Blow: How to respond to childish taunts meant to go viral

When members of Congress descend into click-bait-intended insults, has all focus on legislating been lost?

By Charles M. Blow / The New York Times

Why, exactly, was Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s dig at Rep. Jasmine Crockett’s fake eyelashes so upsetting?

The two members of the House Oversight Committee tore into each other last week in a verbal assault that was widely seen as a new low for personal relationships in this polarized Congress. Greene, R-Ga., began the descent by saying to Crockett, D-Texas, that her “fake eyelashes are messing up what you’re reading.”

For Crockett, it was about much more than a rules violation for attacking another member’s physical appearance. For her, it was an insinuation of inferiority.

As Crockett told me, “It triggered me because MAGA is constantly on social media doing all these wild memes about my lashes and talking about my nails.” She continued, “They call me ghetto trash and DEI hire.”

Greene, in that moment, became the personification of her online harassment, Crockett said.

“I interpreted that as not, ‘oh girl, you don’t need to wear lashes because you’re more than enough and you’re beautiful,’” she said, “I interpreted that as, ‘you’re basically like, oh, you ghetto piece of trash.’”

So, Crockett shot back with her one insult about Greene’s appearance, asking the committee chair, “I’m just curious, just to better understand your ruling, if someone on this committee then starts talking about somebody’s bleach-blonde, bad-built, butch body, that would not be engaging in personalities, correct?”

The alliteration became a viral sensation. People made songs about it. Crockett herself is making apparel featuring the phrase, and she moved to trademark the term.

Crockett has gained a reputation for producing such moments. But the incident also speaks to the nature of the modern Congress, in which spectacle generates its own form of power, in which being a social media clip star is just as important as being an advancer of legislation.

This is not to defend Greene in any way. She is a bully who has proved to be a bona fide stunt queen, exploiting outrage for personal advancement. I think Crockett was right when she told me, “People have really been waiting on someone to put her in her place, because she’s been so out of place and so outlandish this entire time.”

And yet, going toe to toe and tit for tat with someone like Greene is also to descend into chaos, and ultimately into indecorous absurdities, because that is precisely where Greene is most comfortable.

Even Crockett concedes that the clipbait-ification of Congress is a bad thing, saying, “I really dislike that social media and virality is playing a part in legislating.”

But she offered an explanation for her own actions: “I don’t try to create these moments, but I think that what’s happening is that Democrats have been craving someone who would be responsive in the moment to misinformation and disinformation and do it in a very forceful way.”

In her view, it is the motivation that matters most: standing for truth vs. standing for institutional and societal degradation.

The problem is that the country has been lied to so often and for so long that many people can only see their party’s representatives on the noble side of that equation.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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