In a shocking development, it appears that there aren't racist Trump supporters who wander around Chicago in the bitter cold with bleach and a noose, believe that Chicago is "MAGA country," and recognize actors from the television show Empire. Major national outlets have now confirmed local reports that Chicago PD now believe that Jussie Smollett paid two acquaintances to fake the attack.
This is of course a cause for celebration. A violent hate crime did not occur. The United States is not yet so hopeless and divided that modern-day lynchings are being carried out in the president's name mere feet away from fast food establishments in a major city.
Alas, the AP reports, "some conservative pundits, meanwhile, have gleefully seized on the moment." Wow, conservatives are no longer just pouncing and seizing, we're doing it "gleefully" now!
Conservative pundit and CNN commentator S.E. Cupp leveled a similar criticism. "The giddiness among Trumpsters over the Smollett news is gross," tweeted Cupp. "This story is awful. He allegedly abused police resources, exploited raw divisions in this country, and made it harder for every victim of a hate crime to report. This is sad no matter your politics,"
I understand that reaction. It's perfectly acceptable to feel betrayed and shocked to learn that the person you supported as a victim was in fact a criminal.
But for the bulk of conservatives, that wasn't their experience with this story. They read headlines and tweets saying that people like them had attacked a gay black man in explicitly racist and homophobic terms, with nary an "alleged" in sight. They had to watch sitting members of Congress say that "The dangerous lies spewing from the right wing is killing & hurting our people" and that the president they supported was personally to blame. They had to read magazine pieces about how "The Racist, Homophobic Attack on Jussie Smollett Is Far-Right America's Endgame."
Trump supporters weren't just vindicated, they were acquitted. You may as well somberly tell a man who has been found innocent of murder that he should not take joy in that fact nor shame his accusers. Why not take a victory lap?
I can't help but to suspect that many of those who are despondent about the news that Smollett faked the attack are motivated by more than just a sense of betrayal. They're embarrassed, for one; some of them look like fools. But there's also the far more nefarious urge to believe the worst of your opponents, and resent the fact that they aren't as bad as you suspected.
C.S. Lewis has a great quote in Mere Christianity that sums up this phenomenon better than I ever could:
Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
The Washington Post‘s Nana Efua Mumford admitted as much in a recent column. "I wanted to believe Smollett," she writes, while confessing she doubted his story from the start. "I really did. I know that there is a deep, dark racist history in Chicago and, if proved true, this would be just one more point on the list." She continues:
If Smollett’s story is found to be untrue, it will cause irreparable damage to the communities most affected. Smollett would be the first example skeptics cite when they say we should be dubious of victims who step forward to share their experiences of racist hate crimes or sexual violence. The incident would be touted as proof that there is a leftist conspiracy to cast Trump supporters as violent, murderous racists. It would be the very embodiment of "fake news."
And that reason, more than any other, is why I need this story to be true, despite its ugliness and despite what it would say about the danger of the world I live in. The damage done would be too deep and long-lasting.
It's a troubling admission. Evidently she would've preferred that a violent, racist hate crime actually occurred than it not occurred. For all her talk of supporting "victims," she never actually gave a damn about Smollett's supposed injuries, just the ammunition they provided in furthering a narrative. When it turned out that he lied to police, the real crime wasn't, you know, the crime, but furthering her opponents' narratives.
For people who immediately expressed skepticism at Smollett's story (myself included) and kept up tweets saying so under pressure and criticism (uh, myself not included), there is a sense of vindication. For those who believed him, there's an understandable desire to begrudge the I-told-you-sos. But the larger story here is that a horrific crime did not occur, and a far pettier crime did. That's news everyone should welcome.