Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The End Of A Trusting Society

How can you live in peace hen you have to worry about accusations destroying you?
Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 11.22.30 PM

A reader comments on the Kavanaugh-Ford controversy:

When my wife was a 7 year old girl in the USSR, she once blurted something out in public that was forbidden, to the horror of her parents, who (once they were alone at home) gave her one of the most important lectures for any Soviet child – that there is the truth we have at home by ourselves, the things we can say in front of a very few trusted friends, and then the “truth” that we say everywhere else, where you will constantly say things you know are untrue because that is how we survive here.

I think readers who are unfamiliar with such societies simply do not understand the cultural shift that is happening or the new precipice these so-called hearings have brought us to. It is not about what Brett Kavanaugh did or didn’t do when he was a teenager – anyone who thinks anyone in the Senate cares about that is so hopelessly naive they should be banished from participating in our “democracy”. It is about whether you can destroy someone’s life with nothing more than an accusation – by pointing your finger and saying “J’accuse”. **Even if it happened and he is lying** in the old America you do not destroy someone’s life unless you have at least some semblance of proof. We have no proof or evidence of any kind other than one woman’s memory. We have a lot of “feels” and projection and sort of a mass hysteria – in fact the whole atmosphere with the insane allegations that came afterward reminds me quite a lot of the child-care sex abuse hysteria of the 1980s, which also destroyed some people’s lives in the wake of a media-drummed up moral panic (sound familiar?).

This is not about #metoo. It is about weaponizing and politicizing #metoo, making it just one cynical tool in the arsenal of weapons we will use to destroy our enemies. Or, to be destroyed by our own. If, God forbid, my daughter ever faces some horrible such trauma, her story will be drowned in a sea of other stories, with no one able to determine fact from fiction from hysteria from rational, focused destruction. Her story will be judged based on her color, her politics, her ideology, and the usefulness of defending her or ignoring her or destroying her. Her story will be judged in a world where everyone knows you can get rid of any inconvenient friend, lover, boss, or complete stranger with one accusation. This is precisely the world that laid waste to social trust in Soviet Russia (and as portrayed in The Lives of Others so well). It is not a world I imagined even 10 years ago might be coming here.

But coming here it appears to be, and unstoppable at that. God help us.

When I was in Budapest earlier this year, hanging out with reader Anna, she told me that one of the greatest challenges of post-communist life in Hungary is that communism all but destroyed the ability of people to trust each other. You never knew who might be an informant — and one little mistake could cost you everything. Cultivating suspicion of everybody was a survival strategy, and not something easily unlearned.

Today, flying back from New York, I ran into someone in the Charlotte airport, a Christian pastor I’d met at an event last year. We spent about an hour talking about the rancor and distrust in our country. He’s involved in reconciliation ministry, which is to say, bringing people together across boundaries of distrust, and teaching them how to talk to each other.

I mentioned to him that I’d have conversations over the past few months with friends who broadly share my worldview and demographic characteristics (white, conservative, Christian, middle-aged), and I was surprised by how many of them say that they have deliberately chosen to socialize only with people like themselves. It’s not at all because they don’t want to talk to anybody who disagrees. It’s because they are afraid. 

Afraid of what? They’re afraid that if they say something that offends a liberal, there will be hell to pay. Whether it was something genuinely offensive that they said thoughtlessly, and are willing to apologize for, or whether it was something harmless that nevertheless caused offense to the liberal, they are afraid that they will be condemned as a hater. They are afraid that the aggrieved liberal will spread a tale of their wickedness on social media, and they will be left to defend themselves in a world in which their demographic qualities (race, religion, politics, social class, etc.) will be taken as dispositive evidence of their guilt. They are afraid that in the best-case scenario, the sort of thing that in earlier times would have been something people could discuss, even argue over, while remaining friends would now cause a social conflagration that would cost people friendships — and in the worst-case scenario, one error, real or imagined, could bring everything in their lives crashing down.

I said to the pastor that I don’t know how we escape this, given that social media is never going away. Somebody’s reputation can be destroyed with remarkable ease.

I learned in a conversation earlier today that a white friend of mine had been accused of a racist transgression, even though I have direct personal knowledge that he is not guilty — not even remotely close to guilty! Yet I learned that at least one relatively influential person believed the accusation, with no evidence, and said so on social media. I don’t know how this will end, but fortunately there are several of us with direct personal knowledge that this friend has been falsely accused. We can defend him if called on. But who are we as witnesses? We’re all white; the accuser is not. So anything could happen in this ideologized, increasingly hysterical culture, and an innocent man’s good name could be ruined, despite evidence or the lack thereof.

Look at what Brett Kavanaugh now has to put up with: an Erik Brady column in USA Today saying he shouldn’t coach his daughter’s basketball team because he might be a pervert. Excerpt:

The nation is deeply divided. Sometimes it feels like we don’t agree on anything anymore. But credibly accused sex offenders should not coach youth basketball, girls or boys, without deeper investigation. Can’t we all agree on that?

“Credibly accused”? This is beyond disgusting — and it’s in a major American newspaper. How does it differ from this, had USA Today been around in 1954:

The nation is deeply divided. Sometimes it feels like we don’t agree on anything anymore. But credibly accused communists should not work in Hollywood without deeper investigation. Can’t we all agree on that?

Gosh, I can’t imagine why Judge Kavanaugh was upset in his testimony, can you?

This is the world we are creating for ourselves.



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now