It turns out that writer, director and public speaker Frank Schaeffer, who I quoted extensively in a recent article, has a personal assistant, EJ, who is a fan of Palmer Report. EJ sent me a newly minted copy of Schaeffer’s latest video, a 90 minute deconstruction of an address William Barr gave before an assembly of students of Notre Dame school of law. After watching the video I composed (in my head) my thanks to EJ for sharing this fascinating and scathing exposé of Barr’s hypocrisy, an exposé that Schaeffer interleaves with unabridged clips of Barr’s speech.
In the first draft of my message to EJ, I included what I mistakenly thought would be a refutation of a point Schaeffer made about John Adams. Schaeffer claims that John Adams indirectly alluded to Thomas Jefferson’s raping his slave Sally Hemings. I was sure this was an error but, just to make sure, I checked. I discovered to my surprise that there’s some historical evidence to suggest this is so.
Jefferson’s liaison with Hemings was an open secret among the American gentry in the vicinity of Monticello, and was explicitly mentioned in an anti-Jefferson tract by Jefferson’s great nemesis, James Callender. Jefferson’s dominion over Hemings cannot be disputed, and the contrasting imbalance of powers between the two was so stark that it would be laughable to suggest consent played any role at all. Neither can it be disputed that, to add to the inequity (or especially iniquity*) of this imbalancing injustice, Hemings was Jefferson’s moral superior: after all, she didn’t own slaves, he did.
All of which reminded me of just how flawed America was from its very beginning, by virtue of just how defective the people who founded it were. That one of its generally regarded greatest founding fathers was a slave owning rapist is a case in point. Alas, it doesn’t end there. Many of the founders of America participated in history’s most brutal holocaust, the destruction of the Native American and the systematic cheating of him out of his lands. Some of those Native American-murdering founders were also slave owners themselves, if only to compound the awfulness of their moral deficiencies. One cannot help but wonder if this is the idea of “greatness” Trump and his adherents want to restore America to with their slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Which returns me to Barr’s speech. The speech was, in its essence, a bemoaning of the erosion of “religious freedoms” in America. This erosion was blamed for the systematic destruction of the family unit and its traditional structure, a structure exemplified by the marriage of one man to one woman. It was, as Barr saw it, a destruction that is most particularly felt in urban America, and was the principal cause of a shocking reduction in “legitimate” births.
Of course when Barr says “religion” he means white, evangelical Christian religion. And when he talks of “religious freedom” he means the right of those evangelicals to persecute anyone who does not conform to their rule book. They have the right, Barr says, to exclude them from their society and repudiate their lifestyles. And when he says “urban” that’s just code for people of color. And how dare Barr speak of “legitimate” births. What century is this, after all?
But if Barr’s hypocrisy had ended there it might be regarded as nothing more than just the usual kind. But William Barr is a pimp, a shill, a huckster for the most evil, amoral, lying, hypocritical, traitor and sexual predator to ever occupy the American executive mansion. I, for one, will not sit still and be lectured on morality by such as Barr. Nor will I sit still and listen to Barr decry the depredations of social media while he campaigns for the reelection of his Twitterer-in-Chief.
Barr intoned these hypocrisies in an oh-so-reasonable voice so as to make the listener forget that evil sometimes comes cloaked in plausible-sounding banalities. One thinks of the Wannsee Conference and can easily imagine that the architecture for the Final Solution was promulgated with similarly bland and rational pronouncements.
The overwhelming fact is that we cannot make America great again because it never was great. Humility is what is called for, and the sooner we, as Americans, get used to the fact that America has no legitimate claim to greatness, thanks in part to the crimes that have been committed in its name, the better we can fight the illicit propaganda of William Barr and Donald Trump, without our having to resort to a crippling hypocrisy of our own.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.