Last night, President Trump officially nominated Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court. Barrett is a Catholic mother of five, and two of her children were adopted from Haiti. She will be filling the seat that was recently vacated following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
At the moment, there are many layers of narratives surrounding Barrett. To the right, Barrett is a faithful, yet professional nominee, and her diverse family represents a model of American acceptance. To some on the left, she is emblematic of white colonialism, a harbinger of patriarchy, and the most recent play by an authoritarian president.
Unlike other events that we’ve analyzed, these narratives are not about a discrete event, but are rather ambiguous and mixed discourses. However, it seems that the primary themes of the Barrett discourse are religious and racial, and part of a broader narrative of replacement and takeover.
Barrett is Catholic, and a member of a religious organization called the People of Praise. At one point in the organization’s history, male and female advisors were called “heads” and “handmaids” respectively. As one could predict, people quickly saw this as the group on which Margaret Atwood based The Handmaids Tale.
Although Constance Grady of Voxwrites that this connection is unfounded, as The New Yorker writer Emily Nussbaum tweeted, this seems to be a distinction without a difference:
OK, turns out my earlier RT was wrong! Atwood’s book wasn’t inspired by ACB’s right-wing sexist sect People of Praise, which calls women handmaids. It was inspired by People of HOPE, a different rightwing sexist sect, which calls women handmaids. https://t.co/AKRTcJIEBB
The image of Barrett as belonging to an oppressive religious cult is a logical chapter in a narrative of oppressive theocracy that has ran parallel to the Trump presidency. Vice President Pence, you may remember, was also an image of religious extremism (rooted in his apparent association with conversion therapy).
And indeed, this image of Barrett confirms the threat towards overturning Roe V. Wade. To the left, reproductive rights are constantly under attack from the religious right—any sane American should recognize a woman’s right of bodily autonomy. Bible-thumping right-wingers, on the other hand, want to dictate to women what they can and can’t do with their bodies.
Let me reiterate that narrative which often underpins Roe V. Wade discourse: The religious right want to control women.
To those with this image of impending theocracy in mind, Barrett as a patriarchal religious cultist is as obvious as it is inevitable.
Two of Barrett’s children were adopted from Haiti. And yesterday, there was some skepticism about the circumstances of these adoptions. Ibram Kendi, the author of How to be anAnti-Racist, tweeted the following:
Some White colonizers “adopted” Black children. They “civilized” these “savage” children in the “superior” ways of White people, while using them as props in their lifelong pictures of denial, while cutting the biological parents of these children out of the picture of humanity. https://t.co/XBE9rRnoqq
Here’s another (now deleted) tweet of the same kind:
Backgrounded by an emphasis on anti-colonialism and anti-racism, a wealthy white family adopting black children raised some red flags. The idea is that Barrett is involved in the erasure of the culture and history of her adopted children, a miniature version of the imperialistic “enlightening” of the dark continent.
However, while this narrative originated on the left, it appears to be mostly amplified by the right. It’s no longer “There’s something suspicious about Barrett adopting Haitian children” but “The left thinks there’s something wrong with adopting black kids.” In a fascinating turn, the narrative has transitioned from the left to the right.
Read this from Democrat activist & Hill staffer. Questioning whether #AmyConeyBarrett *illegally* adopted her children from Haiti, maybe snatching them from birth parents! This is the Dem gameplan. Nothing but raw bigotry and hate. I promise you, this will not stand pic.twitter.com/JEMqhe05dY
On the whole, the racial and religious discourses are wrapped up in a broader narrative of replacement. That is to say that the Republicans are replacing progressives and undoing progressive wins, amounting to no less than an authoritarian takeover of American institutions. This replacement narrative (perhaps better called a takeover narrative) was recently symbolically represented in a controversial T-Shirt.
Shortly after the President announced his nomination, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (a fundraising group) announced they would be sending “Notorious ACB” shirts to people who donate at least $25. The shirt, as you may recognize, is a take on “Notorious RBG,” one of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s nicknames.
🚨 LIMITED EDITION: Show your support for Pres. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, with your very own Notorious A.C.B. t-shirt! Claim yours here ⬇️https://t.co/qi1eWqTz17
To many on the left, this is a grossly disrespectful shirt. “This comedic implication,” as a writer for Slate put it, “is depraved.” But I think the objection here is to something deeper than mere imitation or mockery. The shirt is a pristine symbol of the callous Republican takeover—It is the replacement narrative manifest visually. The right is ramming through ideological judges, destabilizing democratic institutions, erasing the legacies of progressive icons, and going for power grab after power grab. And the shirt tells that story.
So whether the discourse around Barrett is religious, racial, judicial, etc., it seems that these are all plot lines within a broader narrative of Republican takeover.
To the right, the President is fulfilling his constitutional duty by nominating a brilliant legal scholar. To the left, Barrett is a religious extremist whose appointment is merely the angling of a power-hungry authoritarian.
Of course, these stories aren’t finished yet. As the year slogs towards Election Day, our political narratives will continue to evolve. And while in this instance, the narratives I looked into mostly emerged from the left, that certainly will not continue to be the case. In fact, the only constant is that we will always be telling stories about ourselves, our enemies, and the world around us. I suspect these kinds of stories never end.