Columnists > Voices
Krieg Barrie

Crimes against the party

Culture | In our brave new world, scorched earth warfare has become socially acceptable

Issue: "Bright or rotten idea?," Oct. 5, 2013

“I am so ashamed and disgusted with myself. I want to apologize. I have been offensive. I have apologized to my coach … and to my teammates. I owe an apology to the fans and to this community. I am so ashamed, but there are no excuses. What I did was wrong and I will accept the consequences” (Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper, after his use of the N-word at a concert went viral).

I don’t know, this apology doesn’t do it for me. Where is the offer of his first-born child? I mean, Todd Akin lost his future in politics—which is only fair: He shouldn’t have said “legitimate” when he meant “actual.” The noble media hath told us Akin was insensitive to women. If it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Akin answered it. We can be comforted that Southern cooking maven Paula Deen at least had her terror-stricken, mascara-streaked face plastered on every tabloid, with $7.5 million in endorsements and $5 million in TV and restaurant deals publicly stripped from her.

“Gotcha” existed when I was a kid, and probably long before the satraps of Persia set Daniel up and then reported him to King Darius (Daniel 6:3-9). But generally speaking, if someone made an ignorant remark, we used to say, “That was an ignorant remark,” and move on. What is different today is that gotcha is institutionalized, ravenous, and insatiable: Scorched earth warfare is socially acceptable. My daughter told me that if you want to get someone in trouble in high school, drop the R-word (“racist”) in a circle of onlookers and walk away. The poison starts acting immediately.

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The other notable aspect of the modern gotcha is its expanded application. We no longer reserve it for murder, larceny, and graft, but employ it for careless word slippage. Even in the case of more serious transgressions, Jesus evinced a distinct distaste for gotcha, and sent an adulterous woman on her way when the Pharisees were too gleeful in reporting her (John 8:3-12). My earliest moral teaching was dispensed by Aunt Pris the day a cadre of us cousins came to elicit her righteous wrath upon another cousin for some minor infraction, and she instead turned her ire on us for our treacherous motives.

The miserable Cooper, Deen, and Akin apologies sounded so oddly familiar. Nikita Khrushchev said, in his 1956 speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, “Stalin originated the concept ‘enemy of the people.’ This term automatically rendered it unnecessary that the ideological errors of a man or men engaged in a controversy be proven. This term made possible the usage of the cruel repression … against … those who were only suspected of hostile intent. … This concept ‘enemy of the people’ actually eliminated the possibility of … making one’s views known on this or that issue, even those of a practical character. In the main … the only proof of guilt used … was the confession of the accused himself, and, as subsequent probing proved, confessions were acquired through physical pressures against the accused.”

One Russian example from many: On Feb. 2, 1940, Comrade Eike, arrested in 1938 for slander, had had enough, and told the court how he made “the so-called confessions of mine … under pressure from the investigative judge. … After that I began to write all this nonsense.” Contemporary American culture doesn’t yet use the “physical pressures” Khrushchev cited—unless you call career loss physical. 

One American example: The Missouri State Fair Commission last month banned a rodeo clown who wore an Obama mask “from ever participating” again in the state fair, and a second clown who called Obama a clown profusely apologized. Before the state fair does anything with the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association again, it must receive “proof that all officials and subcontractors of the MRCA have successfully participated in sensitivity training.” (Perhaps they will share a cellblock with football player Cooper at the rehabilitation center.) 

The NAACP, outraged, has demanded a Justice Department investigation into the clowns’ hate crime. I surely wouldn’t want to be the one who speaks out urging moderation on that one. No siree, I say we draw and quarter the guy. “O brave new world, That has such people in’t” (William Shakespeare, The Tempest).

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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