GOP Attacks On Women Impeachment Witnesses Backfire

During the impeachment hearings, President Trump and the GOP continued their pattern of attacking and attempting to silence women. Polling indicates it didn't work.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and law professor Pamela Karlan (CNN)

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and law professor Pamela Karlan (CNN)

Pamela S. Karlan is a triple Yale graduate and a Stanford University law professor who has argued nine cases before the U.S. Supreme Court (and won six of them). She also has worked on the case that legalized same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges, and for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, won an Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service, and clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun.

So, of course, being an intelligent and accomplished woman made her raw meat for Trumpian wrath at the hands of yet another mediocre, loud, and sycophantic white man.

During Wednesday’s House Judiciary impeachment hearing, Karlan had the unfortunate experience of not only enduring acquitted-on-a-technicality drunk driver, security breacher, Holocaust-denial enabler and failson Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-FL) inquisition and rage but also his strident scolding and patronization.

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“You don’t get to interrupt me,” he barked at Karlan, though he didn’t bark the same order to Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman who earlier had tried to interrupt Gaetz as well.

After ordering Karlan to stay silent, Gaetz told her she looked “mean” when she simply used Barron Trump’s first name to make a play-on-words point about the Constitution eliminating the monarchical English rule the United States had freed itself from 243 years before. Gaetz, however, got a pass for using Trump’s minor son to make a manipulative pathos-laden argument. First Lady Melania Trump lashed out against Karlan and not Gaetz when she wrote this tweet defending her only child:

Earlier in the impeachment hearing, Karlan’s eloquent and respectful opening statement included a robust refutation to ranking member Rep. Doug Collins’s (R-GA) implication that she and her fellow law professors did not read materials beforehand. Collins’s response to her contradiction was to check his cell phone.

Both Collins and Gaetz’s treatment toward, and dismissal of, Karlan received barely a mention in the media. Is it because these Congressmen are just more craven foot soldiers following the path President Trump blazed for them with his documented disrespect toward women? Is it because interrupting, silencing, and ignoring women is systemic? Or is it because Trump’s disrespect toward women has normalized such bad behavior to the point of being unquestioned?

Upon close investigation, all three factors may be at work. However, according to a variety of polls, these factors are not working. A poll by The Washington Post and ABC News before the first round of impeachment hearings found 56% of women supported impeachment. According to a CNN Poll released in late November, “a full 61% of women were in favor of impeaching Trump,” And according to a Quinnipiac University poll released the same week as CNN’s, 53% of women support impeachment as well as removal from office.

If the 2018 midterms are any indication, the voters Republicans should be worried about are not Trump’s base but women — especially Black women.

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The GOP’s Silencing Of Women

Classicist Mary Beard in her 2014 London Review of Books essay “The Public Voice of Women” argued that silencing women in the Western world can be traced back to ancient Greece, specifically in Homer’s Odyssey when Telemachus tells his middle-aged mother Penelope to concentrate on her domestic responsibilities instead of expressing herself. Beard pointed out silencing women in public goes beyond misogyny and has its roots in classical rhetoric. Gender determined what men and women were accepted to speak about in the public sphere. Beard mentions that women in antiquity had non-existent rights, including no suffrage.

Beard highlighted that women in antiquity were only permitted to speak out “to defend their own homes, their children, their husbands[,] . . . the interests of other women” or “. . . as victims and as martyrs — usually to preface their own death.”

“Looking at modern traditions of oratory more generally, we also find that same single area of licence for women to talk publicly, in support of their own sectional interests, or to parade their victimhood,” Beard continued.

Karlan did not speak out about her own interests, on behalf of other women, or to “parade [her] victimhood.” She appeared before Congress as a lawyer and a legal scholar to share her analysis and insight on whether Trump’s actions constitute impeachment.

Likewise for former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch when she testified about her Foreign Service record, the chronology of her unjust removal from the diplomatic corps, and the threat Trump made against her when she still served as Ambassador to Ukraine. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia Laura Cooper and former National Security Council adviser Fiona Hill also shared facts and evidence to the intelligence committee’s impeachment hearing. Hill at one point asked after Republican Congressman spent their allotted time complaining about the process and defending Trump “Could I actually say something?”

The only women who can speak out free of reprisal from the Trump administration, Trump sycophants, the First Lady, or Trump himself are those who enable him and support his inhumane and insipid policies and actions. To metaphorically prove Beard’s point, they are defending their “home,” “children,” and “husband.” The only part of Beard’s analysis these women fail to fulfill is defending other women, such as Karlan and Yovanovitch.

Likewise for Christine Blasey Ford. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) like her male Republican Senators voted to confirm Bret Kavanaugh and disbelieved Dr. Ford’s testimony that Kavanaugh assaulted her. While Ford was clearly nervous during her testimony, she remained composed, unlike Kavanaugh who cried and became defensive when discussing calendars, beer, and his reputation.

By calling Hillary Clinton “such a nasty woman” and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) “Pocahontas” and tweeting about Yovanovitch, Trump has reinforced the classical rhetorical rules about women’s public speech and his lemmings have cosigned.

As recently as Thursday evening, Trump described Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) anger at former Fox News reporter James Rosen who asked her if she hated Trump as “a nervous fit.”

Rosen, who left Fox after he faced sexual harassment claims and now works for the conservative and Trump-friendly Sinclair Broadcast Group, posed his question after Pelosi asked the Judiciary Committee to continue with articles of impeachment.

Based on all this past behavior, expect more of the same or even worse vitriol to come from Trump and his complicit comrades, men and women, if Democratic Presidential candidates Warren, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), or Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) clinch their party’s nomination for President or Vice President. This faux and outrage will cement the “rules” toward women’s public speech established by Western culture centuries before. Women discussing policy does not fit the classical rhetoric of gender norms that still exist in 2019.

American women now enjoy the right to vote while they forever suffer the limits of communication.

Opinion // Impeachment / Republican Party / Women