LAST month, in what could only be described as a Very Bad Week in Virginia, the top three members of the state’s executive branch became embroiled in a series of accusations involving abortion, racism, and sexual assault.
I was already disturbed that New York had passed a law allowing abortion at any stage of pregnancy, so I was shocked to find out that Del. Kathy Tran, D–Fairfax, had proposed a similar measure in Virginia. When Gov. Ralph Northam, a pediatric neurosurgeon no less, endorsed the bill and included infanticide as an option, I was stunned. (Thankfully, it failed to pass.)
But it was not abortion that raised the most outrage in the general public, it was the revelation of a racist photo on Northam’s medical school yearbook page. At first, Northam apologized; then the next day he recanted his apology, awkwardly saying he wasn’t one of the two men in the photo, but that he did wear blackface on another occasion.
For an adult medical student to appear in blackface in the 1980s was racist and profoundly disrespectful of the African–American patients he was sure to encounter as a doctor. That kind of foolishness should have ended before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech stopped echoing off the Lincoln Memorial.
But it didn’t. It persisted through the ’80s, and still persists today.
Embarrassed Democrats from all over the nation quickly called for Northam’s resignation. But then his would-be successor, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, was accused of sexual assault, throwing his political future in doubt, and Attorney General Mark Herring confessed that he, too, had donned blackface.
All three Democrats still stand accused of violating some very important party “thou shalt nots,” betraying African–Americans and women in one ugly swoop.
One of the problems with “identity politics”—when a particular political party becomes closely identified with people of a particular racial, ethnic, or religious group or gender and people separate themselves into “tribes” accordingly—is that party doctrine develops that allows no gray areas, no room for compromise, no dissent, and no mistakes.
Politicians learn to mouth the words of the doctrine their tribes want to hear. Voters automatically respond without asking hard questions, and predictable elections follow.
But who are these politicians really? What do they believe? And will they eventually betray their voters?
The same is true on the Republican side of the ledger. I’ll address that in a moment.
Notably absent regarding the Fairfax sexual-assault allegations was the “Believe her!” hue and cry that followed immediately when a far less credible accusation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh emerged. Left-wingers were ready to destroy Kavanaugh, a white conservative male, but they were far more reserved when the accused was an African–American Democrat.
So was the press, but that’s a subject for another day.
Fairfax deserves due process. So did Kavanaugh. We all do. The presumption of innocence is a priceless ethic. It’s also true that it takes a great deal of courage for a woman to go forward with an allegation of sexual assault because they are not often believed. Fairfax has equated the charges to a racial lynching, but both of his accusers are African–American, and justice requires they receive a hearing.
Now, the Republican side of the “identity politics” problem: Almost every day I cringe when I hear something President Trump says, or read one of his tweets. I’m happy to hear his words supporting the unborn, but for me, being pro-life also means respecting those who have been born. All too often, Trump’s bullying (and his past treatment of women) belies his pro-life words, words he knows he must say to keep the evangelical vote. My tribe should demand better.
I see a link between all these issues. In every case—abortion, racism, sexual assault, misogyny—the perpetrator has disrespected and devalued the life of another, using power to harm another human being.
With abortion, the victim is the unborn baby, an individual we know through science is a unique human being from the moment of conception. With racism, it’s an entire group of people, even though we all bleed the same. With sexual assault, the victim is a vulnerable person—a woman, a child, a weaker man. With misogyny, it’s women.
In every case, we are still Cain killing Abel, just because we can.
Every person—every unborn child, every individual of every ethnic group, everyone—is created in the image of God. Each bears the “Imago Dei,” as theologians say, which is a wondrous thing. For that reason, each deserves respect. We may despise their politics or hate their actions, but their personhood is not ours to destroy or debase.
But you know, once people stop respecting God, it follows that they’ll stop respecting his image-bearers. Isn’t that really the heart of the problem?
Linda J. White is a former assistant editorial page editor of The Free Lance–Star. She lives in Fauquier County and can be reached through her website, lindajwhite.net.