There was a reason Ku Klux Klan members wore hoods that hid their faces.
Anonymity allows people to act upon their worst instincts without having to suffer the consequences.
Southern bigots acted out their racial hatred as night riders and resumed their roles as responsible doctors, policemen, judges and other model citizens the next day because no one knew who was behind the masks.
The internet has given individuals similar anonymity, allowing trolls and haters to assume false or cloaked identities as they terrorize their victims in cyberspace.
There had always been a certain shame that attached to depraved acts of cruelty. Bullies and sadists did not want to be known for their true selves. If the world did not know who they were, they could dress themselves in a suit of false rectitude and hypocritically wag their fingers at those they deem to be unfit.
Today, however, there is a new norm for bullying and sadism. Donald Trump has figuratively flung wide the gates of hell and all its minions have come spilling out. His cabinet is rife with villains determined to leave the entire Earth worse than when they found it. They appear to take joy in abusing the helpless and molesting the rights of people they consider unworthy.
Trump’s lieutenants are so drunk with power they believe that through their lies they can support bigotry, greed and callousness with impunity. But recent events have shown that America has had enough of this bad behavior and will not allow it to be normalized.
In confronting Trumpism, we can all take a lesson from Emile Zola, the French journalist, who in a famous 1898 commentary titled “J’accuse,” charged the French president and government with anti-Semitism because of a blatant case of injustice against a Jewish French military officer, Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus had been falsely accused and convicted of treason due to anti-Semitic sentiment in France at the time.
Zola’s charge against the president and government of France spoke truth to power so forcefully that it started a groundswell of support for Dreyfus that led to his being released from prison and awarded a medal for having endured martyrdom.
This tactic of “Naming and Shaming” also has been used for years by Human Rights Watch to confront dictators and human rights violators around the world with an aim towards forcing them to stop their bad behavior. Now it is time to employ this tactic at home. We know who the bad actors are, and we know what they are doing to enable a maniacal, power hungry demagogue who poses a threat, not only to this country, but to the world. The Nuremberg Trials established the principle that individuals cannot escape the consequences of their actions by claiming that they were merely following orders, and Trump’s minions cannot escape responsibility for their bad behavior by claiming they were only carrying out the president’s wishes.
Among some Democrats who consider themselves to be progressive, there is strong support for the tactic of naming and shaming when used against foreign dictators and their enablers. But they appear to value civility over justice and wring their hands over the lack of decorum when it is used against Trump’s enablers. These Democrats have turned on Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California and chided her for speaking truth to power when she called for all right-thinking Americans to confront Trump’s enablers whenever they show their faces in public.
Those of us old enough to remember the Civil Rights Movement recall that Southern bigots and their enablers intoned in the 1960s how demonstrators lacked civility and proposed proper decorum as the path to voting rights and equal justice when confronted with fire hoses, vicious police dogs and bludgeoning night sticks. Only after it became clear that civil disobedience would persist until the humanity of people of color was recognized that America’s political and cultural landscape began to change.
For anyone who has a love for humanity, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the rest of Trump’s hellish minions are not entitled to civility, regardless how many “white girl tears” they shed over being ejected from restaurants and other public places. Shaming them is a tactic that works and should be continued, as it is quite possibly the way to bring America back to a sane path – the qualms of those who would abide tyranny for the sake of decorum notwithstanding.
Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia.