The Myth of the Adult in the Room

National stories – about national principles – apply to places big and small, including Whitewater, Wisconsin. Monica Hesse’s John Kelly and the myth of the ‘adult in the room’ summarizes about a national figure a myth that’s common locally, too: If you can remember back to Kelly’s appointment, six thousand years ago in 2017, the…

The Incredible Shrinking Man

How very odd, truly, that even now Gov. Walker feels compelled to retweet a story from the MacIver Institute praising his tenure. (That organization’s motto –  ‘the free market voice for Wisconsin’ – is incredible: they’ve spent years boosting Walker’s corporate welfare and crony capitalism.  Walker’s shown no understanding of, or respect for, free-market economics.)…

A Site on Facebook: ‘Nothing on this page is real’

Standards have fallen so low that, whether of right or left, trolls take advantage of gullible and ignorant people on Facebook each day.  Eli Saslow reports how a liberal troll tricks impressionable conservatives.  The people tricking, and the people being tricked, are evidence of (respectively) ethical or educational decline.  First the unethical tricksters: He [forty-something Christopher Blair] had…

Wisconsin 2020

Craig Gilbert writes Wisconsin already expected to be a war zone for the 2020 presidential race: Almost everything about the Nov. 6 midterm election bolstered Wisconsin’s status as a top presidential target in 2020, when this state has no race for governor or U.S. Senate but can expect an all-out war over its 10 electoral votes.…

The Walker Cabinet Officers’ Open Letter

Four cabinet secretaries of the Walker Administration have come forward to criticize the governor, and three of them have co-written an open letter against Walker’s relentless emphasis on political gain over sound policies. One of the signatories of the letter is Paul Jadin, who was Walker’s first Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation leader. It says all…

Jennifer Rubin on ‘Three big ideas to bolster democracy’

Jennifer Rubin writes of three ideas to bolster democracy (enhanced voting rights, independent and non-partisan justice, and robust speech rights): First, Republicans, in an effort to hang on to their declining electoral advantage based on white voters, have tried every trick in the book to limit voting by those they suspect will favor Democrats. Hence,…

Hyper-Local Politics is Finished (It’s Just That Not Everyone Sees it Yet)

Hyper-localism in politics has affected – and harmed – Whitewater and countless other small towns. The idea that there were better local standards on economics, open government, and politics than the best American standards was always a truly risible conceit. The best standards on these matters were always broad and wide. (See How Many Rights for…

The Principle of Diversity Rests on Individual Rights

Some of Whitewater’s residents may have heard – because it’s been falsely told to them – that diversity – the inclusion of people from different backgrounds and characteristics – is a group value resting on subcultures of varying size. Hearing this, they’ve heard something else, too: that to abandon a particular leader in Hyer Hall…

Act Utilitarianism Isn’t Merely a National Scourge

Trump justifies his treatment of Christine Blasey Ford by the outcome of the Kavanaugh hearings: “It doesn’t matter. We won.”

One wouldn’t have to go to Washington, or wait for Trump to speak, to find this sort of act utilitarianism. Long before Trump’s 2016 campaign, officials and self-described community leaders in small towns across America shared a similar calculus. For the sake of some imagined overall gain, individual injuries and injustices have been swept aside.

And so, and so — officials justify financial and personal injuries to individuals on behalf of the supposed greater good of being ‘community-minded,’ of defending the ‘university family,’ or some such collective claim.

Trump’s act utilitarianism did not begin with Trump: it grew in cities and towns in which factions decided they’d take what they want, and conveniently sweep aside others by use of nebulous ‘community’ principles. (In the video above, Trump betrays his amorality early on, as he shrugs his shoulders when part of Christine Blasey Ford’s injury is recounted to him.)

In most of these cases of supposed collective gain, of course, it turns out to be a particular politician, particular businessman, or particular university official who reaps the most at the expense of ordinary individuals, but these community leaders would prefer one didn’t look too closely into that selfish benefit, thank you kindly.

Whether a highly-placed person’s selfish gain, or community’s supposed overall gain, the disregard for individual rights reveals a dark, calculating amorality.

Resolution & Defiance

Historian Blair L.M. Kelley describes What Civil Rights History Can Teach Kavanaugh’s Critics:

People watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony on monitors in an overflow room in the Dirksen Senate Building during Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings last month. Credit Damon Winter/New York Times

But in the end, these turn-of-the-20th-century African-American activists [in Richmond and dozens of other southern cities in 1904] could not stop Jim Crow’s advance. Their suits, sit-ins, letter-writing campaigns, boycotts, marches and impassioned pleas to lawmakers failed to make a difference when legislators were determined to segregate no matter the costs. Segregation or exclusion became the law of the land in the American South, and remained so for many years, separating black and white Southerners not only on trains and streetcars but also in schools, neighborhoods, libraries, parks and pools.

Progressives, liberals and sexual assault survivors and all those who desire a more just and decent America and who feel they lost when Kavanaugh was confirmed despite their protest should remember Mitchell, Plessy, Walker and Wells, along with Elizabeth Jennings, James Pennington, Lola Houck, Louis A. Martinet, Rodolphe Desdunes, P.B.S. Pinchback, W.E.B. DuBois, Mary Church Terrell, J. Max Barber and many others, including those whose names we do not know. All of these men and women were on the side of justice and lost. None of these people, who fought for full and equal public access as free citizens on trains and streetcars, stopped fighting. None abandoned what they knew was right. They all tried again. Most would not live to see things made right, but they continued.

Those who see Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a lost battle in the larger war for gender equality and dignity for women — and sexual assault survivors, specifically — should emulate the activists of generations past. They should keep organizing, connect with like-minded people, volunteer for organizations that advocate for survivors, consider running for office, and work on the campaigns of those they believe in. A week after his confirmation, a reminder is in order: Movements are about more than moments; they are about thoughtful networks of dissent built over time.

My scholarship has taught me that activism requires a certain resilience, and the willingness to be long-suffering in pursuit of the cause. I hope people remember this. I hope they keep going.