Politicizing Death

0 0 838

344907_2525512905_f9bbee8262_o.jpgThe recent disappearance of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts attracted national media attention. That in itself reflects the politicizing of crime coverage. Would the disappearance of a young woman of a different color in different circumstances have received the same attention? Since Tibbetts’s body has been recovered and a Mexican immigrant has been charged with her murder, her death has been even more politicized. Republicans have tried to get political mileage out of the fact that she was allegedly killed by an illegal immigrant who had presented falsified documents to his employer. His fear that his deception might come to light when Tibbetts threatened to call the police may have been a factor in his decision to kill her, but her death too easily becomes just one more example used to prove the stereotype that all illegal immigrants are rapists and murderers. Tibbetts’s father has declared that his daughter is no one’s victim. In fact, at her funeral he thanked the many people in the Latino community for their help in searching for her. He doesn’t want his daughter, in death, to become a pawn used to legislate for President Trump’s border wall and more restrictive immigration policies.

It is not surprising that even more recently John McCain’s death has been politicized in ways unheard of when other prominent politicians have died in office after years of service. McCain was respected by many—even many who did not agree with many of his positions over his years in the Senate—because of his military service and the five and a half years he spent as a prisoner of war. President Trump, however, so disliked Senator McCain that he ignored numerous calls to make any statement at all about McCain’s death beyond one brief tweet. He was more or less forced to finally make a more formal statement and to extend the time that the flag was flown at half mast to honor McCain’s death. Trump had to be forced to get past the memory of McCain giving a thumbs down to the President’s healthcare bill. He had made his disdain for McCain clear long before that when he refused to label McCain a hero because, in his view, a hero was one who didn’t get caught. The respect given McCain by both Republicans and Democrats in spite of this disdain led to the decision to allow his body to lie in state in the rotunda of the nation’s capital. Senator McCain himself was not above using his funeral to make a political statement. How often in our history has a prominent politician left behind the request that the President of the United States not attend his funeral or that a Russian dissident serve as a pallbearer?

Kelli Ward in McCain’s home state of Arizona may have best proved that the politicizing of death can be carried too far. On a bus tour shortly before McCain’s death, Ward wondered on Facebook if the McCain family had timed the announcement that he was discontinuing treatment for his brain cancer to hurt her campaign. The voters let their feelings be known when Ward went down to defeat in Tuesday’s primary.


Image Source: “Half Mast” by Matt DiGirolamo on Flickr 5/26/08 via Creative Commons 2.0 license.

About the Author
Donna Haisty Winchell directed the first-year writing program and codirected Digital Portfolio Institutes at Clemson University before her retirement in 2008. She edited several freshman writing anthologies and continues to write about argumentative writing and about fiction by African-American women. She is the author of The Elements of Argument and The Structure of Argument with Annette T. Rottenberg.