Washington Elite’s Stalinist Halloween
Here’s how the story appears on the web front page of the Washington Post right now:
A stupid costume choice at a Halloween party two years ago is front-page news in the newspaper of record in the capital city of the Empire? What on earth? Here’s a link to the whole story. I read it first with bemusement at the moral panic, and then finally, with horror over what we are doing to ourselves.
Tom Toles, the Post‘s liberal Baby Boomer cartoonist, has a big Halloween party every year, in which the city’s media elite gather. In 2018, a white woman showed up in a tasteless costume:
A middle-aged white woman named Sue Schafer wore a conservative business suit and a name tag that said, “Hello, My Name is Megyn Kelly.” Her face was almost entirely blackened with makeup. Kelly, then an NBC morning show host, had just that week caused a stir by defending the use of blackface by white people: “When I was a kid, that was okay, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”
Honestly, what kind of white idiot shows up in blackface these days? Granted, this was 2018, but blackface was extremely taboo then. That’s what Schafer’s joke was about: how Megyn Kelly got herself in a world of trouble by suggesting that blackface was not that big a deal.
Anyway, that’s what Schafer did. Partygoers Lexie Gruber (who is Puerto Rican) and Lyric Prince (who is black) confronted her about it. Schafer protested that it was a joke, that she was making fun of Megyn Kelly. Later, the pair confronted Schafer again:
But then Gruber and her friends moved inside, got drinks and found themselves in the crowded living room. Prince, who is 6-foot-1, easily spotted the woman in blackface and pointed her out to Gruber. “What should we do?” Prince said.
She approached Schafer. Prince said she criticized Schafer’s makeup and told her, “You look horrible” — a way of “clapping back” at the blackface without addressing race head-on. Prince said in an interview that she was worried about being stereotyped as an “angry black woman,” worried that someone might call the police.
“I felt very unsafe talking to that person in the first place,” she said. “I was in an environment that, if it got heated, it would decidedly not be in my best interest.”
Another guest, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect friendships, said Schafer laughed after Prince said her makeup was “very ugly.”
Gruber also said that “the woman basically just started laughing.”
Schafer agreed that she laughed but said that it was a nervous laugh, a sign of extreme discomfort, and that it came “only when she told me that I was ugly and had wrinkles. She told me, ‘You think you’re so meta,’ and I didn’t say anything. I didn’t argue with her.”
Prince said of Schafer: “She looked very proud of herself, as if she was eliciting the kind of response that she had been hoping for.”
Prince, a young woman who is over six feet tall, at a DC Halloween party hosted by a liberal newspaper cartoonist, felt “unsafe” because this middle-aged woman was wearing blackface. Offended? Sure. Appalled? Absolutely. But unsafe? Bullsh*t. This is Social Justice Warrior cant. I first heard it myself at a table in DC’s Adams-Morgan district in 1994, when I was having lunch with three liberal female friends, all of us in our twenties. One of them, seeing me cross myself before eating, asked if I was Catholic. Yes, I said. She asked if I was pro-life. Yes, I said. Then they all cut loose on me. One of the women, someone I had only met that morning, began trembling, and said she felt “unsafe” in the presence of someone who held my beliefs.
Anyway, there was a scene:
Three witnesses described Gruber as “yelling” at Schafer, and Gruber said that “there wasn’t a single person in that party who didn’t hear me when I spoke.”
Gruber and her friends left the party immediately after the confrontation.
Schafer said that after the confrontation, she walked into the next room, “tried dancing and it just didn’t feel right, so I left.” She didn’t want a cabdriver to see her in blackface, so she had her cousin, who was at the party, drive her home.
The next day, says Schafer, she wrote an e-mail to Toles and his wife to apologize. She said she hadn’t meant harm, but had made a terrible mistake. More:
On her Facebook page, Schafer posts often about her opposition to President Trump and her support of immigrants, gun control, gay rights and anti-racism causes, including photos she took at marches and demonstrations she attended.
Schafer said she has spent many hours in therapy talking about “how carelessly I behaved. I’m deeply ashamed.”
