“Witch hunt,” much like “fake news,” is one of our president’s favorite cliches, and Sen. Roger Marshall seems to have picked up the phrase from POTUS. Trump had reportedly tweeted the term “witch hunt” nearly 300 times since becoming president, The Nation reported at the end of October. The Trump Twitter Archive shows he first tweeted the phase on Nov. 4, 2011, about women who made sexual assault allegations against then-Republican candidate for president Herman Cain.
There isn’t a similar archive for Dr. Marshall, but we’ve heard him use the phrase, too. In 2018 he called the Russia probe a “left-wing witch hunt” and speculated Ukraine would be the next “witch hunt.”
On Wednesday, after the Senate voted (spoiler alert!) not to impeach the president, the Republican Representative from Great Bend said, “After months of time and energy wasted on this impeachment witch hunt, Congress and the American people can finally move on to the things that actually matter to hardworking families in Kansas.” What matters to those Kansans, he said, are “real issues like health care, securing our border, rebuilding our aging infrastructure, and curbing wasteful federal spending.”
Or, as Rep. Ron Estes said, “lowering health care costs, securing our border and reining in out-of-control government spending.”
Let’s remember that “witch hunt” contains historically sexist undertones. In the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries, a large majority of the accused were women, while about 100% of the authorities in charge of prosecuting and punishing them were men. Erin Cassese, associate professor of political science at the University of Delaware, wrote, in 2018, “In practice, these witch hunts tended to single out particular kinds of women, namely gender-nonconforming women, who threatened a social system characterized by rigid gender roles.”
Ever since the 1950s, starting with McCarthy’s anti-communist “witch hunts,” the phrase has been an American political cliche. But, Cassese said, the President’s repeated use of the term is “more than just partisan maneuvering. It contains a gender dynamic that’s often overlooked, particularly when a man in a position of power identifies himself as the target of a witch hunt. Trump’s witch hunt cross-references other historical and contemporary witch hunts, where the role of gender and power is more visible and more explicit. Placing his witch hunt in this broader context shows that the witch hunt is still a tool used to shore up gendered notions of authority, power, and legitimacy.”
Besides that, it has become a tired cliche, akin to calling people who disagree with you “Nazis.” Let’s try harder to root out cliches and nip them in the bud.