Yes, ‘This Is America, 2019’

There have been so far about three general reactions to the concocted Jussie Smollett psychodrama.

One, and the most common, has been apprehension that Smollett’s lies will discredit future real incidents of hate crimes against gays and minorities. This could be a legitimate concern, given the tensions within a multiracial society.

Yet, in fact, there is no evidence in the past that false reports (some lists of such fake hate crimes put the number at around 400) have had such an effect—either on spiking real hate crimes, suppressing reporting, discouraging police investigations, or preventing even more race-crime hoaxes.

As Heather Mac Donald has recently once again noted, the 2017 upswing in reported hate crimes from the prior year may well be largely because an additional 1,000 police agencies were for the first time reporting such crimes. Mac Donald also notes that a “hate crime”—a micro percentage of reported violent crime—is narrowly defined not to include general interracial violent victimization, a category in which African-Americans on average commit 85 percent of such crimes.

From Tawana Brawley to the Covington kids, fictive accounts of race-based bias and violence have not stopped purported victims from believing that they, too, could invent such incidents and win credibility—to say nothing of profitable attention. After all, the publicity of the Duke Lacrosse or Covington hoaxes did not suggest to Jussie Smollett that he would not be found credible. In fact, the opposite may be true. The more we hear of fake hate crimes, the more we will likely hear of future fake hate crimes.

Nor did the spate of prior fake racist crimes discourage quite influential media and celebrity grandees from rushing to embrace the unlikely narrative. After all, Americans were asked to believe without evidence that two venomous white men, with red MAGA hats, hooded, and deliberately prowling about at 2 a.m. in subfreezing temperatures, in a liberal neighborhood of liberal Chicago (that went 83 percent for Hillary Clinton), were on the hunt for random minorities and gays, replete with customary ski-masks, lynching rope, and bleach.

And then, once the MAGA devils instinctively recognized a random early-morning passerby as a rather minor actor from a Fox TV series “Empire,” they would grow enraged and shout out racial and homophobic slurs and MAGA rah-rahs (“This is MAGA country!”)—incensed by their sudden recognition that their target was, in fact, the obviously world-famous Smollett (who said his white thuggish assaulters first yelled out “Empire!” then, to add clarity about their white fears of such a hit series, they added “F—ot Empire n—er!”).

Smollett, however, insists he stood defiant (“I don’t answer to Empire. My name ain’t Empire.”), in his role as a supposedly all-too-well known and despised actor in the alt-white world.

Further, we were asked to believe that in between blows from two much larger white demons, the relatively diminutive Smollett did not break off his phone call transmission. Instead, as he later described the fracas, he fought heroically back (“So I punched his ass right back. We started tussling”) and drove off the Trump-fueled monsters (“And I want a little gay boy who might watch this to see that I fought the f— back. I didn’t run off. They did.”), even as he was oblivious to the attempted lynching (“I noticed the rope around my neck and I started screaming”).

In addition, we were asked to believe that Smollett’s prior criminal conviction for providing police with false information during a DUI arrest, and the strange coincidence of receiving a recent death threat in the mail packaged with mysterious white powder (“In the letter, it had a stick figure hanging from a tree with a gun pointing toward it: ‘Smollett Jussie, you will die, black [bleep]. There was no address, but the return address said in big red letters, ‘MAGA.’“), would provide no useful context for these strange events.

Discrediting Hate Crimes?

Instead, Smollett fought off the racists for the greater good of America: “I have fought for love. I’m an advocate. I respect too much the people—who I am now one of those people—who have been attacked in any way. You do such a disservice when you lie about something like this.”

So do not dare question either the courage or the mettle of the crusading Smollett: “For me, the main thing was the idea that I somehow switched up my story, you know? And that somehow maybe I added a little extra trinket, you know, of the MAGA thing. I didn’t need to add anything like that. They called me a f—ot, they called me a n—er. There’s no which way you cut it. I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.”

Amen, Jussie.

Yet much of the nation believed all that and more. Politicians and celebrities did so within minutes. Many did not give up such credence, even as Smollett refused to hand over his cell phone records, which he had cited as electronic proof of the attack, given he supposedly was on the phone at the time with his manager, thus memorializing the attack. If you had any doubt about Smollett’s fiction, he reminds us again that such unbelief says more about you than him: “It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me much more. A lot more. And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now.”

Again, amen, it does say a lot, Jussie.

