What We Talk About When We Talk About Mollie Tibbetts’ Murder
Victims and their families deserve better than this sheer cruelty.
Whenever a tragedy happens in 2018’s America, there are usually three extremely rapid responses anyone has to it. They are as follows:
- There are those who politicize it immediately, calling for action or rapid change on this or that issue, to prevent it from happening again;
- There are those who pre-emptively try to stop people from politicizing it only in ways they don’t want it politicized, thus politicizing it themselves in their defense of the status quo that allowed the tragedy to happen;
- There are those who politically weaponize it, immediately speaking over those actively impacted by the tragedy and exploiting their pain for attention to themselves. This is distinct from merely politicizing it in that it is not in the service of any policy goal or change to society, it is the lashing out of self-serving reactionary fear.
The event in question could be a mass shooting, or a war crime, or a death of someone famous or powerful, or a highly publicized disappearance of a conventionally attractive white women, or anything else. The disappearance of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts is the latest in a long line of these kinds of stories. At first, I thought I had been picking up on it because I moved to Iowa City, where she was living, around the same time as her disappearance. There were “Missing” posters on every street corner, and the case has been the talk of the town for the last few weeks. But the news that her body was found, and the identification of the suspect as an illegal immigrant (or maybe he was here legally?), led to a complete uproar spilling over the nation’s newsfeeds and TV sets. There are so many layers to this case and its subsequent discussion.
What happened to Mollie was a tragedy, and her family deserves better than the outpouring of lazy cynicism already overwhelming any attempt to celebrate her or her life. Already, feckless hacks from the likes of social media upcomers like Candace Owens and Tomi Lahren, Fox News stalwarts like Bill O’Reilly and Tucker Carlson, various GOP elected officials and even of course, our favorite President have all taken the time to make this case a focal point of the central political goal of modern conservatism: Making America White Again.
They’re using this case as a wedge issue to prove that immigrants are “bringing drugs and crime”, and that they’re an imminent threat to women in the US. Never mind the statistics that show that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than Trump administration officials. Never mind that violence against women is most often perpetrated by husbands or boyfriends, not strangers.
But as we’ve also learned recently from the Mouth of Sauron himself, truth isn’t truth, and so if it doesn’t fit their convenient narrative it doesn’t really count. This is evidenced in the way right-wing superstars have turned to vilifying Mollie once they found out she was a liberal who had no love for Trump; actual Nazi supervillain Milo Yiannopolous told her to “enjoy hell”, dozens of trolls have taken to swarming her still-active social media accounts with vulgar comments, and the prevailing narrative in this group has changed, already, to that she “deserved” to get killed as punishment for not liking Trump’s stance on immigration.
Because if they really cared about women not being attacked and killed, they’d reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. They’d take real, tangible steps to stamp out sexual harassment and provide resources to clear the untested rape kit backlog. They’d promote policies to encourage maternity leave and address the wage gap. They’d make it harder for domestic abusers to get weapons, they’d believe women who have been assaulted, and stop making excuses for a serial rapist currently inhabiting the White House. They’d stop trying to criminalize abortion, too, while they’re at it.
The conservative side of the world is not interested in any of those solutions because they don’t actually care about it. This conversation isn’t really about Mollie Tibbetts, nor is it about immigration, or violence against women, or media sensationalism, or anything else. This just happened to be a convenient segue for them to demonize Mexican immigrants. It’s why they weaponized the phrase “permanently separated” as a sick rebuttal to the legitimate outrage people on the other side of the aisle have had about their family separation policy. Really, it’s about the specific and unique brand of reactionary cruelty that has taken over conservative America.
Most simply, the difference in rhetoric is illuminating: one side is in abject horror at innocent children being ripped from families and placed into concentration camps with no plans for reunification.,The other side merely wants to mock them for this, and is deliberately twisting the knife just to get a sense of self-satisfaction out of “owning the libs”.
And it’s more than just base hypocrisy. Politics has splintered now. It’s no longer just about disagreement in policy but about the way we conduct our actions. It would be absurd to say that we have never been more divided; we have, but never before have these divisions filtered down into every minute decision we’ve ever made.
All of these things are the same:
It’s spending thousands to modify your truck to spew black smoke in the faces of everyone behind you.
It’s going out of your way to do dumb-ass public stunts to try to “trigger the libtard snowflakes”.
It’s why “men’s rights activists” are much more concerned with tearing down women’s movements than anything to do with their own self-professed ideology.
It’s why millions of people held their nose and voted for a monster simply because they knew it’d make liberals mad.
It’s purposely littering or destroying the environment for no other reason than some people are concerned about the environment, so naturally your course is to oppose them.
It’s going on whole faux-moral crusades to tear apart your favorite hobbies, whether it’s video games or comic books or Star Wars fandom, simply because there are people who you don’t like who are now fans of the same thing you are (and of course, very often the reason you don’t like these people is because of barely-concealed misogyny or homophobia or racism, not any actual legitimate reason).
It’s why the only way some people can conceive of to protect themselves, or their families, countries, or even abstract notions like “our freedoms” is to wage wars of aggression and intimidation, whether abroad or in our own neighborhoods, with massive stockpiles of weapons. To “defend yourself”, in this context, can only mean to outwardly express violence.
It’s the vast suite of insane conspiracy theories that various barely-liberal world leaders are secretly Satanic commie anarchist globalists taking away your guns or using lazer blasts to control the weather or running an underground sex-trafficking ring in a pizza joint or putting chemicals in the water to turn the freakin’ frogs gay.
