From The Ox-Bow Incident to To Kill a Mockingbird, novelists warned of the American propensity to become mob-like and often lethally so. Our Puritan roots, when coupled to elements of Athenian-style democracy, can on occasion vary wildly between dangerous bias and equally mindless self-righteousness.
Update those traditions within the modern bane of electronically charged instantaneous social media, identity politics, the decline of journalism, and vicarious virtue-signaling, and we increasingly suffer psychodramas like the Virginia fraternity mess, the Duke Lacrosse fiasco, the Kavanaugh hearings, and the Covington nightmare.
In such cases, predictable constructs often set afire the new mob. “Vulnerable” women or minorities or both are juxtaposed against young white males who have the scent of traditionalism, conservatism, or “privilege.” I say “psychodramas,” because the point is never to assess guilt or innocence or to establish some set of objective standards by which to condemn or exempt the accused. No, the aim is to vent outrage — the quicker, the more venomous, and the more public, the more advantageous either in a careerist or psychological sense.
The result is that there are now no rules in the Roman arena of feeding the accused to the carnivores — except two. If the progressive cause can be advanced, then necessary, one-time adjustments can call off the mob. And, two, given the complex hierarchy of victimhood and the relative degrees of perceived progressive correctness, it is sometimes difficult to sort out who should be rescued from, and who served up to, the famished lions.
When Virginia governor Ralph Northam endorsed a proposed new state abortion bill and methodically explained the ethical and legal mechanics of how to kill an already-delivered infant, progressives shrugged. To the extent that any were not delighted, it was because they worried that Northam had foolishly given away their game by dispassionately contextualizing infanticide, which, after all, is the logical end to all abortion-on-demand legislation. (Northam had essentially redefined murder by insisting that a mother had a right to euthanize her child, a U.S. citizen with constitutionally protected rights, after the infant had left her body.)
But then Nemesis struck. Two old photos showed up in Northam’s 1984 yearbook entry from medical school. He was then 25, hardly a 17-year-old preppie like Brett Kavanaugh. The photo was of two youths dressed up respectively in blackface and a Klan outfit. In a nanosecond, Northam went from being a welcome, but clumsy abortion advocate to a rank political liability. He then went the full Mark Sanford route, with a bizarre series of denials, admissions, contradictions, and self-confessions that sealed his fate — or sort of did.
If the electronic mob had wounded Northam, his own lunacy would seem to have bled him out. That Justin Fairfax, his lieutenant governor, was African American and a seasoned Democratic operative should have made it all too easy to slice off the suddenly smelly Northam albatross from the collective Democratic neck and likewise turn attention away from the progressive endorsement of infanticide.
Republicans enjoyed the drama mostly in silence, given that Northam had hypocritically accused his Republican gubernatorial opponent, Ed Gillespie, of being a racist, and that he’d posed as a postmodern Southern progressive by virtue-signaling his disgust toward Confederate statues. Northam’s hypocrisy surely gives credence to the theory that one of the attractions of loud and public progressive outrage is that public damnation of sin gives one psychological permission to occasionally indulge in it.
But then there was another hitch.
The ready and waiting Fairfax was “found” to have his own skeleton — namely, that 15 years ago he had been intimate with a fellow progressive at the 2004 Democratic Convention, in what he now calls a consensual hookup. The alleged victim, however, Professor Vanessa Tyson, now insists that their long-ago encounter had escalated into a traumatic assault. The accuser even had taken the trouble of earlier contacting the Washington Post to apprise them that a young and charismatic Fairfax was in fact a veritable rapist.
The Post then apparently dropped the “she must be believed” self-righteous credo that was so prevalent during the Kavanaugh fiasco. Instead, it declined to publish or investigate Tyson’s story, despite her disturbing accusations that Fairfax had used his superior strength to coerce her to give him oral sex. Then another alleged victim emerged, with an even more serious accusation of a long-ago assault by Fairfax.
So, according to #MeToo logic, two victims now had to be believed (especially given the absence of any perceived political or ideological agendas). This dilemma forced the larger question of what to do with the career of a progressive African-American governor in waiting — suddenly no longer so useful in replacing the now embarrassingly progressive pariah white Southern governor (who may have helped leak but certainly enjoyed his subordinate’s quandary, and who suddenly was cowardly fobbing his own racial insensitivity off onto the supposedly collective pathologies of his state).
In intersectional terms, the Left faced a dilemma. On legal grounds, in theory, Fairfax faced the greater sin of sexual assault and rape (even if no longer prosecutable). On politically correct grounds, the two white officials faced the greater exposure, given their race and their idiotic, youthful, and racialist buffoonery. Would progressives demand the resignation from the African-American man — the only one of the three who is non-white? Would they establish that old but as yet quite unproven accusations of criminality trump old yet quite demonstrable charges of racialism?
During the Kavanaugh hearing, progressives had insisted on two new standards of jurisprudence: 1) All women alleging assault must be believed, even in the absence of any corroborating evidence or witnesses to the alleged crime, and even when we’re confronted with factual inconsistencies in the accuser’s charges; and 2) there is no such thing as a statute of limitations to such complaints, much less concern that at the time of the distant assault, authorities were never alerted.
