Monthly Archives: March 2019

Time Bombs

Offenses of the First Quarter, January-February-March, 2019
Voltaire, that incorrigible philosophe, the celebrated Enlightenment liberal and probable anti-Semite, may have been having fun when he reputedly told Mme. Emilie du Chatelet that “history is only a pack of tricks that we play upon the dead.” Which leads me to the probably not wholly original observation, pertinent to our discussion here, that the present is the greater joke that our ancestors have played on us. In fact, it’s the perfect crime.

The joke often comes in the form of time bombs left behind by departed predecessors who can no longer answer for their misdeeds. That’s because until recently “history” took its time, playing out slowly over several generations to our present day. Lately, however, we have been blessed, if it’s a blessing, with a great cultural foreshortening. Today some makers of history live long and well enough into their own greatly altered futures to yoke themselves to the punchlines of their own jokes.

Here I have in mind our featured offenders for the first three months of 2019: Rep. Steve King (R.-Iowa), Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va), and Maryland Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford County). I stick with these three, from a longer list of offensive talkers, because the rules direct that, except in rare circumstances, there be only one Offender of the Month.

I remind you that in mid-January Congressman King was stripped of committee assignments and rebuked by the U.S. House of Representatives for essentially supporting white supremacy. His exact line, quoted in a piece in The New York Times: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

On February 1, it transpired that Governor Northam had appeared in his Virginia medical school yearbook in 1984 next to a picture of a student in blackface and another person in the white hood and robes of the Ku Klux Klan. Whether he was one of those depicted remains obscure. Why such pictures are in a medical school yearbook is also puzzling, and many schools are now undertaking to find out why.

In late February, the Maryland House of Delegates censured Del. Lisanti because she labeled a particular majority-black Maryland House district a “n —– district,” as most newspapers delicately put it. (I am cheating slightly here; she made the statement in January, the story broke in February, and it continued to play out in March.) Continue reading