During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, Chinese communist dictator Mao Zedong’s Red Guards marched people through the streets in large dunce caps. The victims had said or done something outside the canon of Chinese Marxism.
An Americanized version of public scapegoating is unfolding daily as tweets, emails, phone calls or writings, some of which go back many years, are held up as evidence of wrong thinking, circa 2018. Although not remotely comparable to Mao’s vicious treatment of dissidents, the penalties can be harsh — loss of job, income, social standing and being publicly branded as an enemy of “diversity.”
We might want to ask cui bono? Who benefits from digging up these controversies?
The most high-profile victim of this politically correct shaming is pizza baron “Papa” John Schnatter. In hundreds of media accounts beginning on July 11, he is said to have “used a racial slur” during a company meeting and was forced to step down as chairman of the board of the company he founded in 1984.
It’s undisputed that he used the actual n-word. However, as with Mark Twain’s use of it in “Huckleberry Finn,” Mr. Schnatter insists he cited it to disparage racism, not abet it. Weren’t reporters a bit curious about why he said it during a media diversity training session? Why would he have used it as an epithet? Anybody?
Mr. Schnatter attempted to clear his name in a letter to The Wall Street Journal on July 28: “In response to a series of questions, including one asking whether I was racist, I answered, no, and said, unlike another food-industry spokesperson who used that word, I never use it nor does anyone to my knowledge at Papa John’s.” Days before, he had given the context to the press, but they were too busy lighting torches and grabbing their pitchforks. Maybe there is more to this, but if so, it should be reported.
Now we turn to the world of sports, usually a welcome relief from PC madness. Let’s leave aside the NFL’s ongoing headache over players dissing the national anthem, and head over to America’s Pastime.
Some baseball players are getting the dunce cap treatment over tweets they made years ago.
Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader’s tweets from when he was 17 appear to be the worst, with ample use of the f-word, the n-word and epithets for homosexuals. Like others before him caught with offensive tweets, he has apologized.
But apparently sincere regrets are not enough. Washington Nationals star shortstop Trea Turner found that out last week after “off color” tweets surfaced from when he was a teenager that are not in the same ballpark with Mr. Hader’s.
Three cited examples were: “If I was black, I would have some long ass dreads,” “Once u go black ur gonna need a wheelchair” and “Your gay for your last tweet.”
Perhaps there were others more obviously offensive. But why is wanting to have dreadlocks, as some black players do, evidence of racism? Mr. Turner might be accused of “cultural appropriation,” but racism?
As for the other two, the wheelchair reference was a line from the movie comedy “White Chicks,” and the “your gay” tweet is a fake affront to a friend. Mutual insults are the way males show each other respect and even affection. But you can understand why this set off LGBTQ activists and some Nationals fans.
Mr. Turner, 25, who volunteers with an anti-bullying program called “Shred the Hate Initiative,” apologized when the tweets surfaced, and then tearfully again last Wednesday before a group of reporters. He apologized to the “LGBT community, African American community, special needs community” and to the Nationals, to general manager Mike Rizzo, to the fans and to individuals who had contacted him.
Sorry, not good enough.
Like Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb, 25, who apologized last Monday for what the Associated Press described as “racist, homophobic and sexist tweets he sent as a teenager,” Mr. Turner still has to meet with Billy Bean, Major League Baseball’s vice president for social responsibility and inclusion. “Bean’s meetings with Newcomb and Turner will determine appropriate sensitivity training,” the AP reported. Dunce caps may be optional.
Displaying a glaring double standard in these matters, The New York Times announced Thursday that it will keep recent editorial board appointee Sarah Jeong, whose tweets include: “I was equating Trump to Hitler before it was cool,” “oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men,” and “dumbass f-ing white people,” who she hoped would soon be extinct.
The Times is in the communications business, not baseball. You might think they’d find this problematic. It’s wrong to gin up resentment by dividing people into identity groups, or to disparage people based on group traits. Jesus famously said to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Looking on the bright side: If the most newsworthy offenses today are insensitive tweets, then we’ve made enormous social progress in America, something a monster like Mao would not appreciate or even understand.
• Robert Knight is a contributor to The Washington Times. His latest book is “A Strong Constitution: What Would America Look Like If We Followed the Law.” (djkm.org)