Alden Graves | Graves Registry: A flimsy excuse for a stupid decision


First of all, let me state that I sincerely hope I am not making the following argument simply because the victim of one of the nation's current epic scandals is a Democrat. I probably am offering a sort of defense for Virginia governor Ralph Northam because he is, but I'd still like to believe that this particular incident highlights our inclination to take a very worthy cause and run with it to extents that border on the ridiculous.

The premise of my argument is an old warhorse of an excuse: We all do stupid things when we are young. Flimsy, tired, and worn, I know.

A little background first. It is a wonder that the Republican Party and its slavish servitude to the best interests of the very rich has managed to convince a good share of the population in America that this devotion is somehow good for them. The top 10 percent now average more than nine times the income of the bottom 90 percent.

The "historic" tax reform bill that was passed in 2017 was a godsend to the rich and a crust of stale bread to the rest of us. Typically sold to the public as a stimulus for business expansion and job growth, it has accomplished so little of what was hyped that GOP candidates running for reelection last fall went out of their way not to mention it.

I don't understand why the clouds haven't parted enough to let a ray of light penetrate into the minds of middle class Republicans in this country, but then I didn't make it very far into Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying" either. The point is that the GOP has managed to do just that for a very long time.

Lyndon Johnson's commitment to the Civil Rights Act proved enormously beneficial to GOP maneuvering. Republicans, I have to admit, recognized an opportunity when one came along and they grabbed it. Among other humanitarian, enlightened, and progressive aspects of the bill were provisions that outlawed discrimination in public schools and prohibited unequal voter registration requirements.

In the Southern states, it was like lighting a fuse. The explosion of white anger and indignation at the gross insult to their history and traditions of entrenched bigotry was exploited so skillfully that a considerable area of the United States has been in GOP control ever since.

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Referring back to the bill's provision concerning equal voting rights, the biggest laugh of the week was not provided by one of the president's inane tweets or by old reliable humorists like Kellyanne Conway and Rudy Giuliani. This one was delivered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who called a Democratic proposal to make Election Day a federal holiday "a political power grab" with his trademark doom-laden face.

What Mr. McConnell is no doubt painfully aware of is the fact that Democrats traditionally benefit from high voter turnouts (witness the elections last fall). What he is saying, in effect, is that the only way for the GOP to maintain its level of power and prominence is to discourage the fundamental American right to vote as much as possible. That is exactly what the GOP has been doing, courtesy of people like Kris Kobach, dedicated "birther" and the momentary head of Trump's laughable Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

So before McConnell disingenuously dismisses the holiday proposal as politically motivated, he might take a lingering look at his own party's zealous efforts to fix the outcomes of elections by means considerably less admirable than giving working people a greater chance to get to the polls.

Gov. Northam has been heaped with scorn and urged to resign over the surfacing of a photograph taken 35 years ago for his medical school yearbook. Northam is in blackface in the photo and, more damning, he is standing next to someone garbed in Ku Klux Klan bed sheets and pointy hat. It was an incredibly dumb decision for him to make, but who among us didn't make incredibly dumb decisions when we were young?

Donald Trump, Jr. (and was ever there a person to whom the appellation of "junior" was more fitting?) tweeted that Northam would be gone by now if he were a Republican, thus offering McConnell's "power grab" comment some real competition as the biggest laugh-grabber. Not that long ago, his father was calling members of a white supremacists group involved in the deadly confrontation in Charlottesville "good people."

The Northam incident vividly illustrates the magnitude of the hypocrisy that exists in the Republican Party today. Imagine the gall of an organization headed by Donald Trump that has the effrontery to offer a moral position on anything. And what is any so-called moral victory really worth when you had to bed down with the devil to achieve it?

But Gov. Northam will probably have to go and maybe my reservations about inflicting such a heavy punishment upon an accomplished man for exhibiting such misguided judgment in his youth are misplaced. We have recently experienced the ugly specter of white supremacy here in Bennington and it should have served to remind us all that, in their pathetic zeal to assert superiority simply by virtue of being a member of the white race, the proponents of white supremacy only degrade the value of being a member of the human race.

Alden Graves writes a regular column for the Banner.


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