Argument by attire seems to be the latest sorry development in our discourse. Many female congressional Democrats dressed in white for President Trump’s state of the union address. The white supposedly symbolized female suffrage, or something. It looked like a form of protest.
In New Hampshire, a few male Republican state legislators who oppose gun control legislation wore pearls to a session of the House of Representatives in which citizens testified about their experiences with gun violence. Apparently, the pearls were meant to convey that gun-control activists are “clutching their pearls.” (A pro-gun group claimed that the pearls merely symbolized opposition to gun control legislation and support for the Second Amendment, but it’s not clear why pearls symbolize these things, other than as a way of mocking gun-control supporters — see UPDATE).
The wearing of the pearls enraged the gun-control activists which, I suspect, was the legislators’ intent. It doesn’t enrage me. However, I consider the pearl-wearing inappropriate behavior for elected representatives sitting in a legislative body.
Legislatures exist, in part, to argue about legislation. Pearls are not an argument (neither is the color white).
Ridicule isn’t an argument, either. Up to a point, it’s an acceptable tactic to use in an argument. But ridiculing via attire citizens who come to testify before the state legislature is tasteless, at best. Listen to what they say, interrogate them if you get a chance, make an argument, but don’t mock them.
There’s another way of looking at this, though. As politics becomes ever more contentious, we can’t expect the contempt and even hatred that’s fueling this not to spill over into legislative sessions.
We’re fortunate that legislators aren’t shouting expletives at each other, or even punching their adversaries. There is precedent for physical violence in Congress — albeit ancient precedent — and even these days, fights mar legislative deliberations in certain other democracies.
Dressing up can be viewed as a way-station to more severe conduct by legislators. But it can also be viewed as an alternative to such conduct.
UPDATE and APOLOGY: The Legislative Director of the Women’s Defense League of New Hampshire has informed me that the pearls worn by the legislators are the longstanding trademark of that organization, which is a volunteer group dedicated to firearms education and training for women, and Second Amendment advocacy before the New Hampshire legislature. Its legislative team wears a string of pearls and has handed out costume jewelry pearls at anti-gun bill hearings.
The claim that the pearls mocked anti-gun activists — as in “clutching their pearls” — appears to have been concocted by these activists as a way of making the pro-Second Amendment legislators look bad. It is basically a slander.
I should have recognized it as such and done more digging. I apologize to the New Hampshire legislators and the the Women’s Defense League of New Hampshire.