force Base. After I left military service, I was a frequent critic of Mr. Obama. It had absolutely nothing to do with his race.
When Hillary Clinton ran for president, frequently those who dared to critique her policy proposals, or her tenure as Secretary of State, were accused of having a “problem” with powerful women. There are misogynists among us. However, to call Mrs. Clinton to task for her bumbling of the attacks in Benghazi or her mishandling of classified information was fair; it had nothing to do with her gender.
Following a Trump recent campaign rally in North Carolina, the Huffington Post reported, “Human rights advocates and other critics have long warned against Trump’s xenophobic and Islamophobic language and policies, which set the stage for Wednesday night’s racist rally.” A racist rally, really? That somehow 20,000 people who plan to vote for President Trump’s reelection are attending a “racist rally.”
Islamophobia is "very much" a part of the Democratic and Republican parties, Rep. Tlaib (D-Michigan) said in an interview that aired last Sunday. Tlaib said on Showtime's "The Circus" that anti-Muslim bias played a big role in last week's controversy surrounding Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Never mind that Representatives Omar and Talib engage in anti-Semitic Tweets and Rep. Omar unapologetically delivers speeches to Muslim groups with ties to terrorism.
In an opinion piece in USA Today last week, the writer claims that Speaker of the House Pelosi has a problem with women of color. Never mind that Nancy Pelosi has been a champion of the rights of women and minorities.
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA)—who is leading the charge to investigate the postponement of the redesign of the $20 bill that was set to feature the likeness of famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman—attacked the Treasury Department last weekend after a new report revealed the redesign plans were farther along than was previously known. "Secretary Mnuchin has allowed Trump's racism and misogyny to prevent him from carrying out the will of the people," Pressley told Newsweek in a written statement.
Representative Omar recently tweeted that her adversaries were trying to silence her. Just last week, she dismissed those who question her choice of words towards Jews and America in general as “bigots.”
When Rep. Omar referred to the 9/11 attacks as “some people did something” and stated she was tired of being treated as a second-class citizen because she was Muslim, the New York Post ran a front-page photo of the twin towers engulfed in flames with the caption “Here’s your something—2,977 people dead by terrorism.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the Post headline “horrifying and hateful.” She complained that photos of the attack were “triggering.” Rep. Tlaib defended Omar’s words by stating, “She does speak the truth.”
Racism. Sexism. Misogyny. Xenophobia. Islamophobia. These and other accusatory labels are frequently wielded as weapons to deflect criticism and silence political opponents. Contrary to Ilhan Omar’s tweet, she is blatantly and unfairly attempting to silence her adversaries—not the other way around.
Racism is real; unfortunately, we have not been able to eradicate this blight on society. However, every criticism of a minority is not rooted in racism. To accuse virtually everyone who disagrees with a person of color as “racist” is grossly unfair. And it diminishes the claims of those who truly are the victims of racist attitudes. It is a copout and an insult to those who are victims of racism for a politician to attempt to deflect criticism or controversy by labeling his or her critics as racist.
Likewise, there are people in America who indeed have sexist attitudes and who do not respect women. There are those who would persecute or ostracize people because they are Muslim. This is wrong. But, for example, there is a difference between patriotism and white nationalism. Yet frequently those who profess love of country or respect for the flag are branded as xenophobic or “nationalistic” by progressive politicians and some in the media. A female politician or a Muslim person serving in elected office cannot be unaccountable to the people or above criticism merely because of their gender or their religion. And yet, this is what is happening virtually every day.
This kind of coopting of serious social pathologies, such as racism and so forth, is unjust: to those who are unfairly labeled in this way, and to those who are the true victims of discrimination. Yet it seems that every left-leaning politician uses these defense mechanisms virtually every time they are criticized.
This behavior is designed to shut down conversation. It is a manipulative communication tool. It stifles legitimate debate over policy. It is designed to silence critics and crush disagreement. In a country that values the First Amendment and freedom of speech, those who try to silence those who disagree with them through gross generalizations of having some “ism” at work is, in reality, a true threat to free speech.
To Representatives Omar, Tlaib, Pressley, and Ocasio-Cortez: Millions of Americans take issue with your words, your proposals and policies, and your attitudes. It is not about Islamophobia. It is not about misogyny, or racism, or sexism, or any other ism. Free speech should require that we listen to one another without labeling. Through honest debate all of our ideas are tested, and policies/proposals are frequently adjusted and improved. Other ideas are rejected out of hand, after analysis and discussion.
As Walter Weber of the ACLJ recently wrote, “Free speech is essential to getting out the truth and settling disputes over factual arguments of national public importance . . . .”
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