Justin Pearson, surrounded by supporters, prepares to enter the Tennessee House of Representatives Chambers. (Credit: John Partipilo)
Republicans have decided to care about etiquette. Doing things properly. Teaching young people manners.
In the state of Tennessee, they call it “decorum.”
You might recall that on March 27, three adults and three small children were shot to death at a school in Nashville. Republican politicians proffered the usual “thoughts and prayers” then went back to the vital business of protecting guns and policing drag queens.
That didn’t sit well with some of the Democrats in the Tennessee House of Representatives. They wanted to talk about gun control. They wanted to remind politicians that their constituents were getting mowed down.
The House Speaker cut off their microphones. The Democrats pulled out a bull horn. They were ruled out of order. They kept talking.
The House, controlled by a supermajority of Republicans, huffed that Reps. Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson, two young Black men, had brought “dishonor and disorder to the House of Representatives,” and kicked them out. A third lawmaker, a white woman, escaped expulsion by one vote.
The deaths of thousands of children don’t matter as much as the “honor” of the Legislature.
“You do not use the House floor to protest,” scolded Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton. “There are rules. There are policies. There are procedures.”
Decorum trumps democracy.
Republicans from Tennessee to Tallahassee to Tacoma struggle manfully to stop those rule-breakers who would keep disrupting white men’s God-ordained exercise of unchecked power.
You know the kind: gays; transgender types; students; immigrants; women; Blacks.
They’re getting uppity. They’re breaking the rules.
Just like back when Black people wanted to vote, get a decent education, and be treated as equal under the law. Or when gay people wanted to get married, just like straight people. Or back when women thought it might be more fair if they — not the church, not the government, not a man — controlled their own bodies.
Certain females are causing a lot of trouble and being downright aggressive.
A dozen activists got arrested in Tallahassee the other day for demanding reproductive rights on the sidewalk in front of City Hall. The local paper breathlessly reported that their social media showed the women came downtown to “challenge authority and knowingly to risk being taken into custody if they violated a curfew.”
The city manager revoked their protest permit and had them hauled off in handcuffs.
What’s more important, the regulations or the ability of full-grown women to have a say over their uteruses?
The part that upset many conservatives even more was the t-shirt Florida Democratic Party chair Nikki Fried wore to get busted in. It said “Just F**K!NG VOTE.
If her shirt had a picture of an AR-15, Fried would have been fine.
And speaking of Fine — Rep. Randy Fine, scourge of the LGBTQ community and defender of the universe against drag queens — it turns out his wife Wendy appeared in a charity burlesque show in 2021 dressed (and I’m being generous here) like a stripper.
We’re talking garter belts; bustiers; black stockings; a lot of cleavage. There were actual gay people performing, too.
Did I mention this was a fundraiser for children? And that some under-18s were actually present?
But hypocrisy never cools the lust for control. Sartorial provocation has spurred Republican Legislatures to impose dress codes so no decent eyeballs will be assaulted by such vulgarity. Or any problematic body parts, either.
Here in Florida, the mandate for entering the Capitol forbids men to go sockless (it’s a known fact that the male ankle is a turn-on), and outlaws “t-shirts with writing.” Women must not indulge in leggings, low necklines, bare arms, and skirts “more than one inch above the knee.” No doubt many members will bring tape measures so they can personally adjudicate potential skirt violations and admonish these Jezebels.
Covering the body is central to maintaining order.
Just ask the Taliban. Or a Tennessee Republican.
One of those troublesome Tennessee legislators had the temerity to wear a dashiki at his swearing-in. Hissy fits were pitched. What about “tradition” and “proper attire?” The Tennessee GOP tweeted: “If you don’t like the rules, perhaps you should explore a different career opportunity that’s main purpose is not creating them.”
Aside from the lousy syntax and the middle school-level snark, these guys might recall that “proper attire” for some Volunteer State gents used to include white hoods: The Ku Klux Klan was founded in Pulaski, Tenn., in 1866.
Turns out racism and the rage for decorum are perfectly compatible.
Not that being called “racist” doesn’t hurt Republican feelings. As leaked audio of them berating the one guy who voted against expelling Gloria Johnson (the white representative) reveals, they insist they’re not racist: they’re merely trying to stop Democrats destroying “the republic and the foundation of who we are.”
Of course, who they are is a bunch of racists.
Tennessee Rep. Andrew Farmer treated his black colleagues as if they were 12: “Just because you don’t get your way, you can’t come to the well, bring your friends and throw a temper tantrum with an adolescent bullhorn.”
Rep. Sabi Kumar, an Indian American and a Republican, claimed he’d never heard a “racial slur” in America. Perhaps he’s deaf. He obviously missed the session when a white Republican suggested spicing up capital punishment by bringing back lynching.
Kumar complained that Pearson and Jones “look at everything through the lens of race.” He suggested they were lucky to be in the Tennessee Legislature: “You should join the House, become one of us.”
If only these touchy Black folks would assimilate. Maybe act more white? Become Taylor Swift fans? Take up pickleball? Justin Jones replied that Kumar, as the only non-white Republican in the Tennessee House, “put a brown face on white supremacy.”
Reps. Pearson and Jones have now been reinstated as members of the Tennessee House. No doubt the Republicans are looking for new ways to censure them for incorrect behavior, maybe for failing to put their knife and fork in the twenty-past-four position after finishing eating, or sporting brown shoes with a black suit.
The whole world watched this parade of absurdities. Maybe now the voters will demand a new order, a better decorum.
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