Soter: Mike Lee Is a Profile in Shame

Senator+Mike+Lee+%28Courtesy+Wikimedia+Commons%29

Senator Mike Lee (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By Theadora Soter, Opinion Writer

 

Last Thursday night, two bills were singularly delayed by Utah Senator Mike Lee — despite passing overwhelmingly in the House and being set to earn unanimous consent in the Senate. The first bill advocated for the establishment of a national Smithsonian museum dedicated to the contributions of women in America and the second was dedicated to a Smithsonian museum on the contributions of Latino Americans. The history of these two identities is critical to the history of our nation. And yet, both narratives are utterly underrepresented in comparison to the disproportionately praised history of Americans who just so happen to look like Mike Lee: white men. Fortunately, both bills passed Monday night as a part of the $1.4 trillion-dollar omnibus bill congress settled on. But the omnibus bill doesn’t diminish the fact that Lee’s initial stance was one of shame, not courage, and needs to be treated as such.

As the 116th Congress comes to an end, Thursday night was one of the last times for both Republicans and Democrats to decide what their final imprint on the nation would be. It was decided that both bills would go through the unanimous consent process, meaning that the bills would be expedited, or a single objection would prevent their passing because of their general acceptance. Sadly, Lee’s lone vote prevented a divided Senate to agree on something important and join together in celebration of Americans who align with both political parties and who add great value to the fabric of our nation.

Despite women making up more than 50% of America’s population, there is not a single Smithsonian national museum that recognizes their vast contributions or their ongoing struggle for equality. The GOP Senator from Maine, Susan Collins, has aimed to change that throughout her decades in office. Along with many other congresswomen, and some congressmen, she has written plenty of legislation to create a museum honoring a predominant yet overlooked gender. Collins was the primary sponsor of S.959, the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum Act, which Lee disappointingly opposed.

The second bill that Lee hindered was one having to do with ethnic identities specifically, the Latino identity, and was sponsored by Bob Menendez of New Jersey. Menendez set out to create the National Museum of the American Latino nearly two decades ago and felt confident this would be the year that his vision would turn into reality. And similar to a museum honoring women, recognizing the contributions of Latino Americans who make up 18% of our current population would tell a more truthful and beautiful version of America’s history.

But Lee disagrees, and his argument needs redressing. The Senator said that his objection to the founding of these two transformative museums would further divide an already divided country. Even so, the Smithsonian Institute is composed of 14 smaller museums, two of which are already centered around systematically excluded identities — The National Museum of African American History and Culture and The National Museum of the American Indian. Lee recognizes this inconsistency that his stance presented and said that those groups were, “uniquely, deliberately, and systemically” left out of our nation’s history.

Apparently, not allowing women to vote until 1920 is not unique, deliberate, and systemically exclusionary enough for our Senator. Nor is the fact that 4 in 10 Latinos say they have been discriminated against by a fellow American in the last year. Senator Lee mentioned something else on Thursday night that grasped my attention, “there is no us and them. There’s only us.” But, I must respectfully disagree. There is an “us” and there is a “them” because people like Mike Lee have perpetuated the concept that difference equates to inferiority — whether that difference is race, sex, or ethnicity.

The Smithsonian Institution exists to comprehensively and accurately tell the story of all Americans. Selective history isn’t their goal, nor should it be the misguided aim of one ignorant senator from Utah. It is not courageous to deny our complex story, rather; it is cowardly and shameful. So, shame on Lee and shame on us for electing him as one of our two national state-wide representatives.

 

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@SoterTheadora