The Santa Clara
February 14, 2019
Honor. Respect. Dignity. These traits were once widely associated with politicians and their actions. But recently, mass media has generated a much more derogatory image of politicians: crafty con men and women whose main goals are to consolidate power and maintain their important positions.
While this perception of our leaders is certainly skewed, it reveals something still desired amongst American citizens—a desire to reinstate honor to the political system and society as a whole.
It is a rather arduous task to accomplish. For instance, take Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. He has landed himself in hot water for a racist picture found in his medical school yearbook from 1984. The picture associated with Northam shows a man in a suit wearing blackface while standing next to a man dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe.
According to The Washington Post, Northam originally denied allegations he was in the photo before eventually admitting to its racist nature and offering a full apology. The entire situation has raised concerns amongst Democrats and has led many Virginians to call for Northam’s resignation.
However, this isn’t the first time the media has dug up a politician’s unpleasant past and publicly lambasted them for it. The New York Times claims that Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard has publicly apologized for her past affiliations with anti-LGBT views, and President Trump has repeatedly come under fire for various accusations of sexual harassment by different women.
The situation regarding Northam represents a much larger issue that deserves to be discussed on a national level. A poor decision made by a politician in the past can now be turned into an incredibly effective tool to destroy their career.
On one hand, this is entirely justified. Politicians are public figures who have heavy influence and should thus be held accountable for their past actions.
Not only should they be consistent with their beliefs, but there is no excuse for disgraceful behavior. This level of accountability would essentially follow the popular expression, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Many argue one mistake shouldn’t cost a politician his or her entire career—they are humans with families to feed, after all. But mistakes are made daily by important and regular citizens alike, and one poor decision shouldn’t warrant the destruction of a career. Moreover, Northam’s picture came from the 1980s, an era that was not as progressive as the current status quo.
The arguments from both sides are valid and have merit. It is important to note all of these factors before jumping to conclusions because every situation is more nuanced than it appears.
While Northam certainly hasn’t done much to improve his situation, journalists and citizens alike need to educate themselves on all sides of any given situation before formulating an opinion.
Northam was certainly in the wrong—there’s no disregarding that—but too often in society, it is our collective tendency to jump at people’s throats before understanding the situation. Northam could have avoided this situation in its entirety if he had publicly apologized, and let his past policy actions speak for his character, not one disgraceful medical school decision. Instead, he initially defended and denied his involement, while the media caught on to the story and exacerbated its drama.
Cooperation and collective comprehension are all key components of making a civilized society. These integral pieces are especially necessary now more than ever given the divisive nature of politics today.
Joshua Raymundo is a first-year undeclared business major.