As Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial begins, I am trying to figure out the precise moment I thought, “the Republicans are going to get one of these women killed.” By “the Republicans,” I am of course referring to the former President Donald Trump and his loyal army of clowns. And by “one of these women,” I am referring to Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib.
Perhaps the thought came to me right after Tlaib and the other women arrived in Congress in early 2019, when Tlaib said they were going to “impeach the motherfucker,” and GOP ghouls including Rep. Kevin McCarthy tried to shame Tlaib for her comments, and Trump himself said Tlaib had “dishonored” her family and disrespected the United States.
It might have been one of the numerous times that Republicans falsely accused Omar, or Tlaib or Ocasio-Cortez, of being anti-Semitic. Maybe it was the time Trump called for Omar’s resignation, or when Republicans played the Democrats so easily that they got them to single out and pass a resolution against her. Maybe it was after Republicans jumped on her again by claiming she downplayed 9/11 at a CAIR event (she didn’t).
I definitely know that I thought Trump would get one of these women killed when he said that Omar and the other members of the Squad should “go back” to where they were from. I thought it again right after, when Trump tried to deflect from the accusations of racism against him by saying that Omar “hates Jews.”
Through it all, the last two years have felt like a slow burn toward the inevitable — a serious attack on any of these House members, steeped in racism and misogyny and Islamophobia and any of the other feelings of hatred that Trump has fueled. It helped little that their own Democratic Party colleagues and leaders wanted to keep them in line, too.
And then January 6 happened. White supremacists who supported Trump showed up at the Capitol with a myriad range of targets, but what has really stood out in the aftermath of the attack are the stories from the people who have always been given a reason to fear for their lives by Trump and the GOP.
It is something that many people’s lives were at risk that day. It is something else entirely that these specific women, who already live in a racist, misogynistic and Islamophobic world, experienced that risk after years of animosity from their congressional colleagues and from the president, all of whom told their constituents that these women are dangerous, that they threaten America’s “greatness” and the prosperity of the people within it, and that they must be stopped.
A week after the Capitol siege, Ocasio-Cortez told an audience during an Instagram livestream that she thought she was going to die during the insurgency, while Pressley’s staff said that panic buttons inside the congresswoman’s office had been torn out ahead of the attack. (An investigation by Capitol Police of all entities “remains ongoing,” though a House Administration Committee aide is saying it could have just been a “clerical screw-up.“)
In the weeks following, all four women, and other progressive House Democrats such as Rep. Cori Bush, have shared more about their experiences from that day. Speaking on the House floor, Bush described seeing the masses of flags outside the Capitol, feeling like she was back in the days of thriving white supremacy.
On a livestream last week, Ocasio-Cortez detailed the moment she thought she was going to die, and later found out that the person she thought was an attacker was a Capitol cop, though she said she still couldn’t discern his intentions. She reflected on the trauma of the event and how it has impacted her and others, thinking about her experience as a survivor of sexual assault, and how trauma compounds.
“I really just felt like, if this is the plan for me, then people will be able to take it from here. I had a lot of thoughts, but that was the thought that I had about you all,” she said. “I felt that if this was the journey that my life was taking, that I felt that things were going to be okay, and that I had fulfilled my purpose.”
In an interview with Jake Tapper on Sunday, Pressley said barricading in her office behind office furniture and water bottles was a moment of terror, “familiar in a deep and ancestral way for me.” Tapper noted that CNN wasn’t sharing Pressley’s location out of security concerns.
“I want us to do everything to ensure that a breach like this never occurs at the Capitol, but I want us to address the evil and scourge that is white supremacy in this nation,” Pressley said. “And one of the images that I’m haunted by is the Black custodial staff cleaning up the mess left by that violent white supremacist mob. That is a metaphor for America. We have been cleaning up after violent white supremacist mobs for generations. And it must end.”
In an interview with the Guardian last month, Omar said she didn’t know if she would make it out that day, and that as soon as her evacuation began she called her ex-husband to tell their kids that she loved them. She also said the event was traumatizing but named Trump as the person who led these threats against her. From the Guardian, emphasis mine:
Omar says she was evacuated to a secure location usually reserved only for senior congressional leaders. She says law enforcement believed “my life was at risk in the same way that congressional leadership’s life was at-risk” – citing a significant uptick in death threats in the two months before the presidential election, but adding: “For the better half of the last two years, the president has singled me out and has incited direct death threats against my life.”
Tlaib’s speech on the House floor, too, reaffirmed the years of threats that she and other Congressmembers experienced because of Trump. Breaking down into tears as she urged her colleagues to take January 6 seriously, Tlaib recalled getting her first death threat ahead of being sworn in for the first time, on the first day of her orientation, and other threats that mentioned her children.
She said she thanked Allah that she wasn’t at the Capitol on January 6, and described how traumatizing existing as a Muslim woman there has been for herself and her staff.
None of this trauma happened overnight — even outside of these women’s experiences in D.C., their pain is built upon entire lives lived in white supremacist America. But more specifically, Trump has spent years targeting them, and making sure that his base saw them as enemies who would surely ruin the country if he were not reaffirmed as its leader. And in that sense, he’s gotten what he’s wanted.
He’s gotten what he wanted, and through this second impeachment trial, he will likely continue to get what he want — a return to the spotlight with a narrative that can reaffirm his position as the one-term president, scorned. Because though today is the first day of his second impeachment trial, and though the stakes are far higher this time around, and though Democrats seem to be taking it seriously, Republicans aren’t.
The Senate would need several more Republicans in order to convict Trump, but most of them already have their minds made up. If they’re not pretending to care about the constitution or saying the country needs to “more forward” and unite “instead of looking backwards and fighting the same battles with each other,” then they’re accusing Democrats of going through an impeachment just because they hate Trump so much. As if there is not a world of evidence showing the years of terror that Trump has put people like Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib through, at the very least.
Sometimes I wonder what kind of person you have to be to see people crying about the dehumanizing treatment they experience, and be openly hostile to their pleas to make it stop. But by the very virtue of what’s happening today, I am reminded that Trump’s years-long orchestration of hate against these people, and against the American constituents who look like them and come from similar backgrounds, was only possible because of these very GOP members who advanced this rhetoric against the Squad and participated in it themselves. Trump’s second impeachment is just the beginning of this reckoning, and it will continue to be up to Democrats to hold these people accountable even after this impeachment trial fails to convict, because Republicans sure as hell won’t.