This activist white liberal spent hours in therapy because she made a dumb, offensive joke that she intended to be making fun of someone she considered racist, but that was taken as racist. Sounds like she was extremely remorseful. You might be wondering why she didn’t call Gruber and Prince to apologize. It might have something to do with the fact that neither woman knew Tom Toles. They had come to the party as strangers.
Schafer wasn’t the only one in therapy.
Prince, too, has sought to work through the events of the evening with a therapist. “It was a humiliating experience for me,” she said. “I felt threatened and physically and emotionally exposed. . . . I felt powerless in a way that I never want to feel again.”
Liberals, my gosh.
Well, you know where this is going. Nearly two years later, in light of the Black Lives Matter moment, Gruber saw her chance. She contacted Toles, the party host, whom she didn’t know, and demanded that he participate in the public humiliation of his friend. From the Post:
Gruber felt compelled to revive the 2018 incident. Last week, she emailed Toles, whom she has never met.
“In 2018, I attended a Halloween party at your home,” she wrote. “I understand that you are not responsible for the behavior of your guests, but at the party, a woman was in Blackface. She harassed me and my friend — the only two women of color — and it was clear she made her ‘costume’ with racist intent.”
Gruber, a 27-year-old management consultant, told Toles that the incident had “weighed heavily on my heart — it was abhorrent and egregious.” She asked him to help her identify the woman.
Because he is a human being, Toles was reluctant to identify Schafer to this perfect stranger who meant her ill. Then Gruber, a consultant at Accenture who had a traumatic childhood, pulled out the progressive big guns:
But Toles did not give Gruber the woman’s name, and Gruber reacted sharply: “Hiding her name is a deliberate act of white privilege and cowardice, not friendship.”
Denounce your friends, or else! Toles offered to bring the parties together so Schafer could apologize and ask for forgiveness. Gruber wasn’t having it. She demanded a public apology:
She told Toles that he was not innocent in the conflict: “As you well know,” Gruber wrote, “we are an extension of the company we keep.”
Denounce your friends or else stand accused of being complicit with racism! With Gruber’s moral blackmail hanging over everybody’s head, the Post began working on a story about this incident involving their cartoonist. Then this happened today:
On Wednesday, after Schafer informed her employer, a government contractor, about the blackface incident and The Post’s forthcoming article, she was fired, she said.
Read it all. It’s long and very detailed. In fact, the length of the thing is part of the moral horror of what happened.
My first thought was that this is a real Bonfire of the Vanities moment in which Washington liberals destroy each other. Ha ha! You fools made this world for yourselves. Enjoy living in it!
But then I thought about how these vicious women, Gruber and Prince, destroyed this foolish woman’s life. She’s 54 years old, and has been publicly humiliated over a bad joke, and lost her job. She’ll be lucky to work again now, with this taint. Gruber refused the opportunity for Schafer to express remorse personally, and, in effect, compelled Toles to participate in the denunciation of his friend. And the Washington Post, which ought to have refused to have any part in the sleazy Gruber-Prince vendetta, dutifully and disgustingly went along with the progressive script, playing a key role in the destruction.
The Czech writer Milan Kundera’s first novel, The Joke, is about Ludvik, a student in Stalinist-era Czechoslovakia who is an enthusiastic Communist. Trying to tease a young comrade he finds to be too serious about politics, he tells a dumb joke making fun of the Communist Party, and is quickly denounced by all his friends. He is sent away to spend years working in a mine with other “subversives,” and his life is radically changed, leaving him permanently embittered.
In researching Live Not By Lies, I ran across lots of real-life stories like this. The story of Rudolf Dobias was one of the worst — and it is relevant to this DC story. Here is Dobias in his house in rural Slovakia, telling me the story of his imprisonment:
When he was 20, and Czechoslovakia was still in the grips of High Stalinism, Mr. Dobias was arrested on charges of treason. He belonged to a Catholic scouting organization, and was falsely believed to have drawn a cartoon making fun of Stalin and Czech leader Klement Gottwald (both of whom had died by then, but it didn’t matter). Mr. Dobias was sentenced to 18 years in a prison labor camp, and sent to work in a uranium mine.
