WASHINGTON - Oh, Aunt Maxine. You had us at “Reclaiming my time.”
There was something so totally brilliant, inspiring and boss last August when Rep. Maxine Waters, sensing that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was trying to roll her during a Financial Services Committee hearing, decided she wasn’t having it. “Reclaiming my time,” she said once.
When Mnuchin tried to filibuster her with flattery, she stopped him with a firm, “Thank you for your compliments about how great I am, but I don’t want to waste my time on me.” When he tried to talk past her to appeal to Chairman Jeb Hensarling, she shut him down again with round after round of, “Reclaiming my time . reclaiming my time.”
The back and forth between Waters and Mnuchin blew up into a cultural moment. For a 79-year-old woman to hold her own against Mnuchin and make her voice heard using her expertise in both House rules and committee procedure, along with high civility, was a lesson to the rest of America about how to do better by being better. It was also a roadmap for people, Resistance or not, showing how to navigate the deep waters of disagreement and come out intact and victorious in the end.
Overnight, there were five different versions of Maxine Waters mugs. Cosmo did the “Top Ten Reactions to Reclaiming My Time.” There was a dance mix, a gospel mix and a segment on “The View” where Mykal Kilgore, the Broadway performer behind the latter, surprised Waters with the song and the entire studio audience of women stood to sing along. Suddenly, Rep. Waters became Auntie Maxine, everyone’s wise, feisty aunt who was showing us how it’s done.
In March, after President Donald Trump called Waters a “low IQ individual” and suggested to the Gridiron Club that she should take an IQ test, Aunt Maxine showed up again to respond on MSNBC. “I certainly expected him to come out with some racist remarks about me,” she said. “So he did exactly what I expected him to do. And by the way, I’m told he wasn’t funny at all.”
I’m not sure where Aunt Maxine was over the weekend. Waters showed up at a rally in Los Angeles to demand the reunification of immigrant parents with their children but then went on a rant about the need to harass Trump staffers that nearly slipped into a call for mob justice.
“God is on our side!” she yelled. “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere!”
If you were hoping Aunt Maxine got carried away in the moment and wasn’t really calling for mob rule, she said nearly the same thing on MSNBC. “The people are going to turn on them,” she said, referring to Trump’s Cabinet officials. “They’re going to protest, they’re going to absolutely harass them until they tell the president, ’No. I can’t hang with you.’”
Unlike the moment when Waters reclaimed her time, her speech over the weekend erupted into controversy.
There’s no gospel remix coming for “Find them at gas stations.” “The View” hasn’t called asking her to go on to talk about the best way for a crowd to surround a person and yell at them. It’s hard to feel like going to church when you’re being counseled to give the same hate back to people that has been hurting your heart for the last year and a half. There’s no dance remix to “We’re coming for you.”
It’s faster, easier and, in the short term, so much more satisfying for Democrats to take the very real, intense, and sometimes fuming energy of the Resistance and meet Trump at the depths where he does his best work. But that’s no way to conduct yourself as a public servant, and it’s definitely not the way to win an election.
Not only does it signal to voters that there’s really no difference between Democrats and Republicans on the lunacy scale, it is also the exact opposite of what needs to happen in Waters’ day job if there is ever going to be hope for Congress to get something done again. And it runs totally counter to the woman most Americans met for the first time when she calmly, politely, but firmly took control from Trump’s Treasury secretary and kept it.
So many of the disheartened and even disgusted voters I talk to outside of Washington want a way to reject the disrespect they see coming from the White House. But they also worry “When they go low, we go high” could be too naive in the era of Trump. They’re looking for when-they-go-low-we-go-high-plus. (Plus . we win the moment, or plus we win the argument, or plus we win the next election.)
Not remotely surprising, Trump responded to Waters on Monday in a tweet full of insults and threats of his own. But what else is new? “Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an extraordinarily low IQ person, has become, together with Nancy Pelosi, the Face of the Democrat Party. She has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement. Be careful what you wish for Max!”
Moderates and independents want to reclaim their country, and they are looking for a way to do that. Aunt Maxine was showing them how. The woman over the weekend was just sinking to the bottom of Trump’s barrel. Hopefully, Aunt Maxine will be back soon.
Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.