The Desecration of Mollie Tibbetts' Memory
While filling in for Laura Ingraham on The Ingraham Angle recently, Congressman turned TV personality Jason Chaffetz argued, “Personally, I don’t believe that the (former Trump lawyer Michael) Cohen and (Paul) Manafort) story moves the meter in one direction. But what does touch the hearts, what does touch people’s emotion, is what happened to Mollie Tibbetts because they can relate to her and she was murdered. And all the polls are showing that the number one issue is immigration.”
Repellent human being Newt Gingrich echoed Chaffetz’s rhetoric when he said, “If Mollie Tibbets is a household name by October, Democrats will be in deep trouble.”
It is undoubtedly true that the murder of a beautiful young white woman by an undocumented immigrant touched the heart of the American people and stirred their emotions in ways that the killing of an overweight black woman in her fifties or a mentally challenged Asian gentleman would not.
We have a hierarchy of victims, with photogenic straight white people of means at the very top and illegal immigrants at the very bottom. So when an attractive white college student is killed by an illegal immigrant it’s not perceived as a mere crime but rather a violation of the social order.
As Birth of a Nation director D.W Griffith knew all too well, nothing whips the emotions of the populace into a murderous frenzy quite like the notion that beautiful young white women are being sexually threatened and menaced by brown-skinned outsiders with no respect for our customs and culture.
Hillary Clinton’s message as a candidate was essentially, “If we work together, we can build upon the legacy of Obama and make the world a fairer, more egalitarian place.” Trump’s, in sharp contrast, could be boiled down to “Only I can protect you from the brown-skinned lowlifes out to rape and murder your daughters.”
It may not have been high-minded, but Trump’s message of fear and xenophobia clearly resonated with voters more than Clinton’s appeal to voters’ idealism. It’s not hard to see why Republicans have fixated on Tibbetts’ killing. It takes an abstract issue like illegal immigration and gives it a name, a beautiful white face and a heartbreaking, heart wrenching story.
Sure enough, Trump told a crowd in West Virginia, “”You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in, very sadly, from Mexico and you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful woman. Should never have happened.”
Trump and other Republicans have coopted Tibbetts and her tragic story in her death and used it as a blunt, powerful tool against immigration, legal and otherwise. They’ve essentially weaponized a horrifying murder, almost instantly transforming a young college student into a preeminent martyr of the anti-immigration movement.
Members of Tibbetts’ family have fought back against the cynical politicization of the young woman’s death. In a Facebook post, Tibbetts’ cousin Sandi Tibbetts Murphy eloquently wrote, “It is not your right to exacerbate this grievous act by hijacking Mollie and all she believed in with your racist fear-mongering. You do not get to use her murder to inaccurately promote your permanently separated hyperbole. You do not have permission to callously use this tragedy to demonize an entire population for the acts of one man.”
The “permanently separated” line refers to a particularly heinous White House official tweet reading “For 34 days, investigators searched for 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts. Yesterday, an illegal alien, now charged with murder, led police to the cornfield where her body was found. The Tibbetts family has been permanently separated. They are not alone.”
“Permanently separated” is of course a bad-taste reference to the horror all good people felt seeing helpless children ripped away from their parents at the border. It’s a way of saying, “Hey, it might look bad when sobbing kids are torn away from their parents at the behest of the United States government, but that pales in comparison to being murdered by someone with brown skin.” So essentially Trump is patting himself on the back for being morally superior to a murderer.
In an op-ed for the Des Moines Register, Tibbetts' father Rob wrote eloquently, and with righteous anger against those who "have instead chosen to callously distort and corrupt Mollie’s tragic death to advance a cause she vehemently opposed. I encourage the debate on immigration; there is great merit in its reasonable outcome. But do not appropriate Mollie’s soul in advancing views she believed were profoundly racist. The act grievously extends the crime that stole Mollie from our family and is, to quote Donald Trump Jr., “heartless" and "despicable.”
Showing an astonishing and heartbreaking level of grace and empathy, particularly in light of the ugly and angry way Tibbetts' story has been hijacked to promote hatred, the devastated father goes on to write, "Let’s turn against racism in all its ugly manifestations both subtle and overt. Let’s turn toward each other with all the compassion we gave Mollie. Let’s listen, not shout. Let’s build bridges, not walls. Let’s celebrate our diversity rather than argue over our differences. I can tell you, when you’ve lost your best friend, differences are petty and meaningless.
In death, Conservatives and anti-immigration zealots have further removed Tibbetts’ agency, her voice, her ability to determine for herself what her life and death meant.
I don’t know Tibbetts, but I like to think that she would be mortified to discover that politicians, including the President of the United States, were using her story and her image and her youthful beauty to promote a racist, fear-mongering and poisonously xenophobic agenda.
What happened to Tibbetts is undoubtedly a tragedy. Unfortunately, so is the way her memory and her legacy is being twisted, distorted and exploited to spread racial hatred.
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