Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Innocent until proven guilty? Yeah, right
“…I saw apparently the shape of Margret Scott, who, as I was sitting in a chair by ye fire pulled me with ye chair, down backward to ye ground, and tormented and pinched me very much.”
-Mary Daniel’s testimony on Sept. 15, 1692 to the court in Salem, Massachusetts
Scott was hanged as a witch as were 20 others similarly accused.
Call it the revenge of the swamp creatures. A few weeks after beating Mitch McConnell’s handpicked bobblehead in the Alabama Republican primary, presumably assuring continued Republican control of the Senate but discomfiting the majority leader, nominee Roy Moore found himself accused of a 38-year-old crime of statutory rape. A tempest of outrage followed immediately among the do-nothing wing of Republican senators and — naturally — all their Democrat colleagues. In the highest of dudgeon, it was demanded that Moore quit the race immediately. Senator McConnell made it clear that if elected, he wouldn’t be seated. Democrats played the tired and scratchy “war on women” meme.
Hysteria is a common thing in America.
A common question among students learning about the Salem witch trials is, “Why were people so stupid?” A more sophisticated student might ask, “Why did people accept these accusations without any evidence?” The answer to the first question is complex: for decades, people living in Massachusetts frontier settlements like Salem Village experienced precarious conditions; they were immersed in dread not only of marauding Native Americans, but of the Devil’s traps which were, ipso facto, invisible and ubiquitous. They had been trained by countless harangues from religious leaders to see the perils of damnation everywhere, so credulity might have seemed prudent. The answer to the second question is much simpler: given the situation, the seriousness of the charge was the proof. No one could risk not believing it.
Unfortunately human, not supernatural, forces were at work in Salem. Property disputes, covetousness, personal grudges, debts and fear landed people in the dock. Some simply expressed doubts about the trials, so they were witches — obviously. Sound familiar?
From the Salem witch trials to the Red Scares to more modern panics, Americans tend to be as skittish as a heard of longhorns in a thunderstorm. The slightest abnormality spooks them into wild flight, during which they will trample anything and anyone in their path. Knowing this as well as the human penchant for cupidity and corruption, the founders built strong protections against running amok into our basic laws. And after the shame of official murder perpetrated against witches, Irishmen, Catholics; jailing and deportation of “Reds” (twice); internment of German and Japanese-Americans; after hair-trigger violence, both official and not, against more groups than one can think of; we’ve finally got it. We’re not that stupid any more. Forget the Duke lacrosse team accusations. Forget Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus.” No one’s guilty until proven so. Right?
With Roy Moore, America finds itself right back at the beginning. There’s no proof. There are no photographs. No letters. Nothing but assertions. But once again, we find ourselves stampeded toward the cliff’s edge due to the nature of the charges.
One thing is certain in this case: there is monstrous immorality at work. If Roy Moore really did as alleged, he is a very clever sociopath who has eluded detection for decades, while running four times for elective office in Alabama and winning twice. He also managed to elude Mitch McConnel’s $30 million slime campaign, so his demonic powers must be monumental.
But if Mr. Moore did nothing criminal we are faced with another stomach-churning reality: that the charges are exactly what he says they are, and that certain individuals have decided that a man who decades ago had a somewhat creepy but legal taste in female companionship should have his life and that of his family destroyed for political expediency. At 38 years’ distance there’s going to be no trial. There’s been no evidence produced. There are only allegations. Which are so serious, some with a keen interest in the outcome assert, they must be believed. Perhaps they will find a descendant of Cotton Mather to preside over an investigation.
There is an alternative: if Mr. Moore is elected, seat him and submit him to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He can keep Senator Franken company as the committee, which has not censured a member since 2012 and not voted to expel a Senator since 1995, reviews their cases, one of which involves pictures and a confession.
Hint: it’s not Moore’s.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News.
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