The more Senator Warren is silenced, the more powerful become her words

February 8, 2017

The distinguished Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced in Congress this week for reading a letter from Martin Luther King’s widow as illustration of the unfitness of Mitch McConnell nominated as the next attorney general by Donald Trump

In the recent presidential campaign, she spoke powerfully (if ultimately without success).  She might have been a more successful candidate than Hillary Clinton, although perhaps with her views in the US seen as dangerously liberal as those of Bernie Sanders

#Shepersists

Her action has produced a wave of reaction. Hash tag #shepersists and #letlizspeak and tee-shirt with the slogan She Persisted have taken off [Note: Capitalism and the women’s movement. A theme for a future post?].

The theme is trending on social media [Wednesday 8 February 2017]. I particularly liked the contribution from Wired, arguing the potential of a repressive act to trigger a wave of protest (and illustrated in this post) through The Streisand effect.

[The banning] inadvertently triggered a little internet phenomenon known as the “Streisand effect,” who once sued a photographer for taking pictures of her Malibu home. The lawsuit achieved the opposite of what Streisand had hoped, driving tons of traffic instead to the website that hosted the photos. The Streisand effect, then, describes the phenomenon in which efforts to conceal or censor information only drive more attention to it.

That’s precisely what happened last night. Almost as soon as McConnell silenced Warren, his own words were used against him as a battle cry for Warren online

Wired: The Streisand effect [08/02/2017]

The BBC reported details of the ban order:

The 30-year-old letter criticised Jeff Sessions, President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general. Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, said Ms Warren had broken Senate rules by impugning the conduct of another senator.

She is banned from speaking again in the Senate on Mr Sessions’ nomination. The incident occurred during a debate in the Senate on the nomination of Mr Sessions to be America’s top prosecutor.

Ms Scott King’s letter alleged that Mr Sessions was unsuitable for that role because he had “used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters”.

Mr Sessions’ nomination process has been dogged by allegations of racism. The Alabama senator has denied the allegations, and his supporters have pointed to his vote to extend the Voting Rights Act.

Ms Warren’s reading was interrupted by the Senate’s presiding officer, Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana, who said she was breaking a rule that stops senators accusing each other of “unbecoming” conduct.

His objection to Ms Warren’s speech was put to a vote, and the chamber voted [according to party lines] to silence Ms Warren by 49 to 43. Under Rule 19, members of the Senate are not allowed to “directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator”.

Democrats have argued that Republicans are selectively enforcing the measure.

BBC News [8/02/2017]

I have little grasp of the legal issues at play here. The political issues are clearer. Please pass on this post as a further illustration of the Streisand effect.

In the interests of accuracy if not balance, I should mention the only post referencing Mitch McDonnell on this site. He has cited as a harmonising force, as Congress entered one of its periodic budget melt-downs.