Last night, I heard embattled sportswriter Jemele Hill, in trouble for doing her job and stating actual facts, say something very interesting.
Hill is a brilliant sports reporter. Has been for quite awhile. If my son or daughters grow up to be half the person she is, Molly and I will be extremely lucky.
She told The Root, “Ask yourself, ‘What are you going to be saying twenty years from now when you look back on what you said now?’ Now is the courageous moment to have an opinion about it.”
It’s another way of saying “If you ever wondered what you would have done in the Jim Crow South or Nazi Germany.” But it’s framing the question based on the here and now versus our future selves. It’s a profound question.
It just so happens I’m reading “Nixonland,” the second in Rick Perlstein’s thoroughly reported trilogy on the America during the rise of the modern conservative movement. The chapter I’m on dealt with the My Lei Massacre.
I don’t know of any Americans – current politicians, historians, friends, family – who has ever defended the event in my lifetime. It’s clearly a stain on our nation’s prestige. A rather large black mark.
But at the time, Perlstein points out, Nixon was influenced on the American public’s reaction to the horrendous incident. Polls showed more than 50 percent of the country supported the soldiers. In fact, the man who was put on trial for the crime ended up getting thousands of letters of support every day.
It’s easy to be against My Lai now. I wonder what I would have thought at the time. A lot of people defend Trump today. I wonder if it will be easier to say you were against him 20 years from now.
The difference is, thanks to Facebook, Twitter and such, the record is out there. Our ancestors are watching and I wonder what they’ll think of our courage today.