Moral Clarity For “Some People”

In a twit that’s either perceived as bold and brave, by those who choose to do so, or shallow and defensive, by those who have chosen to view words independent of their emotion, Representative Ilhan Omar fired back at Trump’s 9/11 video interposing a sound bite from a speech with images of the fall of the Twin Towers.

I did not run for Congress to be silent. I did not run for Congress to sit on the sidelines. I ran because I believed it was time to restore moral clarity and courage to Congress. To fight and to defend our democracy.

A cursory pass might make those words seem inspirational to the unduly passionate, but as Mark Bennett notes, any call for “moral clarity” should scare the crap out of you. Those are the words of theocracy.

Take it as a given that congresscritters are immoral, that they legislate immorally and that that’s bad. But there’s a lot of ground between “immorality” and “moral clarity.” And consensus on moral clarity is quite narrow. Take care of your children. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. … and already we are on the ragged edge of moral clarity, as there are are tribes that make broad exceptions for people from other tribes: It’s okay to steal from gadjo, or Igbo, or rich people.

What is morally clear to one person is often less than clear, or even clearly wrong, to another.

If you share Omar’s “moral clarity,” then you are unlikely to see a problem. But then, do you have any clue what her conception of “moral clarity” might be? Many of you believe you do, but it’s just your projection. You don’t know her. You don’t have a clue.

Is her twit intended solely for the ignorant, as are so many politician’s twits including Trump’s? Has anyone serious suggested she be “silent,” or is the position that she stop twitting anti-Semitic tropes and mind-numbingly stupid crap? She doesn’t have to sit on the sidelines. She also doesn’t have to try to make herself the star attraction by spewing nonsense.

This latest round of spinning herself from perpetrator to victim stems from four words, “some people did something,” taken out of context and twisted into a purported trivialization of the attack by terrorists on the World Trade Center. It was nothing of the sort. At worst, it was a bit tone deaf, but her point was that the overreaction toward Muslims (and Sikhs, because they all look alike to some) following 9/11, blaming Islam for the actions of a radicals, was wrong. And it was, just as wrong as blaming “all” of any group for what extreme outliers do.

In the grand scheme of things, this was nothing to get riled up about. There are plenty of other things worth getting riled up about, but this wasn’t one of them. By overplaying his hand, Trump gave Omar the opportunity to play his victim, and she seized it. And then others jumped on the bandwagon to play to their Trump-like audience of the other tribe.

While the unrelenting attacks on Omar are newsworthy unto themselves as a conservative peculiarity, I believe that the attacks should be viewed through a wider and longer lens. Omar is only the most recent minority woman onto whom conservatives have trained their fire.

While white supremacy has historically tried to paint minority men as physically dangerous, it has routinely painted minority women, particularly those strong and vocal, as pathological and reprobate.

So Omar gets a pass on scrutiny because she’s a “strong and vocal” minority woman, who happens to serve as an elected official in the House of Representatives? She’s entitled to speak her mind, even if what she has to say is occasionally repugnant, and even if what she’s currently being taken to task for isn’t. Even Charles Blow didn’t think Omar’s words, this time, were a wise choice.

The congresswoman could have used different, more severe language to describe the attacks, but she didn’t. Maybe we could judge her use of language as inartful, but we all succumb to that occasionally, me included. Error is inevitable among the loquacious. But, the Omar of the speech stands. I saw nowhere in it a thread of terror apologia.

While there’s plenty of room here for disagreement, this is close enough to the mark for me. But if Omar wants to be loud, then she doesn’t get to hide behind cries of how “white supremacy” historically painted minority women. Deal with this woman. Deal with her words. She’s no more a reprobate for her race, religion or gender than she is relieved of the burden of being accountable for her words. And no less.

This is why her call for “moral clarity” demands the reaction it received from Bennett. If she gets to spew without scrutiny based on some invisible barrier of historic routine toward minority women, does she get a free pass on her personal sense of moral clarity as well?

But moral clarity imposed on others (as through theocracy) is a dangerous thing. When non-consensus moral clarity is imposed on others, consensus moral clarity may fall by the wayside. For example, the Taliban has moral clarity, with which many people would not agree, and which it imposes on others. When its moral clarity (for example, homosexuality is immoral) meets murder is wrong the latter yields, and people die.

