Marjorie Taylor Greene and The Ties That Bind
What MTG's comments about real and fake parents reveal about how the hard right views the family and the nation
Last week, Marjorie Taylor Greene was allotted time to question American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. She used it to impugn Weingarten’s status as a mother.
During the exchange, Greene attacked the AFT’s positions on Covid masking and lockdown procedures, which are fair game. But Greene also asked if Weingarten had children. Weingarten responded that she is “a mother by marriage,” a response Greene quickly dismissed.
Greene’s view was that Weingarten “had no business advising the CDC what the medical guidelines were for school closures.” Why is that? As Greene saw it, “people like you need to admit that you’re just a political activist, not a teacher, not a mother, and not a medical doctor.”
Although I myself was adopted by two wonderful, loving parents, one doesn’t have to be adopted to detect the disgusting exclusionary sentiment running through Greene’s congressional questioning.
Greene’s attack on Weingarten’s status as a mother is a window into what certain people really mean when they invoke parents’ rights. Let’s explore that below.
Who Gets to Parent
Part of what’s so revealing about Greene’s comments is she attaches the “fake” label to parents she’s already dismissed as holding objectionable political and cultural views.
So Greene’s stress that a biological relationship is necessary for true motherhood, the line of attack she uses to condemn Weingarten, is just a secondary one; the primary problem with Weingarten, according to Greene, is that she’s her ideological rival.
Greene is saying that parents who think, say, and advocate for certain things are not really parents because being on the wrong side of her Covid and transgender policy issues makes a person automatically a danger to their kids.
These were Greene’s words on adoptive parents on her own show:
The idea that mom and dad together—not fake mom and fake dad—but the biological mom and biological dad, can raise their children together and do what’s right for their children, raising them to be confident in who they are, their identity, their identity is, you know, they’re a child made by God.
The suggestion here is that being a real parent involves foisting the “right” worldview into one’s child. The “biological” condition is secondary—what’s most constitutive of real parenthood, according to Greene, is imbuing a child with the correct “identity.”
I have no doubt that, for Greene, an adoptive parent who raises her kids to think and act the way Greene does would be seen as a more legitimate parent than a biological parent who raises her kids to have diametrically opposed views to Greene’s.
This means the “fake” nature of the adoptive parent is subordinate to the question of ideological alignment, which broadly speaking is how many on the hard right approach the legitimacy of parents who are raising children in ways they dislike.
Take, for example, the conflict of interest investigation being undertaken against Nebraska State Senator Megan Hunt over her opposition to anti-trans legislation. The reasoning? She has a trans son. The complaint, filed by Omaha lawyer David Begley, alleges that Hunt would benefit financially from the failure of the bill, with Begley claiming she would have “more than [an] average chance of obtaining Medicare coverage if the bill fails.”
I cannot recall a legislator being made to recuse themselves from education bills because their children attend or attended public schools. Would we expect parents of children who had experienced serious illness or disease to sit out policy-making on public health? Don’t we in fact regularly praise elected officials when they cite their children as inspiration for why they are fighting for a particular measure or program?
Isn’t this the very logic of the self-styled Moms for Liberty who now agitate for change in their local school districts and back candidates who will instill their preferred mores in the classroom?
As Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman write in The Washington Post, these objections now appear to extend even to the “monogamous” and “consensual” sex found in the work of Nora Roberts.
The logic is always exclusionary. It’s always at least in part about who can advocate for children and who cannot, who is real and legitimate. As Sargent noted last year when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis introduced his “anti-groomer” bill, that law “…[appeared] designed to stoke teacher fears of transgressing lines that aren’t at all clear, and to encourage conservative parents to zealously hunt for those transgressions wherever possible.” The end goal is to menace other parents, teachers, and people involved in the care and education of children to the benefit of some others.
I’ve stressed before here at Arc how parents’ rights advocates circumscribe the special status of the parent-child relationship to only include those with whom they agree.
By contrast, parents who support their child’s exploration of their gender identity are not to be treated as beyond the disciplinary reach of the state and wider public. No, they must be policed like the domestic threats to public safety that they are. Their acts to protect their children from state overreach and public abuse do not stem from love and are not examples of bravery or sacrifice. They only show them to be reckless, radical, and even abusive.
And that’s at least part of what’s at play within Greene’s real/fake parent distinction.
Is she degrading adoptive parents and step parents? Yes, but always within a broader context of an ideological dispute; always when she’s attacking liberal parents.
As much as I resent the suggestion that my own adoptive parents are anything but my real parents, what Greene is doing here is finding a particularly cruel way to flesh out her overarching view: being a legitimate parent is conditional on raising your kids in a way that is consistent with Greene’s political and cultural beliefs.