At 84, Mr. Dobias is in bad shape. He told us that his body is in pain all the time. Still, he sat for a 90 minute interview with me for my upcoming book. He insisted in our conversation that in prison, he was free, because he had interior freedom. As young as he was, the older men in prison with him, including a Catholic priest, took him on as a son, and encouraged him all the time, telling him that he was on the right path. He credits those men with deepening his faith in God by teaching him how to regard suffering as a means of drawing closer to Him. Notice that the comfort here was that his intense suffering was made bearable because it had meaning. That, and it was shared by all. Like everyone I’ve interviewed from the underground church on this trip, Dobias emphasized how indispensable it is to have close friends when you are persecuted.
After his release, Mr. Dobias struggled to find work, being a former political prisoner. He ended up as a miner, having to live away from home for long stretches. Even his children suffered. His little boy, for example, was not allowed to attend kindergarten because his father had been an enemy of the state. Mr. Dobias began writing successful children’s literature in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until after communism ended in 1989 that he was allowed to turn to writing literature for adults. Now he is now considered one of his country’s greatest writers.
He wasn’t even guilty of the joke, but Rudolf Dobias still paid for it heavily, and so did his family.
Sue Schafer is not being sent off to the uranium mines. But she will never be the same, because of her stupid mistake, because of the toxic twins Lexie Gruber and Lyric Prince, and the monsters who run the Washington Post, did what they did. An exquisite irony: Five days before Halloween 2018, Megyn Kelly lost her job at NBC simply for having been perceived as minimizing blackface. Schafer, a liberal activist, put on blackface to mock Kelly, who had been ruined professionally not for wearing blackface, but for seeming to minimize its offensiveness.
This is the world the progressives and their institutions like the Washington Post have created for us all. If you think it’s only going to affect them, you’re very, very wrong. These totalitarians are making it impossible to have a normal society. Here is a relevant passage from Live Not By Lies:
Kamila Bendova sits in her armchair in the Prague apartment where she and her late husband, Václav, used to hold underground seminars to build up the anti-communist dissident movement. It has been thirty years since the fall of communism, but Bendova is not about to lessen her vigilance about threats to freedom. I mention to her that tens of millions of Americans have installed in their houses so-called “smart speakers” that monitor conversations for the sake of making domestic life more convenient. Kamila visibly recoils. The appalled look on her face telegraphs a clear message: How can Americans be so gullible?
To stay free to speak the truth, she tells me, you have to create for yourself a zone of privacy that is inviolate. She reminded me that the secret police had bugged her apartment, and that she and her family had to live with the constant awareness that the government was listening to every sound they made. The idea that anybody would welcome into their home a commercial device that records conversations and transmits them to a third party is horrifying to her. No consumer convenience is worth that risk.
“Information means power,” Kamila says. “We know from our life under the totalitarian regime that if you know something about someone, you can manipulate him or her. You can use it against them. The secret police have evidence of everything like that. They could use it all against you. Anything!”
Kamila pointed out to me the scars along the living room wall of her Prague apartment where, after the end of communism, she and her husband had ripped out the wires the secret police used to bug their home. It turns out that no one in the Benda family uses smartphones or emails. Too risky, they say, even today.
Kamila and her son Patrik showed me their phones that night. They are not smartphones; the Bendas believe it’s too risky to have phones connected to the Internet. I thought that night that they really were scarred by their experiences under communism, and are maybe too paranoid. I don’t think that anymore. A couple of days ago I interviewed an American source who works for the Democratic Party, on the subject of cancel culture. He would only speak to me through an encryption service, and warned me strongly that it’s far too risky to communicate otherwise. If he had said that to me just a few months ago, I would have thought him paranoid too. Not anymore.
Researching the book, I learned that people living under communism had to be extremely careful about their social lives. You never knew who might be an informer. A single careless word might change your life forever, if the wrong person heard it, and wanted to hurt you. Imagine how that deforms society. In Budapest, a young Hungarian told me that Hungarian society has not recovered from the damage that aspect of communism did to civil society. Even today, three decades after the end of communism, she said, Hungarians still struggle to trust each other. When one false word, one dumb joke, can destroy your life, paranoia is a survival skill.