None of recent concocted racially motivated attacks have had any effect in demolishing public credibility about even the most improbable allegations of such assaults. Indeed, in our Orwellian world of racial melodrama, those who rushed to judgment to condemn Donald Trump and his supporters for Smollett’s suffering, turned 180 degrees on hearing the news of the Smollett fabrication. They now soberly and judiciously warned us not to do what they had just done. Instead, America was “to wait for all the facts” and not “rush to judgment” in assuming that Smollett was guilty of fraud.

Smollett has shown that the most absurd narratives imaginable will continue to gain credence because they fill a deep psychological, cultural—and, yes, careerist—need for millions in the country to believe that hate crimes are epidemic, that they are the currency of the Right, and that they can only be addressed by more government scrutiny of a particular class of victimizers such as the Duke Lacrosse team, the Covington kids, or Smollett’s mythic red-hatted Trump racists.

(A cynic might have advised Smollett to have first checked that the anticipated surveillance cameras under which he staged the attack were pointing in the right direction and that he should have ensured his “Empire” hirelings did not buy their sundry assault gear—masks, hats, etc.—all at the same store or at least not on film, and that Smollett himself should have not written them a traceable check for their services, and that he should have written into his script antifreeze dousing instead of household bleach that freezes at about 5 degrees.)

In 2019 America, the number of those likely victimized far outnumbers the shrinking pool of likely victimizers. The rewards and publicity for being a concocted victim of a frenzied Trump supporter far outweigh the possible downside of fabricating the entire incident. As we saw with the Kavanaugh and Covington fiascoes, if a crime could or should be true, then it more or less is.

Wasted Time and Money?

A second reaction was the far more legitimate worry that thousands of hours of careful police work were squandered, as resources were diverted from real crime investigations. Although so far, the overburdened Chicago police have been careful in downplaying this redirection in limited resources, it was no doubt gargantuan. Yet Smollett’s supporters almost immediately questioned the police department’s ethics when authorities ever so cautiously hinted that the facts and Smollett’s own behavior did not line up with a racist attack.

Smollett’s probable preemptive O.J. Simpson-like defense will run contrary to facts, but he has learned that ginning up popular furor against the police can, at worst, lead to leverage in plea bargaining and, at best, turn potential local jurors into nullifying social justice warriors.

In lieu of either defense, he could turn to fallback defenses that he acted in a drug-induced diminished capacity and was not responsible for his actions—or that his jealous “Empire” duo secretly scouted out his nocturnal routines, were all the time covert Trump/MAGA converts, and, as traitors to their race and class, in envy of Smollett’s success, and as ingrates pounced despite receiving such generous financial help from him in the recent past.

Racism Against “Racists” Is Not Racism

Yet the third, most important, and most ignored reaction was that in some sense Smollett himself was a racist and had committed a hate crime.

His farce is yet another example that it is now largely permissible to slur and smear millions of purported Trump supporters, as either defined by their stereotyped race and gender or their red hats (with or without a logo). As pundits and talking heads nearly wept on screen in their worries about future potential hate crimes that might now not be taken seriously, they abjectly ignored the real hate crime that had just occurred. In truth, Smollett had done his best to ignite some sort of popular racially driven vendetta against conservative white male voters, previously known as “clingers,” “crazies,” “deplorables,” and “irredeemables” who, our elites warn, smell up Walmart, gross America out with toothless smiles, and should be swapped out for new immigrants.

Or as courageous Smollett described the motives for the faux-attack of his two Nigerian-American contractors, supposedly dressed up as Donald Trump’s white ogres, “I come really, really hard against 45”—that is, Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States—“I come really hard against his administration, and I don’t hold my tongue. I could only go off of their words. I mean, who says, “f—ot Empire n—er,” “This is MAGA country, n—er,” ties a noose around your neck, and pours [frozen?] bleach on you? And this is just a friendly fight? I will never be the man that this did not happen to. Everything is forever changed.”

In fact, no one says that, Jussie. And no one ever did say that except you, who scripted the dialogue.

Given that the Smollett myth followed so closely after the Covington kids fiction, we can surmise that Smollett counted on two popular reactions: the left-wing public was still thirsty for more “proof” of MAGA white hatred, even if poorly scripted and logically implausible; and, second, Smollett was not much worried about any serious consequences if he should be caught once again in a made-up hate crime.

To paraphrase CNN anchorwoman Brooke Baldwin, who in careerist fashion immediately sought to gin up popular outrage over the Smollett “hate crime” attack: “This is America, 2019.”

Baldwin is right in her inference that we really are suffering from a national illness—and her own fact-free, careerist-driven editorializing and others like it are the proof.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.

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