No progressive can easily adjudicate all the competing and mitigating intersections. During the recent media storms, Northam was initially seen as an admirable radical pro-abortionist feminist; he was key to keeping once red Virginia a newly blue state. But soon he proved not just clumsy in contextualizing his distant past; he also seems to have an even more complex history of racialism. For example, Northam, for mysterious reasons, was dubbed “coon man” by his school chums. And he further claims that he once put on black “shoe polish” to emulate Michael Jackson (who ironically usually wore white makeup so as not to resemble the hue of Northam’s black shoe polish).
As for Fairfax, should be hoisted on his own #MeToo progressive petard of a he-said-she-said accusation of 15 years prior?
His first accuser is also African American, and an academic progressive apparently eager to fill out Fairfax’s résumé once he became a public figure, in the heroic manner of fellow California academic Christine Blasey Ford. When told of her claims, Fairfax reportedly shouted to his associates “F*** that bitch” — a most regressive reaction.
Progressives during the Watergate era also warned us that it is never the crime that sinks public figures, but the cover-up or contextualization. This has never been truer than in Northam’s confused, conflicting narratives and in Fairfax’s obscene invective, which only added credibility to Tyson’s portrait of a hot-tempered sexist prone to objectify women as mere playthings. Fairfax instantly went from being one of the aggrieved collective victims of Northam’s racism to a culpable victimizer of minority women.
But wait again, the tragicomedy has another twist. Third in line to the governorship, Attorney General Mark R. Herring, saw fellow Democrat Northam twisting in the wind, and he too jumped into the fray to flash his virtue signals of outrage about Northam’s youthful racism. Poor Herring; he pontificated too soon, both before the anticipated successor Fairfax was himself accused of crimes from 15 years ago, and before it was leaked or admitted that Herring himself had dressed up in blackface when, at 19, he attended a party outfitted in costume as an African-American rapper.
The New York Times was especially dumbfounded at the intersectional trifecta and strained the English vocabulary of euphemism to downplay Herring’s youthful sin. In a headline, the paper initially wrote, “Virginia Attorney General Says He Also Dressed in Dark Makeup,” carefully avoiding the term “blackface.” We haven’t seen such linguistic gymnastics since the Times invented the term “white Hispanic” for half-Peruvian George Zimmerman, in an effort to make his lethal encounter with Trayvon Martin into a white–black morality play, a confrontation between a white aggressor and a black victim rather than a brawl between two minority youths.
As Governor Northam, Lieutenant Governor Fairfax, and Attorney General Herring stood off in a spaghetti-Western trial, unsure who would finish off whom, progressives scrambled to adjudicate the various intersectional crimes and thus prevent the fourth-ranking state official, Virginia house speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican, from climbing over the political corpses to the governorship.
What do we learn from the entire sordid tale?
Get used to far more of this.
America is a multiethnic, multiracial society in which victimization leads to career dividends, attention, and psychological rewards. Yet intersectionality hinges on the various indecipherable strata of identity politics — especially when no one knows which DNA strand or ancestral narratives trump others. Add the 1960s left-wing legacies of promiscuity, sexual discovery, and let-it-all-hang-out, get-with-it, -all-is-groovy New Ageism, now mixed with 21st-century Victorian progressive prudery — and the result is a weird new hipster profile in sackcloth, as randy and as gross as Woodstock and yet as condemnatory as the Anti-Sex League of Orwell’s 1984.
The rules of sexual congress are being radically redefined among the elite as requiring veritable contractual agreements along every step of each encounter. When it comes to destroying careers, there is no statute of limitations, and no need for due process, cross-examination, or factual evidence.
Once a society establishes a system of rewards and punishments that favor accusation and force-multiply it through enhancements of race and gender, then fairness and truth become secondary considerations. Much less valued are notions of human frailty and atonement. Truth becomes a narrative of a particular class of victim, to be adjudicated in mob-like and often electronic arenas, without much attention to testimony, evidence, or witnesses.
Intersectional progressives strangely had assumed that in these sensational cases they would always have Manichean scenarios: white boys bad, a Native American “elder” good. In the Covington case, they never quite anticipated, as they discarded due process, that the supposed victims could be gross and conniving victimizing predators.
Yet duplicity, careerism, and self-interest are human pathologies, not restricted to only one gender or certain races.
Indeed, human lapses really do (or especially) cross intersectional boundaries: an Elizabeth Warren caught yet again in a lie when more evidence emerges about her past cynical cultural appropriation of a Native American identity for careerist advancement; the late-night ethical progressive megaphone Jimmy Kimmel, suddenly snagged by an old tape in which he dresses up in blackface to do an abjectly racist caricature of NBA star Karl Malone; newly found racialist statements from a younger Joe Biden (adding to his ample corpus of race-based “gaffes”) from nearly a half-century ago suggesting that he believed racial segregation had its merits; African-American comedian Kevin Hart disinvited as Oscar host due to the reemergence of some of his old anti-gay jokes; the progressive attack-dog Joy Behar, reducing to a whimpering puppy when admitting to her own bout of blackface (oddly made worse by her editorializing that when she wore blackface she, presto, became a “beautiful African-American woman,” as if you cannot keep a stunning white woman down).
And so on and on intersectional identity politics progresses down its pathway to nihilism.
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