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At a January 16, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) informally announced he’s running for president in 2020 by bullying Kirstjen Nielsen, President Trump’s new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. With eyes and neck veins popping, Booker pounded his fists, pointed his finger, yelled accusations of racism, and further accused the secretary of lying. She, in turn, could do nothing but sit in dignified silence as this went on. His posture was threatening, even scary.
Consider this behavior in a normal professional setting. If a colleague at your work acted like Booker, someone would likely step in and ask him to calm down. (He might even get fired.) If a police officer witnessed a man yelling at a woman in public, pounding his fists, using menacing body language, the officer would walk over to ask if there was a problem. And if a Republican senator had accused a female Obama official of lying without any proof, shamed her as a racist, cut her off when she tried to defend herself, another senator would have interrupted him immediately.
There is no professional environment—indeed, no public space—where Booker’s conduct would be tolerated. So how is it that he not only got away with it, but is now lauded as a hero for this highly unprofessional and embarrassing display? Because attacks against women on the Right—particularly those who support or serve in the Trump administration—are considered completely acceptable on the Left, especially in the Trump era. And on the Right, there remains an unwillingness to fight on equal terms.
Booker’s 10-minute unhinged obloquy is a fitting crescendo to the yearlong mugging of Right-leaning women. Angered by President Trump’s alleged comment describing some African countries as “shitholes,” tough guy Booker decided not to take it up with Trump himself, but instead direct his rage at Nielsen. Quoting Martin Luther King Jr, Booker accused Nielsen of “sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” When he misrepresented what she said, and Nielsen tried to defend herself, he cut her off, yelling, “let me finish!” His voice rising, spit flying, Booker pounded on the dais, pointed at Nielsen, and essentially accused her of being a liar and a racist: “Your silence and your amnesia is [sic] complicity.” He ended his tirade by mocking her recollection of the meeting: “You don’t remember. You can’t remember the words of your commander-in-chief. I find that unacceptable.”
Not only did Booker’s colleagues (including three female senators) sit silently as Booker’s rant continued, the media and some outspoken feminists afterwards celebrated his ignominy as courageous. Politico reported that Nielsen was “peppered with tough questions” and that “Democrats clearly lost patience with Nielsen’s responses.” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank commended Booker for how he “pounced on Nielsen for her convenient memory loss under oath and her attempt to “dismiss” questions about the episode.” CNN applauded Booker for his “impassioned remarks” during a “testy oversight hearing” and reported how the senator was “at times visibly upset.”
In contrast to the uproar the media made after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked a Senate rule to halt a lengthy speech by Elizabeth Warren, the media have so far failed to defend Nielsen. Celebrities have not rallied to Nielsen’s defense and op-ed writers haven’t demanded Booker apologize for his bullying behavior. Quite to the contrary: On Wednesday, Booker was interviewed by CBS News hosts Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King, where he doubled-down on his accusations against Nielsen, calling her testimony “a sham” and alleging she lied under oath. Neither woman confronted Booker about his threatening body language he exhibited during the hearing.
We are very familiar with the double-standard of how we, as women on the Right, are treated differently than our sisters on the Left. Since Trump was elected, women who voted for, support, or now work for Donald Trump have been subjected to vicious personal attacks of a kind that the Left would never tolerate if they were directed at their own. The same leftist women who will once again don their pussy hats this weekend to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March don’t just remain silent in the face of this, they positively help to foment this climate of hate against us. The media and Democratic politicians have all played along, blinded so much by their hatred for Donald Trump that they cannot even see their own hypocrisy, and have condemned women who support his policies in an ugly, even dangerous way.
Here are just a few examples:
Kellyanne Conway: No woman in politics has been so unduly villainized as Conway has since the election. She had to defend herself against questions as to why she, as a mother of four, decided to go to work for the White House. Writers have mocked her looks, her hair, and even her mother’s house. She’s repeatedly criticized for her “spin” on behalf of the president in a way no other male counterpart—particularly in the Obama administration—has been scrutinized. Saturday Night Live has portrayed her as a sewer creature and as Glenn Close’s character from “Fatal Attraction.” A sitting congressman had to apologize for implying she is a whore.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: As the first mom to hold this position, Sanders would be at hero-worship status if she were working for a Democrat, but of course that’s not the case. Male columnists have called her a “chunky soccer mom,” a “paid sycophant,” (none of those allowed in politics!) and sniffed about how she needs a “vocabulary lesson.” Mika Brzezinski mom-shamed her and said Sanders’ relationship with Trump is “sick.” She was taunted for days about the pie she baked for Thanksgiving. SNL depicts her as obese, dumb, and a southern hillbilly. Chelsea Handler tweeted a despicable video, ridiculing Sanders’ looks, and referred to her as a whore. (See a pattern here?)
Betsy DeVos: Last February, Trump’s secretary of education was almost physically attacked when protesters blocked her from entering a public school in D.C. Harvard University students raised fists and turned their back on DeVos during a speech in September and accused her of being a white supremacist. She was vilified for not sending her children to public schools, although several previous education secretaries including Obama’s education chief Arne Duncan also sent their kids to private schools. And her Christianity was heavily scrutinized: Rolling Stone called her appointment the “crowning achievement of the Christian right’s campaign to infiltrate America’s secular institutions.”
Melania Trump: The nonstop, glowing coverage the media gave Michelle Obama (and still gives her) has not been conferred to our new First Lady. She’s had to defend rumors about her son, Barron, and about whether she really wants to be First Lady. Meryl Streep is now demanding that Mrs. Trump comment about the slew of sexual harassment charges against powerful men this past year: “I want to hear about the silence of Melania Trump. I want to hear from her.” (This is, of course, a trap.) The First Lady was blasted, mostly by other liberal women, for wearing pumps to visit hurricane victims, a petty new low in FLOTUS news coverage.
It’s not just Trump women who have been maligned. Conservative writer Heather MacDonald’s speech on a college campus was shut down amid violent protests, and NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch was forced to flee her home because of death threats from gun control activists. Evergreen State College professor Heather Heying resigned after she and her husband were harassed for criticizing the school’s Day of Absence, which asked white students to leave campus to discuss race issues. They sued the school for failing to “protect its employees from repeated provocative and corrosive verbal and written hostility based on race, as well as threats of physical violence.”
There are many more examples of how women who lean Right have been mistreated since Trump’s election. We are not suggesting women in positions of power should be immune from legitimate scrutiny of their professional work. Yet, it would just be nice if the Left exhibited at least a little discomfort with how women on the Right are now regularly mistreated—particularly in the era of #MeToo. The gaping disparity in how Right-leaning women are handled and portrayed versus Left-leaning women not only creates a poisonous political climate, it endangers the real equality and fairness we all seek.
Kirstjen Nielsen is more than capable of handling the toddler-like outbursts of senators with presidential ambitions and a knack for getting press attention. Yet, when powerful men, like Senator Cory Booker, get away with bullying a woman just because she reports to the president and he is actually celebrated for it, it erodes any hope of finding common ground.