• Believe Women

    June 25, 2019 // 3 Comments »


     

    A person challenging my desire to apply critical thinking to the recent rape accusations by E. Jean Carroll against Trump asks if I would believe my own daughter if she claimed Trump raped her.
     

    Of course I would believe my family members. I would be foolish, however, to expect the same from you. I have decades of intimate personal knowledge of them and their morals, and can read their facial expressions. I witnessed their silly childhood lies and taught them myself the value of truth.

    The problem is that’s not how society works, and so we have courts and juries and standards of evidence when someone accuses another of a terrible crime. People lie. People exaggerate. People misremember. People tell the truth. Yet we are forced to judge strangers, and so we created a system of laws and rules to do that, built around the now-quaint notion of innocent until proven (not accused) guilty.

    An imperfect system, of course, but the alternative is to simply allow emotions to control things: we hate Trump, so anything bad about him is true and anything good is not by default. That’s what #BelieveWomen translates to in this context.

    Would you want your child judged that way, by emotion, if they were accused of something?

     
    So instead of asking us all to simply believe or not believe things (which is what children do with Santa and the Tooth Fairy) a civil society asks for evidence. Witnesses, whose credibility is assessed. Physical things to examine. We ask why someone waited 26 years to report something, and know there can be both righteous and devious reasons why. We seem post-2016 naively unaware of how assuming true is as invalid as assuming false.

    We should be doing this in 2019 because one time in American history we “believed women” uncritically concerning sex crimes. That was in the dark racist South, where a woman claiming she was raped by a black man was always believed, with often no collaboration or evidence required, and the black man’s protests he was innocent were seen as proof he must have done it (nothing to fear, nothing to hide!) The victim’s word alone hung men when emotion controlled and prejudiced judgement.

    Those horrors occurred in a an environment when critical thinking was replaced by memes and generalizations, such as over-sexualized blacks living in anticipation of taking a white woman because we all “knew” that’s who they were, right? Today we point to Trump’s hyperbolic pussy grabbing remarks and middle school locker room bragging as much the same, the equivalent of the black rapist whistling at his victim on a street corner last week as proof he was the attacker. The sex was consensual? Of course he’d say that. They all lie, don’t they? Simply producing more accusers without adding any evidence is trying to manufacture credibility via the old trick of making the lie big enough that it must be true.

    We should with that history be extra careful when accusations are timed and shaped to fit a specific political narrative, whether those accusations are for rape or treason. Christine Blasey Ford appeared exactly when the left needed her in the Kavanaugh hearings (and the media chooses to forget the other accusers the Dems brought forth, including one represented by carpetbagger Michael Avenatti, where shown to be lying.) After decades, E. Jean Carroll emerges as the 2020 campaign begins. Victimhood is often monetized in our present version of America, and motive always a factor in any human interaction. At some point a critical thinker should be compelled to consider the timing and motive more broadly and in a larger context than the application of a Twitter hashtag and an ideological catch-phrase.

    This is not a new thing in an America that traces its origins to the Salem witch trials through the Jim Crow South to the McCarthy era, where the accusation someone was a Communist was enough to destroy a career or drive a good man to drink or suicide. In each instance not only was an accusation accepted in lieu of evidence, in many cases the accusation was accepted as sufficient even when evidence to the contrary was presented. There were plenty of people who profited, directly in Salem as the witches’ land was sold for pennies on auction, and during the McCarthy years by being a good stooge. Ronald Reagan advanced his own political career quite nicely by outing fellow actors as “Commies” to help populate the blacklists.

    A society that incentivises personal destruction via mere finger pointing creates dangerous opportunities for bad people directly, and for other bad people willing to manipulate those with more good intentions than conscience. About all that really changes is what the accusations consist of, what crime is untouchable and indefensible in each era: witchcraft, black equality, Commie disloyalty, rape itself. In each case denying guilt is twisted into proof of guilt by the standards of each time period.

    The latter group sadly includes much of the media today. Desperate to take down Trump, they seize on any accusation however fanciful, disregarding information which doesn’t fit the narrative in support of the goal, destroy him. That sentence could in fact sum up the last three years of Russiagate, where rumors became headlines as journalists abandoned standard of proof and gossip became fact when laundered via the phrase “according to sources.”

    Truth? After sending Robert Mueller off with unlimited time and funds to discover the truth, when it did not fit the narrative it was simply discarded, and the media went about telling us all what Mueller meant to say. There have always been bias of support among journalists, but not for many decades have they actively sought to end a presidency, and with so little solid ground beneath them (Nixon destroyed tapes directly implicating him, in his own voice, in felonies then refused to hand over transcripts following a subpoena upheld at the Supreme Court versus Trump telling some guy to fire another guy who Trump had Constitutional authority to fire but in the end nobody got fired.)

