DANIEL VAUGHAN: The left’s culture of shame is destroying its own

February 4, 2019

DANIEL VAUGHAN: The left’s culture of shame is destroying its own

Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s had a disastrous, at times comical, and bizarre week. He went from endorsing state legislation that would permit abortion while a mother was in the process of giving birth to defending himself for a photograph that appears on his page in a 1984 medical school yearbook wherein he is allegedly shown in either blackface or a full KKK ensemble.

A lot is happening in the deluge of Northam news, but the situation highlights with specificity the new rules that progressive culture warriors want to enforce.

On one level, there’s an interesting dichotomy between the reasons Northam faces the (very real) issues of resignation and impeachment. His support of legislation that would have allowed extremely late-term abortions — despite 80 percent of the public opposing them — is beyond radical. Pro-life groups correctly called the barbaric stance “infanticide,” because they’re talking fully viable babies at that stage, whose only claim to full state protection is the birth canal.

But the left and the media gave this a collective yawn.

Instead, they’re aghast at a racist yearbook photo from 1984 — 35 years ago.

There’s no question the pictures in question are racist; the history of blackface alone is bad enough, but the inclusion of the Ku Klux Klan was morally debased in the 1980s. Some outlets even reported that his school nickname was “Coonman.”

But it isn’t enough that this is decades old or even that he’s a Democrat: these are the new rules the moral authority on the left wants to play with now. They’re the new moral enforcers, and if you’ve ever stepped out of line, in any way, you will be branded as a heretic who must be expelled from society.

It’s the modern version of the Scarlet Letter. They mark you apart from the community and cast you out.

By the rules laid out by progressives, Ralph Northam is now a racist who must be forever branded as such, with no chance for redemption.

It’s ironic that just as the president and Congress passed bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation called the First Step Act to provide leniency and mercy to felons, our culture is moving in a harsher direction.

Of course, part of Northam’s issue in the present case is that he’s handled the entire situation in the worst way imaginable. On the front of The Virginian-Pilot, you’ll see two headlines that are both true, yet entirely impossible to square:

Ralph Northam admits he’s in ‘clearly racist’ photo; vows to serve out term amid calls for resignation.”

Ralph Northam denies he’s in racist photo, but calls for his resignation grow.”

Northam has admitted, apologized, denied, called for facial identification software, and asked for help from classmates, all within 24 hours. In a press conference, he also revealed an entirely different incident when he admitted he wore blackface when posing as Michael Jackson. When one reporter asked if Northam could still moonwalk, he almost tried — it took his wife to stop him.

In other words, it seems impossible for Northam to have handled this situation any more bizarrely or ineptly than he managed. You could make a strong case that his PR team deserves pink slips.

But again, this is where the left stands. If you’re a Heisman trophy winner with bad tweets from when you were a teenager, they want to destroy you. If you’re Brett Kavanaugh, they had you spend the second round of your Supreme Court confirmation hearings talking about yearbooks and calendars.

Indeed, if you have made any infraction, of any size, for anything, it means instant expulsion from society.

Some of this is good. The #MeToo movement has been great at rooting out abuse from evil people hiding in the darkness of secretive industries. But as I’ve written, there’s still tension there over how far the “believe women at all costs” line goes and affording a fair shake to the accused.

In the legal profession, we’ve built up a litany of standards and backstops to check for problems in assessing wrongdoing. Meanwhile, the political left spent multiple generations trying to tear down the moralistic standards of right and wrong, and they’re now trying to build a new cultural, moral code from scratch. It’s failing miserably so far, as they refuse to acknowledge the lessons our ancestors passed down through law and ethics.

By the left’s standards, Northam should resign in disgrace. And as a pro-lifer, it’s hard to feel much sympathy when Northam’s support for barbaric abortion legislation gets factored into the equation.

But situations like this have consequences, and the enforcement of harsh cultural codes — harsher than we’re trending in criminal justice reform — will eventually face blowback.

The election of Donald Trump was partially a response to decades of progressive cultural malfeasance, and as they continue trying to push this form of morality on everyone, the reactionary movement will only grow.

What we’re learning under this progressive cultural code is that their shame culture will ultimately destroy everyone. The Judeo-Christian worldview acknowledges that everyone is a sinner in need of mercy and salvation. The progressive moral code only recognizes the sin and calls for strict enforcement and punishment.

In this era, no one is safe.

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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.