Quick random thoughts on Ralph Northam.

As of my writing on Super Bowl Sunday, Ralph Northam is still governor of Virginia.

To recap: on Friday, an opposition research site made public a photograph of purportedly Ralph Northam, which appeared on his page in his 1984 medical school yearbook. The photo showed one man in blackface, one man in a KKK hooded robe.

In 1984 Ralph Northam was 25 years old, old enough to know, not only that this was unwise for political reasons, but more importantly that this revealed racism, callousness and a lack of empathy in his psychological makeup. Furthermore, 1984 Virginia was not devoid of enlightened people who found that kind of behavior abhorrent. In less than a decade, Virginia would elect its first African American governor, Doug Wilder.

Condemnation was swift, as it should have been. A disastrous press conference by Northam made things worse. While at first he said he was one of the two men in the photograph, he later denied it, but mentioned a separate instance where he appeared in blackface to impersonate Michael Jackson. He apologized for his behavior and begged for forgiveness.

Notably, some figures in the African American community have so far refrained from judgment. Justin Fairfax, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, himself an African American, stands to gain from Northam’s resignation, and has remained silent. Gloating over the demise of a rival’s political career is perilous – as exemplified in the alacrity of some soon-to-be presidential candidates to destroy Al Franken (which might have been the right thing to do AFTER some examination and deliberation).

This is where I start squirming – and I think I am not the only one. Ralph Northam’s opponent in the 2018 election was Ed Gillespie, whose truly despicable campaign relied on racist tropes and created a climate of fear. Northam was elected with overwhelming support from the African American community. Had he come clean with his racist past, he might still have been elected – and have been truly forgiven. Begging forgiveness after being caught demonstrates a lack of honesty and courage.

A large segment of the US population sees itself as belonging to a religious tradition – in Virginia, mostly Christian. Agnostics and atheists also see forgiveness as important to the social compact. The belief that a person can change is also a central tenet of many faiths and ethics. But you cannot be forgiven unless you exhibit true contrition and are willing to atone for your sins or mistakes. In my view, Ralph Northam cannot keep enjoying the fruits of an election in which the people who elected him were kept in the dark about some aspects of his past. He must resign not for political reasons, but for moral/ethical ones.

Disclaimer: these are Marie-Anne’s personal views, written on the fly – please don’t shoot me if you disagree. I am alone responsible for posting this, as it may not reflect the views of the Rockwall County Democrats, a diverse and lovely bunch.

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