Procreation and family structure have long been a focus of racist and extreme ethno-nationalist politics. Obviously, there are scores of people who care about these things who aren’t racists or ethno-nationalists. But even a cursory glance at our history shows us how bad actors seize on these ideas and use them to promote a disgustingly exclusionary vision for society.
What much of this comes down to is the question of what’s being passed on—both genetically and ideologically; in other words, not just genes but correct values and thinking. So adoption, in this context, can be a tool for assimilation, both in terms of waging demographic battles and fighting normative cultural ones.
Native American children were at the forefront of the fight to claim this country from its original indigenous peoples. In the 19th century, residential schools were used as a mechanism for taking children from their families and instilling them with Western, Christian “American” values.
The founder of the first government-run boarding school for native children, Richard H. Pratt, made the mission of mass child abduction clear: “A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one. … In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”
In the early-to-mid-20th century, forced removal and adoption came to replace the schools as the primary mechanism for family separation. As Elizabeth Hidalgo Reese writes, “With the help of churches and adoption agencies, the federal government, in what is known as the Indian Adoption Project, encouraged the removal of Native children from their families and then their adoption by non-Native families.”
A government report found that the number of children taken from native homes in the years between 1941 and 1967 was as high as one-in-three.
This kind of injustice played out in other “New World” countries like Canada and Australia. The recent headlines about the brutality of Canada’s own Indian residential schools has propelled new debates around restorative justice in that country. In Australia in 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took the important step of apologizing for the historical “removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children,” a process that produced what are now called the Stolen Generations.
In more recent decades, abortion has become a central obsession of white nationalists. As Cynthia Miller-Idriss writes, “Minorities and white women are targets of an ideology that both seeks to reduce nonwhite populations and to increase white ones.” And so abortion functions “as part of the so-called white genocide plot.” Moreover, as Alexandra Minna Stern observes, “Appeals to ancestry abound on the alt-right, and nationalist women express some of the loudest calls for white baby making.”
I’m absolutely not suggesting the wider pro-life movement is consciously infused with these ethno-nationalist fever dreams. But I am saying, and have argued elsewhere, that the relationship between promoting birth and engaging in normative conversations about the nation—and in this case, the family and who is a legitimate parent—can be highly combustible.
Nuclear Family Fallout
The obvious truth is that the heterosexual nuclear family is not the apex of human relationship. Family structures come in a variety of forms, and the way wider communities interact with individual households differs greatly across time and place.
Last fall, Jimi Famurewa wrote an excellent longform essay for The Guardian on the post-WWII phenomenon of white British families fostering the children of African immigrants while they got themselves set up in their new homeland. The process, informally called “farming,” saw thousands of children a year pass through white British family homes, typically arranged through classified ads. While the history of these interactions are complex, I want to highlight a specific point that Famurewa makes:
[T]ales of private fostering are not always negative. For some, being farmed to a white foster family was a short-lived, benign experience—an unusual, temporary engagement to be filed away deep in the memory and only jogged loose years later; just one presence in a child’s early life. And it is this point that brings us to the nub of what those generations of postwar African parents were thinking, and helps us, perhaps, to make more sense of an act—the giving away of your children to paid strangers in a foreign land—that is hard to justify when viewed through a modern, western lens. Or as Joy Okoye, a barrister and transracial adoption specialist, put it in a 2001 Guardian interview: ‘West African children, unlike their European counterparts, are not seen as possessions of a nuclear family. In Africa, it takes a village to raise a child – and very often a village miles away from the family home. It is normal, extended family kinship, and the children placed away from home accepted it as such.’
In the same way that our modern world has challenged ideas around who can and cannot be married, how household roles are distributed, and who should be able to wield financial and legal power within a marriage, we should also be willing to test broad and often exclusionary claims about where parental rights begin and end, what structures constitute a legitimate family, and who does and does not have a right to advocate on behalf of youth interests—including the youth themselves.
Being adopted, I’ve always loved the idea that I was raised by the family that chose me. And, in a country so rich with immigrants, innovators, and trailblazing advocates for change, I think that sentiment has resonance for the wider American condition.
We have the power to choose the sort of place we want to be—and I hope we choose to be a place where the Randi Weingartens of the world aren’t subject to their motherhood coming under review over disagreeing with Marjorie Taylor Greene.
I expect Marge figures she done Lauren, Taylor and Derek proud on this one.
Props on every word you wrote here, Mr. Elrod.
While it’s not the absolute sickest thing about them (that list is pretty deep) one of the most puzzling aspects of the Right is their abject cruelty and distain directed towards adopted parents while simultaneously demanding no abortions because in their self-proclaimed pro-family ideology, “adoption is an option”.