Last Friday, at a Bernie Sanders campaign event in Iowa, the topic of Hillary Clinton’s recent comments about Sanders’s supposed unpopularity elicited a chorus of boos from the crowd. The moderator tsked the audience but Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who was on stage with Ilhan Omar and Pramila Jayapal, joined in, saying, “You all know I can’t be quiet. No, we’re gonna boo. The haters will shut up on Monday when we win.”
The fallout to this brief aside was immediate and predictable: Twitter imploded, with professional commentators and Democratic voters alike calling Tlaib’s comments divisive, and expressing their disgust that Tlaib would deride Clinton in such a manner. Cable news networks asked pundits to react to the incident, turning a blip into a trending topic. But what was actually being expressed was an absurd reverence for Clinton, which overrode the facts of the matter: Tlaib was expressing her discontent toward a divisive statement made by Clinton—one of the most influential figures in the Democratic party—who has been repeatedly talking to the press about Sanders and their 2016 primary battle for no practical reason.
It’s undeniable that Tlaib and—by association, the Sanders campaign—would have spent less time over the weekend doing damage control if the booing hadn’t occurred, and only a cynic would call Tlaib’s comments savvy. But the reaction far outweighed the actual incident which, however ill-timed, was not nearly the earth-shattering, “Trumpian” betrayal many portrayed it to be.
Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress described Tlaib’s booing as an example of “white male rage and misogyny,” which is absurd given the fact that Tlaib is none of these things. And while MSNBC political analyst and former Clinton campaign staffer Zerlina Maxwell was right in saying that women are susceptible to internalized misogyny, it felt unfair when she invoked the black women who worked for the Clinton campaign and said, “When I see them booing, I feel like they’re booing me.”
Most egregious of all, some compared Tlaib to President Trump. Jodi Jacobson, former Editor-In-Chief of Rewire News, tweeted that Tlaib’s booing was “far too close to what Trump does.” And in an absolutely maddening op-ed in The Independent, writer Hannah Selinger argued that Tlaib foolishly allowed herself to align with the populist mob that “feels a whole lot like Trump’s.” She likens Sanders’s brand of populism to Trump’s, a vapid observation that reduces the nativism and racist scapegoating that animates the president’s most fervent supporters. The latter describes the crowd in Iowa that Tlaib spoke in front of, the one she booed with, but it’s increasingly untenable to describe Sanders’s supporters as merely a legion of angry white men—just look at the statistics—and it’s baffling to treat Tlaib’s boos as even coming close to the kind of bloodlust that Trump has riled up during his years on the campaign trail and in office.
Selinger also wrote:
...the problem is the idea that only disenfranchised, blue-collar (and largely white) people deserve to have an opinion about the America we share. It’s the idea that women who support female candidates with progressive views are solely on board because of “identity politics” — a buzz term used to make women feel bad about our desire for equal representation. It’s the idea that only one person represents the best interests of a nation, when the truth of politics is far murkier than this type of deus ex machina.
This crude summation of How Sanders Supporters Think is tone policing under the guise of feminism and reduces Trumpism to rudeness and a lack of decorum—when its most lasting impact will not be its chants of “LOCK HER UP!,” but rather the administration’s willingness to leave the fate of DACA recipients in the balance; their disastrous policy on the U.S.-Mexico border; their travel bans; the conservative balance of the Supreme Court and lower courts; their systematic overhaul of Health and Human Services into bible boot camp; their war on poor immigrants and citizens alike; their enthusiastic embrace of a white nationalist as a top policy advisor; and an amateur Middle East Peace policy that continues to dehumanize Palestinians.
That Tlaib has been described as Trumpian due to this moment of emotional weakness—a moment in which she dared not give Clinton the uncritical reverence that her mythos has insisted she deserves—demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the real dangers of Trumpism. His attitude is unbecoming, but mere “incivility” is not what makes him dangerous.
It’s clear that women of color—black women in particular—are only deemed the saviors of the Democratic party when convenient. And this convenience prizes falling in line: women of color who aren’t too far left, and aren’t in danger of shaking the pedestals of other beloved Democratic politicians straddling the center. White so-called allies will be quick to remind them of their transgressions; so too will the black and brown people who have happily cozied up to the tenants of benevolent centrism and their icons (much to the white allies’ delight). Loudly left-of-center women of color, especially those who support the Sanders campaign, are rendered combative, divisive, and—apparently, puzzlingly—collaborators of white supremacy and misogyny.
I saw a woman respond to Tlaib’s apology thread on Twitter who called her behavior deplorable. “You realize you’d be nowhere without @HillaryClinton,” she wrote. Her tweet received over 2,400 likes and left me baffled. But when considering Clinton as a symbolic figure, this reaction starts to make sense. Clinton has become the ultimate archetype of a fighter, a Strong Woman who has been wronged again, and again, and again—despite her significant accomplishments—and now she’s a living martyr, only popping by the mortal realm to drop a snarky tweet or talk shit about Sanders. Tlaib’s booing dared challenge Clinton’s martyrdom in the Democratic party, demonstrating that Clinton’s actions and words were of more consequence than what she merely represents.
The outsized reverence for Clinton doesn’t leave room for younger and newer women who have a vision of a more progressive Democratic Party to express themselves with the same cavalier attitude that Clinton does. But Tlaib learned the hard way that lacking awe for Clinton—and daring to express frustration toward her—is still a crime in the Democratic Party, one worthy of at least 48 hours worth of bad tweets.