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One mad idea to bind them

SoVaNow.com / September 17, 2020
We need a new theory of general relativity to explain the wave of crazy in Halifax County and around the world.

Fistfights over mask-wearing in business establishments. Boogaloo Boys and militia types popping up in the national news and, lamentably, here at home. Blatant displays of bigotry passed off “civil debate.” Whining about “cancel culture” whenever someone else speaks up in opposition. Social media posters issuing calls for real or imagined warfare from the material comforts of their sofa.

What in high Hades is going on here?

That 2020 would be a year like none other was assured simply by virtue of this being a presidential election cycle, featuring the re-election campaign by an incumbent president who is .... um, a real piece of work. The background noise for Da Crazy was turned up to 11 when the coronavirus pandemic struck, forcing America to shelter at home to combat an unseen, slippery enemy. When the country reopened too quickly — a mistake compounded by the incompetent ministrations in Washington, especially the White House — conditions were ripe for a conflagration of conspiratorial nonsense. The western U.S. is literally on fire. The collective mental health of the country is not far behind.

Our community has hardly been immune to the madness. The latest example came last week when the Halifax County Board of Supervisors seriously entertained a motion to recognize the Halifax County Militia, a self-declared group of local gun toters, as an official county militia, which, to be clear, should not be an actual thing. Hopefully, the intense backlash to this startling Board resolution will have the effect of sobering up supervisors, who did postpone a vote. That missed bullet aside, it does behoove us to ask how matters ever arrived at this point.

Look: We don’t have to agree on politicals to understand that some speech— and action — crosses the line into the flatly unacceptable. Want to have a debate about school choice or tax cuts or abortion or race relations? Fine. These are all subjects of legitimate if uncomfortable discussion. But when our own local governing board — just to name the most recent example, there are others — tips towards defending (and championing) the indefensible, it becomes apparent that normal political conflict is giving way to something much more ominous.

It’s easy to blame Donald Trump for this sorry state of national affairs, and by all means, please stick our president with a huge share of the blame. When he isn’t a slave to his own comical insecurities and bottomless ego (“Hey everybody, get a load of me as I razzle-dazzle Bob Woodward”), Trump actively seeks to the divide the country at a time when it stands most in need of healing — as evidenced by the grim threshold the United States will cross this week, with 200,000 dead from the coronavirus. (Trump would like for you to believe his incessant lies that the pandemic is coming to an end, too.) Yet for all his manifest unfitness for office, the big question with Trump remains how he ever became president in the first place. One suspects he’s more the symptom of broken politics than the disease itself.

There will always be a place for political disputes in America, and good for us — the world would be a boring place if we all agreed on everything (or worse, were forced to agree on everything). But there have to be some mutually accepted rules of democratic governance in which certain norms are respected — starting with the right of all citizens to vote and fully take part in the political process. Only one of America’s two major parties shows any real respect for these norms — indeed, Joe Biden is running as a restorative president, one you won’t always agree with, but one from whom you’ll get a fair shake.

On the other side of the political ledger, the mounting tendency of national Republicans to cheat in elections is becoming more and more undeniable. For all their caterwauling about voter fraud, it’s Republicans who have been behind recent high-profile efforts to subvert elections — just look at Virginia’s Second Congressional District, where ex-Rep. Scott Taylor’s campaign engineered a fraudulent effort to get a third-party candidate on the 2018 ballot, or North Carolina CD-9, where a GOP political operative was convicted and sent to prison for an illegal balloting tampering scheme on behalf of Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris. (Harris’s apparent win in the NC-9 district was thrown out by a federal judge; in Scott Taylor’s 2018 Virginia Beach-area race, three of his campaign staffers have either been indicted or convicted for their roles in a fraudulent effort to get a third-party candidate on the ballot, and Taylor remains under investigation. (He’s running again this year to reclaim the VA-2 seat from Democrat Elaine Luria, the winner in 2018.) By the way, Virginia Republicans also are trying to place Kanye West on this year’s presidential ballot as a spoiler candidate despite the rap star’s inability to comply with petition signature requirements in Virginia. Finally, on the subject of alleged cheating at the ballox box, consider that President Trump’s hand-chosen voter integrity commission was disbanded in 2018 after the group found no evidence of fraud in balloting around in the U.S. Of course, Republicans have kept up a torrent of false claims on the subject since.

Against this assault against norms, good sense and a sense of fair play are our best defenses. It’s nice to think these bulwarks of society might hold — especially in hometowns where fair play and accountability would still seem to mean something. Yet we here have our own episodes of outright nuttiness to contend with, involving actions that are potentially much more serious than missteps by the Board of Supervisors.

One example has arisen in recent weeks — the social media blowup that ensued when former South Boston Police Cpl. Jerome George went rogue on Facebook, posting messages under an assumed name that advocated violence against protestors for racial justice. In one of his posts, George lionized accused murderer Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old kid with an assault rifle who fatally shot two protestors in Kenosha, Wis., as a hero. (The shootings occurred during protests against the police shooting of Jacob Blake.) Whatever you may think of what’s happening in America’s cities, in no discernible reality is it ever a good idea for a teenage kid with an AR-15 to play vigilante in the streets. What makes George’s fall from grace difficult to fathom is his (presumably) honorable record of service to community and country: this is, after all, a Navy veteran with a law enforcement career spanning nearly 26 years. (George chose to retire after his social media blowup erupted).

It’s one thing to be a hard-core, law-and-order conservative — whether we’re talking about cops or civilians. It’s quite another to go on Facebook and write posts inciting violence against protestors, the overwhelming majority of whom are peaceful. In the same vein, it’s also disturbing to see local newspaper letter writers spew all kinds of hateful nonsense only to find themselves with an amen chorus in their corner. I don’t know what to say in response to any of this except that I fervently hope people will start to lay off the far-right Kool-Aid and consider that careless words can have serious consequences. Some transgressions are too serious to ignore.

In the wake of the fatal shooting of George Floyd, no less than Rush Limbaugh went on the radio and said he believed deep-seated racism against Black people is a problem in America. Rush Limbaugh! As chance would have it, I was searching the internet this week to see when Limbaugh worked one of his less-successful gigs: as a color commentator for ESPN’s NFL pre-game show. Not everything about 2020 marks a new low: it was 20 years ago that Limbaugh first auditioned for the job, although he didn’t become a studio regular until 2003. He didn’t last long: Limbaugh was let go in a matter of weeks after opining that Donovan McNabb, at the time one of the best quarterbacks in the league, only got his job as Eagles quarterback because reporters were rooting for a Black quarterback. (‘’The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback can do well — black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well,” he said.) Limbaugh’s mouthy bigotry got him tossed out on the street — or more accurately, back into the right-wing bubble from whence he sprang.

Two decades on, it’s become a bigger bubble. But like all bubbles, this one is prone to popping. Maybe the Nov. 3 election will be the pin prick that deflates the zaniness and brings otherwise sensible people back down to earth. That’s hopeful thinking, of course. But if you want more insanity in your life — whether it’s coming from your local governing board or the highest councils in the land — one sure way to see that it happens is to not vote.

See everyone at the polls.

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