Unparliamentary Language

It is unparliamentarian to refer to the President’s tweets as racist. “Freedom of speech is a pillar of our democracy,” said Utah Reps. Rob Bishop, John Curtis and Chris Stewart in a joint statement issued after voting against House Resolution 489 Condemning President Trump’s racist comments directed at Members of Congress. It is a pillar, no doubt; but free speech can also undermine our institutions as parliamentary debates devolve into trench warfare, and so “unparliamentary” speech is censored in the Capitol chambers despite Reps. Bishop, Curtis and Stewart’s assertion that “We are not trying to censor President Trump or House Democrats.”

The latest Rules and Manual of the House of Representatives (2017) begins Section 370 — References in debate to the Executive, beginning on page 187 — with the quote, “In Parliament, to speak irreverently or seditiously against the King is against order.” Several explicit examples of unparliamentary language are cited, and it is revealing that most citations (96 out of 150) are after 2010 with 62 since 2016. Most of these 96 parliamentary restrictions on freedom of speech cite either racially-charged derogatory language against a black man or references to a white man as a predator (Nov 16, 2016), as stating “blatant falsehoods,” as lying, cruel, bigoted, immoral, infantile, ill-tempered, as assaulting the rule of law, and even racist. These restrictions apply also when speaking of the President-elect (Nov 14, 2016). Soon, ‘rapist’ and ‘tax evader’ may be added to the list.

Of course, calling a president all these things and more is not productive, but neither is voting for a president that is all these things, even one you feel is more legitimately “American.” President Trump’s attacks on Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna S. Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, all women of color with names as foreign as Barack’s, strengthen him politically because the attacks highlight his legitimacy and vision for America — where “un-American” people and their Representatives “go back” to their “infested” countries — a white supremacist vision for a better America only loosely veiled in the slogan Make America Great Again.


Condemning President Trump’s racist comments directed at Members of Congress is unparliamentary conduct, and Nancy Pelosi got called out on it when she said “join us in condemning the President’s racist tweets.” The problematic word is ‘racist.’ Had she said “join us in condemning these tweets” there would have been no objection. To be clear, business in the House chamber was stopped for over two and a half hours so that all Republicans in the House could vote ‘Yea’ on record to condemn Pelosi’s use of the phrase “racist tweets” while all but four voted against the resolution Condemning President Trump’s racist comments directed at Members of Congress. And Reps. Bishop, Curtis and Stewart have the audacity to say, “This resolution and these social media wars do nothing to unify our country.” The problem is, Mr. Trump is exploiting bigotry and weaponizing hate for political gain, dividing our country. The House of Representatives absolutely has a responsibility to insure domestic tranquility and promote the general welfare, censuring the Executive if needed up to and including impeachment.

Deferring to the political heft of the President, Congressional Republicans are abdicating this responsibility, attempting to cloud the intent, justify the tweets, and parse words instead. In the preceding debate, Representative Sean P. Duffy, Republican of Wisconsin, said, “In those tweets, I see nothing that references anybody’s race — not a thing — I don’t see anyone’s name being referenced in the tweets, but the president’s referring to people, congresswomen, who are anti-American. And lo and behold, everybody in this chamber knows who he’s talking about.” President Trump himself, responding to reporters in defense of his tweets, said he didn’t name names, then later went on to name names. The point is, he didn’t have to name names and he didn’t have to refer to anyone’s race to attack and attempt to delegitimatize elected representatives with racist language. In fact, this is part of the point of parliamentary rules — you don’t have to be direct to make your point abundantly clear.

Only four months ago, House Republicans, including Reps. Bishop, Curtis and Stewart, had no problem voting for House Resolution 183 to reject “the perpetuation of anti-Semitic stereotypes in the United States and around the world.” This resolution includes the statement, “Whereas white supremacists in the United States have exploited and continue to exploit bigotry and weaponize hate for political gain.” They obviously don’t have an issue with a resolution of this type. Republicans largely agreed to most of the resolution Condemning President Trump’s racist comments directed at Members of Congress. Apparently oblivious to the fact that white supremacists are currently weaponizing hate and bigotry for political gain, this is the language they voted against,

President Donald Trump’s racist comments have legitimized fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color … by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants, and those who may look to the President like immigrants, should ‘‘go back’’ to other countries, by referring to immigrants and asylum seekers as ‘‘invaders,’’ and by saying that Members of Congress who are immigrants (or those of our colleagues who are wrongly assumed to be immigrants) do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America.

Despite their virtues, a large part of American rhetoric, institutions, land titles, and power are built on white supremacy — on slavery, on the Doctrine of Discovery, on genocide. If you feel white supremacy is bad you need to be willing to fight it regardless of political risk, because it is still entrenched in American exceptionalism.

Former U.S. Congress candidate for UT–3 www.Fugal2020.com/elba/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store