“Trust, But Verify.”
I first learned about the attack on Jussie Smollett when the news was blowing up on social media. My immediate reaction was one of horror and sympathy. However, once I began to read about the details of the attack, my antennae went up.
Mr. Smollett is a black man who is gay, and that made him the perfect target. His claim that the attackers put a rope around his neck and poured bleach on him powerfully re-enforced the victimization narrative on the left. The fact that his attackers also proclaimed proudly “this is MAGA country” seemed to leave no room for doubt in the minds of the left, in terms of the presumption of guilt.
Journalists and celebrities immediately seized on the attack as vindication of the fact that Mr. Trump’s rhetoric was responsible for another reprehensible attack. Politicians, who are supposed to keep their heads when all of us are losing ours, also rushed to judgement. Democratic presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris and Corey Booker, who were preparing for a Senate vote on a bi-partisan anti-lynching bill, used the attack as proof of “modern-day lynching”.
The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, tweeted that “The racist, homophobic attack on Jussie Smollett is an affront to our humanity” and Adam Schiff, the head of the House’s investigative panel tweeted that he had personally met with Jussie Smollett and had “…seen the passion and moral clarity of his activism first hand”. Both have since deleted their tweets.
I am not suggesting that I knew that Mr. Smollett was lying; I had not even considered the possibility. The problem for me was that the whole thing felt perfect, almost scripted to fit the narrative on the left about Trump and anyone who voted for him; and that bothered me.
In addition, I also thought it best to reserve judgement on the heels of the media’s recently botched Covington Catholic School student’s story. That was another case of a dangerous rush to judgement before the full facts were apparent. We now know that the boys, who were summarily branded racist Trump supporters by the mainstream media, have been fully vindicated. The Washington Post noted that an independent investigation into the incident revealed “no evidence of ‘racist or offensive statements’ by Covington Catholic students.”
It turns out the Native American man, who claimed to be the victim of the boys’ racist taunts, lied about it, and the offensive and racist chants came from a group calling themselves the black Hebrew Israelites. It would seem that the boys’ only crime was wearing MAGA hats.
Yet, here we were again with media, politicians and celebrities presuming innocence and blindly attributing guilt before the police had even launched their investigation. More worryingly, even after Mr. Smollett refused to hand over his cellphone to the police, the conviction of many was not shaken. It would seem these people were not interested in the facts, so confident in the belief that a gay man, a man of colour, a liberal would never lie, leave alone do anything as heinous as fake the whole crime.
We live in an age where social media encourages a constant rush to judgement, on both the left and the right. We seek refuge in events that fit a pre-determined narrative and we side only with those who confirm our biases, while rejecting outright any facts that challenge them. This ensures a loss of integrity and fair-mindedness in our debates. Further, there is a growing trend, on both sides, to gauge “truth” based not on hard facts but on political beliefs, sex or colour of skin.
What is even more troubling is that there is a nonsensical belief among many on the left that anyone who did not vote for Trump has some claim to moral superiority, and is a better human being. For example many on the left accept as gospel that anyone who voted for Trump is a racist, and Clinton voters are not. If that is true, then how do we explain the fact that over 8 million people who voted for Obama in 2012 chose Trump in 2016? Or an IPSOS/Reuters poll from 2016 that found nearly one-third of Clinton supporters described black people as more “violent” and “criminal” than whites; this is not an insignificant number. A more recent study done by Yale University also found that Democrats and white liberals have a tendency to downplay their own verbal competence in exchanges with racial minorities, while there was no statistical significance when it came to Republicans.
The fact is that no group has any moral or ethical superiority over another based on religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation or skin colour. If this were true, we would still have faith in the Catholic Church and Bill Cosby would be ‘America’s Dad’. It is true that minorities have suffered disproportionately more discrimination than their white counterparts in this country, but none of this changes the fact that we still need to judge every person based on his or her actions, and the punishment must fit the crime. There is a good reason why justice is meant to be blind.
Indian, Jewish, White, Muslim, Black or Asian husbands are all equally likely to cheat on their wives or beat them. Similarly, it is ludicrous to suggest that liberal women cheat more often than conservative women, or suggest that gay men cheat less than straight men. People are people and all human beings have the same propensity for good and bad within them - it depends entirely on the individual; as an Indian social activist who spent his life championing minority rights eloquently said “no community has a monopoly over virtue or vice”.
As long as we fail to see the faults in the people we love, or to acknowledge the virtues in those we profess to hate and continue to apply different standards to both for the same actions, we will only serve to propagate bigotry and division. If we truly want an equal society, then the question we all need to answer is “do we want to live in a country that judges everyone based on the content of their character, or the colour of their skin?”