Rich Lowry is not a college student. He is not 21. He is the editor of National Review, the premier conservative publication in the United States. Today he discusses To Kill a Mockingbird:
Atticus Finch Was on the Wrong Side
The setting is Depression-era Alabama. [Atticus] Finch is unpopular in town because he has decided to take on the defense of a black man named Tom Robinson who is accused of rape by a young white woman. And this is where the story, in contemporary terms, goes off the rails. Atticus Finch didn’t #BelieveAllWomen….In a gripping courtroom scene, Finch cross-examines Mayella Ewell, the 19-year-old daughter of an abusive drunk from a dirt-poor family who is Robinson’s accuser. With all the vehemence and emotion she can muster, Ewell insists that Robinson attacked her after she got him to break up a piece of old furniture at her house.
….Without mercy, Finch takes apart her account. In contemporary internet argot, he “destroys” her. He brushes right by her tears….It is revealed that Ewell is lying. She had made an advance on Robinson and gotten caught by her vicious, racist father. The charge of rape against Robinson was a cover story, although the bigoted jury convicts him anyway….
Yuk yuk. It’s one thing for conservatives to disagree with liberals. What else should we expect them to do? But do they really have to engage in endless juvenile mockery like this whenever the subject is racism or sexual assault or workplace harassment? I swear that National Review has published at least a blog post—often more—for every imaginable case where it’s even remotely possible that a white man got a raw deal. These probably outnumber 10:1 the items they’ve written acknowledging in some seriousness the hundreds of cases of cold-blooded racism against blacks or Hispanics that are reported every year. Ditto for sexual assault and workplace harassment, which is usually treated like some kind of middle school joke.
Twenty years ago, Susan Sontag asked a provocative question: “Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader’s Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or the New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?”
I would ask the same question today: “Imagine, if you will, someone who read only their local newspaper between 1990 and 2020, and someone in the same period who read only National Review or watched Fox News. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of racism, police misconduct, sexual abuse, the LGBT movement, and the culture of university campuses? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?”
It’s too early for conservatives to see just how apt this comparison is. Someday they will. In the meantime, though, they’re still adults, not adolescent smart alecks. They should at least act like adults and take questions of racism and sexism seriously, even if they don’t take them seriously enough. It’s way past time for their choices to be limited to either ignoring this stuff or writing about it with a barely concealed snicker.