As political scandals go, the ones playing out right now in Virginia have been absolute spectacles.
Governor Ralph Northam has been in full apologist mode after photos surfaced from a college yearbook allegedly showing him in either blackface or KKK robes. A few days later, Attorney General Mark Herring admitted he once wore blackface as rapper Kurtis Blow at a college party when he was 19. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has, in one week, been accused of sexual assault by two different women.
Republicans watched as this series of events began to play out. As the condemnations began to roll in, they joined in on the piling on.
It’s been easy to do.
In Northam’s case in particular, he admitted to being in the offending 1984 photo and apologized. The very next day, he said that it wasn’t him — even as calls for him to resign were coming in from the highest levels of the Democratic party. He even suggested facial recognition technology might be able to confirm that neither of the people in the photo were him.
It’s also been easy to pile on because we’re watching Democrats being hoisted by their own petard. Republicans remember how then-Judge Kavanaugh was treated during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Yearbook photos from decades ago and handwritten comments were supposed to mean something. Quotes from old classmates who said he liked to get drunk were “proof” that Kavanuagh was a serial rapist. Without evidence, he was tried in the court of public opinion and subjected to malicious attempts at character assassination.
As a result of these blackface scandals, North Carolina journalists are tweeting photos from 197Os yearbooks that show university students in blackface, KKK outfits, and/or various Confederate clothing. Colleges — particularly in the South — are scouring their old yearbooks in an effort to find similar photos before someone else does.
These places are getting ahead of the game by airing their past dirty laundry in an effort to publicly atone and begin the healing. But at what cost to the individuals in the decades-old photos if they are ever identified? What of the lives they’ve made for themselves since?
By most accounts, Ralph Northam has led a pretty upstanding life since his time in college. He served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps for 8 years. He was a successful pediatric neurologist before jumping into the political arena and eventually getting elected governor of Virginia.
Northam did something stupid. In 1984. He’s probably done other stupid things along the way since then, but hopefully nothing as insensitive and hurtful.
He’s not alone. Government offices across the country are filled with elected officials of all stripes who’ve done shameful things early in life that they later regretted. It’s a safe bet the vast majority of them grew up, learned from their mistakes and became better people.
At what point when these types of scandals surface do we take into account the sum total of a person’s life, and tell them they are forgiven for what they did when they were young and naive? I’m not talking about something that could be considered a criminal offense, of course, but things that were done in extremely poor taste “back in the day” that a person wishes they could take back.
Should one instance of foolish and insensitive behavior define someone’s life forever?
As we watch the unraveling of the Democratic party machine in Virginia, GOP feelings of schadenfreude are understandable. Democrats are being forced to abide by the (double) standards that they (and the media) typically only hold Republicans to. On top of that, this all started because Gov. Northam unwittingly exposed the radically extreme abortion position of the Democratic party for the whole country to see.
But let’s not let chaos make us forget that forgiveness is a virtue people of various faiths teach their children about. People are flawed and they’re going to make mistakes in life. But, they can learn from the mistakes, be forgiven, and be better people as they get older.
What will our society be like in the future if the young people of today look at scandals like these and see otherwise decent people publicly put through the wringer because they did something regrettable when they were young adults? What incentive will there be for these young people to rise above and be better?
“A world with no mercy or grace is an ugly world indeed,” said columnist Ben Shapiro in a recent piece. He’s right. Sadly, we are headed in that direction.
Stacey Matthews is a veteran blogger who has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a regular contributor to Red State and Legal Insurrection.