Recently, whenever I turn on the television or scan the newspaper, I’m greeted by the face of Ilhan Omar, the newest Congresswoman from Minnesota. While it initially seemed that Omar would break barriers by becoming the first female Muslim congresswoman, proving that gender and religion have no bearing on ability, she has consistently made headlines for her anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks. (Whether anti-Israel sentiment is just another form of anti-Semitism is another conversation which would need a far longer page length.) Among other things, Omar has accused American supporters of Israel of having “allegiance to a foreign country,” and said that the US support of Israel “is all about the Benjamins, baby,” implying that Jews are paying off the government to continue their support of Israel.
I wish I could say I am shocked. I wish I could shake my head in disbelief that a congresswoman would have the gall to say such things. But while I am horrified, seeing these kinds of remarks in the news no longer surprises me. Why should a Congresswoman be afraid to make such remarks when the highest office in the land, the presidency, makes equally offensive comments about other races and cultures without fear of reprisal? When the President of the United States can categorize an entire group of people as “rapists” who bring in drugs and crime, or say that there might be some “very good people” at a White Supremacist rally, and still have any level of approval, the rules of what is and isn’t accepted have changed, and we are now in dangerous territory.
I am entering a new world of politics, far different than the one my parents grew up in. When they describe presidents of the past, they speak of their pro and cons, of their likes and dislikes. One of my parents disagreed with Carter; another disliked Bush. However, they both speak of the office of the president with respect. They describe our former leaders as men who took their job seriously, who entered with the hope of bringing positive change to our country, and our world, whether or not they were ultimately successful. A new door, however, has opened, and those who speak of racism and antisemitism and prejudice have been allowed to walk right through it, into our House and our Senate and our Presidency, spewing hatred in their wake. This is made particularly dangerous by the fact that thanks to social media platforms, these hateful comments are now shared with millions of people in a matter of seconds, with the click of a computer key.
The role of political leadership has been dragged through the mud. Its honor has been torn to shreds by those who use their power to incite hatred, racism, and anti-Semitism. Instead of focusing on policy, my newsfeed is filled with drama as the media pounces on the inflammatory rhetoric used by Republicans and Democrats alike. I am back in seventh grade, where the biggest bully wins the student body elections, and the mean girl smiles as she insults you to your face. I miss the days I never knew, and I envy my parents for having been witness to leaders who could actually lead by example, when all I am left with is Ilhan Omar, her harmful hatred, and the new norm of politics.