Why Does Ralph Northam Deserve No Mercy?

Why Does Ralph Northam Deserve No Mercy? By Zaid Jilani.

Over the past week, Virginia’s Democratic Governor, Ralph Northam, has been engulfed in a firestorm. It follows the publication of a medical-school yearbook page of his that shows two individuals, one dressed in blackface and one in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. It is not clear from the photo whether Northam is one of these two individuals, or why he chose to include this image on his yearbook page.

Upon the revelation of the photograph, the Governor issued a lengthy apology for the content of the page, which was published 35 years ago. He said he was “deeply sorry,” and called the costume “clearly racist and offensive.” …

Perhaps just a few years ago, Northam’s apology and Saslaw’s defence would have been enough for the governor to be able to move on. …

But given an American elite culture that is regressing to a secular version of old puritanical norms, whereby sinners are branded for life and there are political points to be scored for casting them into hellfire, it is not surprising that Northam was immediately deluged with calls to resign.

Presidential contenders such as Kamala Harris and Julian Castro called on Northam to step down. MoveOn.org — an organization based on the concept of forgiveness, which urges people to “move on” and not dwell on past misdemeanours — called for Northam to step down because “there are no excuses for such a racist display.” As every hour passes, more progressive activists and Democratic politicians are pushing to remove Northam from the governor’s office.

Yet there is a curious dissonance between the message activists are promoting — that an offensive gesture from 35 years ago should permanently end a man’s career in politics — and their campaign around America’s system of mass incarceration. When it comes to criminal-justice reform, progressives are preaching that the aim of the system should be rehabilitation, not punishment, and that criminal behaviour is forged by social influences, rather than the result of bad choices by flawed individuals. They preach a Christian message of hating the sin but loving the sinner. …

I’ve spent a decade working in liberal and left-leaning non-profits and news outlets. During that time, I’ve seen the culture of these organizations grow increasingly judgmental and increasingly interested in the personal destruction of those with whom they disagree. More and more, elite liberalism is embracing modes of thought that I once associated with the political Right: joy in punishment and us-versus-them thinking. …

The Left claims to believe in compassion and rehabilitation — and purports to represent the broad working class of America. The more it demands the personal destruction of individuals who committed offensive but symbolic acts, the more hollow these representations appear.