So when Representative Omar proposes “restoring moral clarity” to Congress, I have to wonder whose moral clarity she means. Congress follows consensus morality pretty [well] already (given that there is no consensus that it is immoral for the state to do what a person could not morally do himself).

There’s something about the word “morality” that has caught the feelings of the insipid. Morality is good. Immorality is bad. Easy-peasy. The idiocracy is happy to project their personal flavor of morality on those their team prefers, whether for Omar or against her. Neither side has a clue what she’s talking about, but they believe they do and that’s all they need to vociferously support what they impute to her.

I no more look to Ilhan Omar as my moral compass than anyone else. But if she believes she was elected to impose her morality on Congress, on the government, then she will be challenged for it, and for her words in pursuit of it. She can’t hide behind her race, religion and gender. Even though her “some people did something” language was hardly a terrorist apologia, her history of histrionics exposed her words to challenge.

Omar doesn’t have to be silent, but she can’t complain, or be defended, because her words of moral clarity weren’t well received.

Ultimately, in a contest of moral clarities, the most certain or the most violent will prevail. The most certain is probably not the most correct, and the most violent is certainly not. So if we’re going to look for moral clarity from Congress, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

Congress didn’t claime to be the arbiter of moral clarity. Omar did. If her ride is bumpy, then it’s of her own making. If she wants to be strong and vocal, the self-proclaimed voice of “moral clarity,” then she has to be tough enough to take the hit for what comes out of her mouth.

14 thoughts on “Moral Clarity For “Some People”

  1. Pedantic Grammar Police

    I have to laugh when politicians talk about morality. Politics is a circus and it always has been. These entertainers will do and say anything to promote themselves. It’s when they start to take themselves seriously that the best antics ensue. If the crowd starts to get bored they can have another fist fight.

    1. Lee Keller King

      “There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” Mark Twain.

      The older I get, the more this resonates. (Except, of course, for MY Congressman).

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Apparently Rep. Omar is upset because “some people said some things”.
    I am fervently wishing that her political career is very short and ends with an embarrassing defeat in the next primary.

  3. C. Dove

    Lyrics (for the hearing impaired):

    You call yourself the moral majority
    We call ourselves the people in the real world
    Trying to rub us out, but we’re going to survive
    God must be dead if you’re alive

    You say, ‘god loves you. come and buy the good news’
    Then you buy the president and swimming pools
    If Jesus don’t save ’til we’re lining your pockets
    God must be dead if you’re alive

    Circus-tent con-men and southern belle bunnies
    Milk your emotions then they steal your money
    It’s the new dark ages with the fascists toting bibles
    Cheap nostalgia for the Salem witch trials

    Stodgy ayatollahs in their double-knit ties
    Burn lots of books so they can feed you their lies
    Masturbating with a flag and a bible
    God must be dead if you’re alive

    Blow it out your ass, Jerry Falwell
    Blow it out your ass, Jesse Helms
    Blow it out your ass, Ronald Reagan
    What’s wrong with a mind of my own?

    You don’t want abortions, you want battered children
    You want to ban the pill as if that solves the problem
    Now you want to force us to pray in school
    God must be dead if you’re such a fool

    You’re planning for a war with or without Iran
    Building a police state with the Ku Klux Klan
    Pissed at your neighbor? don’t bother to nag
    Pick up the phone and turn in a fag

    Blow it out your ass, Terry Dolan
    Blow it out your ass, Phyllis Schlafly
    Ram it up your cunt, Anita
    ‘Cause god must be dead
    If you’re alive
    God must be dead
    If you’re alive

  4. Julia

    “To fight and to defend our democracy.”

    She thinks she’s fighting a war, on Twitter. Good grief.

    Back in the beginning of 2017 there was strong perception that Trump should stay away from Twitter because of his proclivity to spew nonsense. Fast forward to 2019, elected reps spewing nonsense at each other on Twitter are accepted as normalcy. Trump’s account is a true goldmine for his Trump-like opponents.

  5. David Meyer-Lindenberg

    Charles Blow is as shallow as the rest of the Gray Lady op-ed crew, but at least he’s their best stylist. He may insult your intelligence, but he’ll rarely insult your aesthetic sense.


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