It’s positioning yourself as a brave truth-telling crusader for free speech and with a single-minded obsession with political correctness, when in reality that just means you want to find easier ways to hurt people and not be held accountable for it.
That last one is especially pernicious, specifically because it’s fine on its face. Who doesn’t support freedom of speech and expression? It’s a wonderful thing. But it’s entirely something different to only fly the flag of “freedom of speech” when you want to say racist or homophobic slurs. It’s entirely different to campaign for “gender equality” just to have an excuse to hurt women.
People have been fearmongering about “PC Police” since before I was born, and last I checked the only free speech being suppressed is the kind that speaks truth to power and demands justice and accountability. The other kind of free speech, bigotry and hatred, is flourishing and encouraged by no less than the President of the United States on down through every single lever of power in society.
The contortions of logic are so predictable and so widespread they’re barely worth mentioning: how many times have any of you heard the phrase “I believe in feminism so that means I can hit girls too”? They’ll go to any depths, hang dearly onto any ideology or identity, to justify whatever form of social control they really want enacted. They just want whatever excuse they can grasp to hurt others.
The specifics range from absurd pettiness to active spite to abject inhumane vindictiveness, but it all boils down to the same base action. There is no policy goal to be enacted, there is no consistency, no larger ideological vision, there is only the unfiltered id of rage while lashing out against others. It’s somewhere between fear and anger, between paranoia and callousness, but below everything it is an embrace of cruelty.
To be conservative in 2018 means to inject 500 cc’s of pure fear directly into your eyeballs, scream into the void, and then tear apart anything kind in the world to make yourself feel better. This is how people are radicalized. They are thrust into walled gardens, beset on all sides by frightening images teaching them to hate what they fear and fear what they hate. It’s a vicious cycle, and it completely dominates our national conversation.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Breitbart or Fox News or even your local TV news station: they all traffic in cruelty and paranoia. The very essence of what it means to be human is stripped away here: both from themselves and their appointed enemies. Propaganda works, and it’s very real, and all of these prominent right-wing personalities are deliberately whipping up this kind of outrage to keep themselves in power forever.
So, when a tragedy like this occurs, and all the vultures swoop in, all they really want is to exploit the suffering of the victims. Mollie Tibbett’s family has already swung back at these vultures, and deservedly so. They deserve to mourn on their own terms, to process their own grief, and wrestle back the conversation from these people who only want to use her as a weapon.
Just like in cases of violence against women, the unifying force of any reactionary ideology isn’t actually their principled belief systems, but in the utility of any particular news item as a cudgel to enforce their views onto society. It’s the root of the word itself: they cannot put forward positive ideas, only react and try to maintain a vicious status quo. It doesn’t really even matter if they’re conservative or liberal. There are plenty of reactionaries on the left. But their goal is always the same: to break down the carefully-constructed humanity that society has built in each of us and make everyone else exactly as cruel and petty and afraid as they are.
Of course, there is an easy rejoinder to this very post, and it is a point worth discussing: “If you don’t want the death of Mollie Tibbetts to be politicized, why are you making it political now?” Or: “Why do you want to politicize gun violence and not terrorism?” Or: “Doesn’t it make you a hypocrite for using this tragedy to advance your political goals while admonishing others for doing that same thing?” Or: “You’re doing the same thing they are, by making mass generalizations without accounting for the nuance of their humanity!”
This is a complete red herring. Yes, a narrow reading of two opposite sides, completely divorced of context or any material reality, could lead one to believe that “politicization” of these tragedies is the issue, or that making broad generalizations of others is the root of this problem. But it’s not politicization, it’s the specific policies and beliefs that make all the difference in the world.
I feel perfectly comfortable politicizing this tragedy. And politicizing the tragedy of the Jacksonville shooting that happened literally as I write these words. Politicization is a good thing, and it should happen way more often than we as a society allow it to happen. Because the end goal of my politics is not to fearmonger, to divide, to sow the seed of hate. The end goal of my politics is for the human race, of all races, religions, genders, and societies, to build a lasting and beautiful era of peace and understanding with one another. The end goal of my politics is for this world to be a better, safer place, free of war and hunger and hatred. I want to build that world, and I know that together we can, and anyone who doesn’t want that world is a bad person.
So what do we talk about when we talk about cases like this? We talk about society and safety, how to better build a world in which women are safe from predatory men. But what we’re not gonna do is use tragedies like these as pawns to advance more hatred. When we talk about cases like Mollie Tibbetts’ murder, we are really talking about a war between love and hate.
But the sad truth is that love doesn’t trump hate. Hate wins, and it keeps fighting and fighting until it destroys everything in its path. Hate politicizes tragedies whether we want it to or not. It gets an extreme head start on the conversation because in so many ways, it’s easier to be cruel than to be kind. That’s what hatred is best at. And it will always do this if we let it. So we can never rest, and we can never allow it to take root, or it will kill us in our sleep.
In order for love to win it will take an active effort, from each of us, to keep vigilant and stamp it out. That means uncomfortable conversations at Thanksgiving. That means calling in people to inspire them to do better. That means using our privilege and platform to advocate for those who need it most. That means denying a platform to those who would use it to destroy us, even as self-defeating as their politics always are. And, yes, that does mean having the conversation not just about the tragedy itself, but about the larger national conversation.
These issues will be politicized whether we want it to be or not. That’s just how things work in 2018. So we need to take this opportunity and respond in kind, to counter the politicization of hatred with a politicization of love, and this should happen every time until the voices of hate are drowned out completely. Our only option is to tackle it head-on. This should happen every time someone wants to use a tragedy to further their own campaign of hate. This should happen every time until there are no more tragedies. The only way out of this is through.