Optics are everything – at least, in politics. And the display of women Democrats dressed in white and looking sour as President Trump condemned socialism and late-term abortion was an exercise in poor optics.
Here in Miami, what we fondly call the capital of Latin America, a group of women dressed in white as a sign of protest means only one thing: The Ladies in White of Cuba.
The Damas de Blanco are the mothers and wives of jailed Cuban dissidents, who dress in white and wear pictures of their loved ones and the years of their sentence pinned to their blouses while they walk to church on Sundays in Havana. They chose white after Argentina’s Madres de Plaza de Mayo, who demonstrated in white to demand information about their “disappeared” children in the 1970’s. The Cuban women started their weekly marches in 2003, after the government sentenced 75 librarians, journalists and human rights activists to decades in prison for criticizing the Castro dictatorship. Each Sunday the Damas de Blanco are regularly harassed, beaten and hauled into police detention, yet they keep showing up each week. They are brave, very brave, in the way they stand up to power in defense of human dignity.
The white-clad women at the State of the Union looked silly by comparison.
No doubt, Washington, D.C.’s “Women in White” felt brave, very brave. They think of themselves as members of a noble “resistance,” challengers to an “authoritarian” dictator. In this belief, they are egged on by a media that refer to President Trump as an all-powerful bully, and compare his America to the Holocaust. Watching from far beyond the Beltway – and certainly from outside of their company – I saw two particular moments when their scolding faces and sullen silences doubtless made many Americans cringe.
One came during the president’s condemnation of late-term abortion. Referring to the recently passed New York Reproductive Health Act, which allows abortion for any reason through the 40th week of pregnancy, Trump declared in characteristically high-octane Trump-speak: The law “would allow a baby to be ripped from a mother’s womb moments from birth. These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and their dreams with the world … . To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain … .”
While women and men from the president’s party (and a few stray Democrats) stood and wildly cheered a sentiment that is supported by nearly 90 percent of all Americans, the Women in White sat sour and disapproving. How can these women – the majority of whom are mothers and presumably loved their children both before and after birth – refuse stand in solidarity with babies whose only crime is to be unwanted or disabled? These women wore white in reminiscence of early suffragettes, but those brave women cared deeply for the lives of infants. D.C.’s Women in White care nothing for the human dignity of the unborn. They are merely submissive to a Democratic Party that has embraced an abortion extremism that is breathtaking in its absolutism.
The other striking moment came during President Trump’s comments on the socialist government of Venezuela. “[W]e condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair,” said Trump. Here in Miami, the consequences of the Maduro and Chavez regimes are all around us. We see the poor Venezuelan exiles who are scrambling to make a living here. We see the worry in their faces over the family and friends going hungry back home. Yet the white-clad women at Trump’s State of the Union address looked downright cross when the president went on to say: “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
All over the country people who know a little history or have personal experience with socialism in action – or simply enjoy the freedom and liberty we enjoy here – were inclined to stand and cheer along with the Republican lawmakers. Not so for D.C.’s Women in White.
Indeed, at that moment, the self-declared socialist Ocasio-Cortez was an especially incongruous reminder of the Cuban Ladies in White. Those women can’t even walk to mass silently without being harassed and beaten by government thugs. Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, speaks freely and widely about her disdain for the president and our whole capitalist system. She couldn’t do that under the socialist systems she praises with such energy.
Unlike Ocasio-Cortez and her friends, Cuba’s “Ladies in White” face real authoritarianism – face it week after week with grace and valor, standing up for human dignity at great personal cost. D.C.’s Women in White need to learn from the Damas de Blancos – and fast.
Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie is a Policy Advisor for The Catholic Association.