Our rush-to-condemnation problem

by Curt Bentley

One of the consequences of being off social media is that I’m generally blissfully ignorant of current events.  Wait you mean the government shut down??  Last week??  I didn’t notice until I had to call The Department of Housing and Urban Development for work and it went to an answering machine.

But the news makes its way to me sooner or later, and this afternoon, I learned about the controversy over Governor Ralph Northram of Virginia.  If you’re reading this, I’m sure you know all about it already, so I won’t summarize.

What I’m seeing as I read the commentary is a lot of, “I believe that people can change, but Northram should resign anyway.”

With all due respect, unless you really believe that Northram is a tone-deaf racist, that position seems to me to be little more than hedging lip service.

If we believe in change, in mercy, in second chances, in progress, that each person is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done, then we need to stand up for those principles.  Even if our position is at risk of being misconstrued, or we’re accused of being indifferent to horrible things.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the issue is whether people believe that Northram can change, or even whether he has changed.  There doesn’t really seem to be many people, from what I can tell, arguing that this really reflects who Northram is today, or who he has been for many, many years.

No, the issue is our need for punishment.  For outrage.  For the safety and accolades that result from rushing to condemnation.

Punishment for what?  Outrage over what?  Condemnation for what?  An apologized-for youthful transgression that seems to be belied by a lifetime of action?

The problem here is not what Governor Northram did in 1984.  It’s our reaction to it in 2019.  Northram is just the latest iteration in a long line of outrage victims.  Are we so obsessed with punishment and justice that we’ve forgotten mercy?  Are we so concerned with our own virtue signaling that we’re really to rationalize the collateral damage to others in order to protect our good image?

This is not progress.  It’s not progressive.  It’s regressive.  It’s doubling down on the original wrong.

I’m not interested in protecting someone who believes the Ku Klux Klan is no more serious than a Halloween costume joke.  But I don’t think that’s who Governor Northram is, and I don’t think any of the people calling for his resignation believe that’s who he is.  And if I’m right about that, then our current reaction is a problem.



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