    Of course these things happen in the press, or at hearings, any non-judicial setting will work (no one will argue the Jim Crow-era courts of the Deep South, with their all-white juries, represented a judicial setting.) To condemn someone without evidence, with only accusation, demands an unlevel playing field. So it is a biased press, a hearing run by a bully, a religious setting in Salem, or as some Democrats salivate over, impeachment proceedings where they set the rules and famously relish the idea that the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors they’ll hold Trump accountable for are defined by them in the moment.

    It can happen in the whole, as with Trump and Russiagate, it can be very-narrow as with Kavanaugh, or even a kind of pot shot, a trial balloon, such as when Cory Booker, as if he was Gandhi himself, shamefully accused Joe Biden of being a racist because he talked of Congressional compromise with members whose ideas Cory hates. Latter effort was particularly pathetic, given Biden’s two terms as Vice President serving a black chief executive. Racists don’t spend eight years working under a black guy.

    Yeah, it’s all different but it is at its core all part of the same. The Left is seeking not to beat Trump politically, but to end him, erase him, jail him, destroy him. That’s why 2020 candidates rightly talk about the end of democracy, grave threats to the Republic — they are attacking its foundations by accusing Trump of attacking its foundations. A mob demanding vengeance against powerful figures will seize on any excuse, however obviously politically framed and evidence-free, to get it. The current rape accusations, Russia rumors, etc, are not the end. Expect more.

    These are difficult times, and the easiest thing is to give in. It can be hard to be seen as “supporting Trump” when in fact you are supporting a higher principle, and a guy like Trump falls into the world as an extreme challenge to that principle of justice. But if we are to be better versions of ourselves, feelings alone cannot drive policy or action. We have to distinguish between feelings that have a rational basis and those that do not. But in 2019 not many are interested in such fine points. They are just angry. But when reasoned discourse yields to a mob, well, then the mob is in charge and history has many examples of what dark roads that leads down.

    There is plenty to dislike about Trump, and he is an easy target, basically writing his own punchlines (which is why late night is so boring, they just repeat Trump’s own tweets.) But for good Americans, these times are a reminder justice, law, process, critical thinking, and all the rest exist for the hard cases, not the easy ones.

     
     

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Blackface: Confronting One’s Integrity in the Past

    February 6, 2019 // 19 Comments »


     
    We live in an age when one’s past is dragged up by those with ill intent to confront one’s integrity in the present.
     
    If you worked in Asia in the 1980s or earlier, you likely remember a popular toothpaste called, sadly, Darkie. It featured a caricature of a black-faced minstrel performer on the label, with shining white, white teeth.

    I have an old Polaroid photo of a very young American diplomat from that era, now a senior official, dressed as that logo, complete with blackface and a top hat, from a long-ago Halloween party. Others present were dressed as local characters, logos, kind of a theme. One person was done up as the Frito Bandito, a caricatured portrayal of Mexicans. The black-faced diplomat was not a racist then and is not now, actually has done some important things for the State Department at some personal risk in terms of getting it to treat its people better. Most today would describe him as “woke.”

    Yet I am sure the NYT, or if not them, TMZ, would rush to publish the photo and the diplomat would be pressed to resign. His career would be impacted, his decent work stopped, and none of that would have a whit of any effect on racism in America. Unspoken is the idea that the same guy who wore blackface then is the same guy who is doing good things today. You just know something more about one evening long ago that now seems to matter so much when it doesn’t matter at all.

    I have no intention of revealing the photo from three decades ago. But we live in miserable times for this kind of thing when judging someone based on 30 years of their life seems to make less sense than picking something from 30 years ago and ignoring everything else since.
     
    Our society’s current solution is to selectively allow offenders to apologize, often accompanied by a sizable donation to some appropriate charity. Kevin Hart was offered the chance with hosting the Oscars as his prize, Louis C.K., not so much. Al Franken’s time came too soon; today he’d likely be let off by the mob with a heartfelt mea culpa; one can see the tears behind those smug glasses.

    But overall the idea of apologizing as a work-around is a bit of a strawman, a cheap trick to somehow drag the discrete events of the past into the present day — well, he did XYZ in 1984, but he continued not to apologize for the last 35 years! And it offers the mob another chance to judge; see, it’s about something happening today (the apology) and not an event from when TV was in black and white! Yet in one case it was presented as enough to derail a Supreme Court nomination and in another it is dismissed as a political smear.

    Anybody can say they’re sorry, especially under the gun of the social media-regular media mob that passes judgement on these things. What might make more sense is to look for are amends, what someone has done with their life since some bad thing. Are you a better person? Are you still espousing racism? What have you done with the years? Oh, but that’s complicated. Easier to snarl at a old photo and tweet.
     
