The Wrong Martyrs

April 4, 2019 Updated: April 4, 2019


Whatever happened to Christine Blasey Ford, the accuser of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh? She was everywhere one day and nowhere the next.

And Nathan Phillips, too, who first appeared worldwide as a noble sufferer of a bunch of white kids in MAGA hats? He disappeared within a few days, it seemed, once the full video of the encounter at the Lincoln Memorial came out.

And Jussie Smollett is another case of a vanishing martyr, although his obvious love of the camera will continue to produce further appearances (though not as a victim).

Stormy Daniels enthralled the liberal critics of President Donald Trump, but we haven’t seen her in quite a while. Her attorney, Michael Avenatti, was the toast of the talk shows for a time, but he fell off until his recent arrest.

Liberal journalists and commentators leaped to make an example of them, and then went silent. They couldn’t help themselves. These individuals in their moment of renown appeared classic victims of toxic masculinity, white supremacy, U.S. imperialism, and Trump’s venality—conditions so powerful and unambiguous in the liberal vision that the blows these people putatively endured are indubitable and decisive.

But how in the world, we must ask at this time, did so many intelligent and worldly professionals put so much trust in these complainants?

The ones who run the newsrooms at the networks and who write jokes for late-night commentators are at the top of their fields. They have experiences of all kinds of personalities in their journey up the career ladder. One would assume they’ve acquired the ability to discern the credible from the incredible, the firm from the slippery, the plausible from the implausible. Above all, they should have learned to be sharp judges of character.

But it only takes a mild dose of common sense to listen to Smollett performing on screen and figure something is off, not only in the story itself—a noose, bleach, a sub-freezing night in Chicago—but also in Smollett’s language and mannerisms.

And to give credence to a charge of assault from 35 years before, dimly remembered and completely uncorroborated, when the accused was 17 and the accuser 15, was to give up all norms of practical judgment, not to mention due process. Liberalism used to insist on “innocent until proven guilty.” Now, it demands automatic faith in the accuser, if the accuser comes from a historically disadvantaged group.

Intelligent people don’t make such gross mistakes unless they have embraced a social vision that makes people appear in a certain way. Victimology is the thing at work here.

Liberals seized the aforementioned people as innocent and tragic figures, because liberals have a conception of U.S. history that defines them that way. The Native American elder, a religious man in the middle of his rite (so it was said), stood for three centuries of massacre and degradation wreaked upon his people by white men. The noose around Smollett’s neck recalled the heydays of lynching. To the victimological imagination, to whisper the slightest doubt about Smollett’s account would be to downplay the murders of black men by white mobs 100 years ago.

The problem with victimology is that it simplifies people and situations into a crude moral theater. We have good guys and bad guys, and we have a standard plot rehearsed here, there, and everywhere. Reality and human beings don’t often fit that drama, though. They’re more complicated and often misleading. Someone who looks like a victim is sometimes a perpetrator. History is not melodrama.

Liberals have fashioned a social outlook that obscures the actualities of human affairs. If it didn’t, liberals wouldn’t err so wildly. They would begin to rethink their premises, too. But I see no evidence of that happening, not among prominent figures on the left. We’re going to have more cases of false martyrdom before the victimology mindset collapses. The satisfactions of finding a fresh victim and displaying empathy loudly and righteously are too strong for liberals to let them go.

Mark Bauerlein is a professor of English at Emory University and senior editor at First Things magazine.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.