Again: we do not have gulags here, nor do we have secret police. But we are creating something similar. You now have to be extremely careful about your social circles. It ought to have been obvious to Sue Schafer that you don’t put on blackface in any context in this day and age. She made a mistake that she will be paying for for years to come. But what if Schafer had gotten into a conversation at the Toles party with these two, Gruber and Prince, and offered the opinion that Megyn Kelly had been treated too harshly for her blackface comments? What if they had gotten into a shouting match over it, and Lyric Prince decided that she felt “unsafe” in the presence of a white person who defended blackface-adjacent Megyn Kelly? And what if, two years on, Lexie Gruber decided to telephone Tom Toles and threaten to tar him as a racist for being friends with a woman who, at his party, defended a media figure who had lost her job for minimizing the offensiveness of blackface?
Do you think this story would have ended up differently under those circumstances? I don’t. I think we would be at exactly this same place.
Here’s the thing: it is fast becoming too risky to socialize with people you don’t know and trust. How can you be sure that a joke you tell, or an opinion you offer at a party, something that is said within the hearing of a SJW monster like Lexie Gruber, won’t be used against you on social media to destroy your reputation, get you fired, make you unemployable, and so forth? You can’t be. You think a heartfelt personal apology will save you from ruin? Not with toxic SJWs like Gruber and Prince on the prowl. People are going to have to withdraw from spending time socially with those who cannot be trusted. And the circles of trust are going to grow smaller as the stakes grow bigger, and paranoia abounds.
This is what it means to live in a soft totalitarian society. The government has nothing to do with it. The secret police didn’t come for Sue Schafer and her circle. Two merciless woke young women, and the Washington Post, did. We are doing it to ourselves. Correction: we are not doing it to ourselves; liberals and progressives are, aided and abetted by the disgraceful media. I have always thought Donald Trump was outrageous, even dangerously authoritarian, to call the media “the enemy of the people.” Now? Not so much.
Read that Post story. It is a kind of obituary for a free society.
UPDATE: Robby Soave of Reason lashes the story. Excerpts:
Suffice it to say, this is not a story that needed to be told. The woman is not famous, she does not appear to hold any power, and is not seeking public office. But because two of the aggrieved guests—a pair of young, progressive women—are still raw about it, and because we are living through a moment where no single person’s humiliation is too trivial to earn them a reprieve from the forces of cancel culture, a pair ofreporters have exhaustively chronicled the incident in a 3,000-word article for…The Washington Post.
Brace yourself before diving in, because this is one of the worst newspaper articles of all time. Between the elite media navel-gazing, the smug sanctimony of the cancelers, the absurd one-sidedness of the narrative structure, the spirit of revenge taken to an odious extreme, it’s hard not to come away feeling nauseated. Unfortunately, it’s so emblematic of the rising dual trends of activist journalism and unforgiving progressivism that I’m going to go into some detail here.
It’s astonishing that this article—a story about a long-ago Halloween party attended by the Post‘s own staff and principally involving three private persons—made it to print, and everyone involved in its publication should be deeply ashamed. That includes Prince and Gruber, but also Fisher and Trent, and their editors. As far as cancel culture goes, this is a new and depressing low point.
Meanwhile, law professor Eugene Volokh writes about the appalling story. He compares it directly to McCarthyism, in which the senator smeared a man for once having been part of the National Lawyers Guild, attached to the Communist Party USA. Volokh:
There’s no particular individual figure in this story like Sen. McCarthy. But there is a broad segment of a broad social movement happy to use personal destruction as a weapon—a segment that is so focused on the evil of its core enemies (Communism and racism both serve well here) that recklessness, cruelty, and loss of a sense of decency naturally emerge, and directed at far more than the true Communists and racists. And there aren’t a lot of Joseph Welches who will stand by the people who work for them, and thus risk themselves and their enterprises likewise being targeted.