    Inside the world of security clearances, where practicality often still overrules mob shoutdowns, standards have evolved. When I joined the State Department during the Reagan era, you could not get a clearance if you admitted to smoking a joint, and you certainly could not be cleared if you admitted to being gay. Same for holding significant debt, which supposedly made you vulnerable to Russian spy payoffs. Heavy drinking? Well, that was almost part of the job description and was generally overlooked. It got to the ridiculous point where only good liars, people from strict religious backgrounds, and folks who could hold their liquor could pass.

    If today was debt was a show stopper the vast majority of young applicants, with their massive student loans, would be denied clearances. Limited illegal drug use in the past is not a problem in most cases, and we all know of the 180 degree change on LGBT status. There are still showstoppers in the clearance process (having relatives in “bad” countries is a huge issue as more and more first generation Americans, some with critical language skills, seek clearances,) but the emphasis is now on holism, a long view of a person’s life that looks for trends and patterns instead of hyper-focusing on singularities.

    Few claim Northam in blackface is a good thing. The real question is at what point do we judge, a single point in the past or the sum of a man’s life. I don’t know much about his work in the last 35 years, but that seems a more reliable indicator of how he’ll serve as governor (the actual issue) than a photo from whenever. Northam resigning does not erase racism of the past, and it does nothing practical about racism today. He just joins the crowd of those sacrificed at the altar of identity politics, a feel-good to the many who only seem to have realized these issues exist since Trump was elected.
     
    See, it is not like this issue of how the past affects the present is new; we’ve just resolved it more practicaly in other iterations. How many states are seeking to allow felons to vote again? Parole, expungement, time served — people who have committed actual crimes, even murder, get to a point where they can move on.

    Our tolerance for illegal drugs has followed a similar path. Decades ago, Bill Clinton was confronted with accusations he smoked marijuana. To save himself, he came up with the line that while he may have once held a joint to his lips, he never actually inhaled (Clinton would employ similar word play later in his career over whether a blow job constitued sex.) Fast-forward to candidate Barack Obama, who early on casually admitted to smoking weed, and even experimenting with other drugs. The public response? Meh. People grow, people change, that was then.

    The alternative is to allow the mob greater control. With Facebook turning 15 years old today, politicians on the rise will find more and more of their pre-celebrity lives documented. Will we band together online to hunt down every person who ever did anything wrong and drive them out of home and job in some Great Cleansing? What happens when definitions of “wrong” morph? Is such a mob vetting likely to bring better people into government, or send them running?

    Unspoken is the idea the same guy who wore blackface then is the same guy who was elected by the people of Virginia now and, until about a week ago, apparently well-thought of by them. We all just know something more about his past that powerful forces are seeking to drag forward into the present and claim represents a different man. We live in the age when one’s past is dragged up to confront one’s integrity in the present.
     
    We don’t want to talk about Brett Kavanaugh, but there are elements that awkwardly pair with the Northarm story. What really happened decades ago? Are we learning about those events now accurately and unemotionally, or are they being spoon-fed through a ready tablodized media for partisan political ends?

    How were the Kavanaugh accusations, uncorroborated and in some instances refuted by other witnesses, more in line with #BelieveWomen than those now directed by a woman at the Virginia Lieutenant Governor but labeled as a political smear by his supporters? Yet in one case it was presented as enough to derail a Supreme Court nomination and in another it is dismissed as a political smear, spiked by a partisan Washington Post who basically said to the victim “Honey, time to take one for the team, we’re not running this an causing a Democrat to lose this election. Now, did Judge Kavanaugh ever lay a hand on you?”

    And not a single 2020 Democrat has commented on Fairfax, though pretty much all have condemned Northam. Meanwhile, in the hearings to replace Kavanaugh in his old job, Democrats hyperfocus not on the nominee’s years on the bench, but on her now-politically incorrect articles written by the nominee in the 1990s, containing what they label as anti-feminist advice such as “a man who rapes a drunk girl should be prosecuted. At the same time, a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.” We’ll leave judging the actual usefulness of such advice to those with daughters reading this.

    Now imagine the potential for what we awkwardly call blackmail should an unscrupulous lobbyist confront a politician with some old photos, asking for a political favor. Need we demand candidates hand over their yearbooks along with their old tax forms as a bulwark against social media mob justice?
     
    This is about the future, not Ralph Northam. How did the very serious business of #MeToo end up a political tool? How did we get to a place where old yearbook photos may overturn an election? Why are we accepting this as the way we’re conducting our democracy?

      

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in Democracy, Trump