Yes, Virginia, there are consequences for things you did in college.
Or high school. Or a hotel room in Boston.
Not to pick on the state known as “The Mother of Presidents and the Mother of Statesmen,” but lately, Virginia is also the “Mother of Chickens Coming Home to Roost.”
In less than a week, the top three officials in the Virginia government have all been mired in their own individual scandals that have fallen into place like a Rube Goldberg contraption. A racist yearbook page triggers a fire that burns through a rope dropping a sexual assault allegation that rolls down a ramp into an admission of a blackface costume.
The issue isn’t black or white. Both races are represented. It isn’t partisan. All three are Democrats. It isn’t even new, coming on the heels of two years that have been rife with allegations of long-ago sexual misconduct and other bad behavior.
What is it, really? Exhausting. It’s tiring less because the allegations continue to crop up for a variety of individuals in various seats of power or prestige, but because the deluge of accusations, coupled with a feeding frenzy of media — and more specifically, uncontrolled social media — coverage, becomes a beast that requires feeding at an ever more alarming rate.
It’s also exhausting because while people will care intensely about the scandal du jour in the moment, the revolving door of new swords to fall upon and fresh mea culpas and the latest opportunity to polish a pitchfork means two things happen.
First, before anyone finds out the truth, whether it’s not as bad as anticipated or so much worse than believed, everyone has moved on, leaving the accused and the accuser in a perpetual state of allegation over fact.
Second, the goldfish-like attention span of public outrage makes things that are worth remembering become hazy and faded within far fewer news cycles than they should.
None of that excuses people from proven criminal acts, racism, anti-Semitism, sexism or anything else that might rear its ugly head. But does the mere suggestion have to ruin lives or end careers?
Some say yes, that “innocent until proven guilty” is a standard for going to jail, not the Governor’s Mansion. Elected officials, they say, need to meet a much higher threshhold. The problem is that no one knows exactly where that imaginary line lies, and without direction, the fallout can be erratic if not unfair.
Today’s politicians should probably remember the advice given to teenagers about what happens online: It lives forever. If an old tweet that is just a digital hiccup on a server somewhere can pop up and cause problems, a tangible item like a yearbook distributed to your whole graduating class could definitely come back to haunt you.
People prepping for an elected office run should think about doing a little opposition research on themselves. Look for the skeletons pushed all the way to the back of the closet, and if you have to move a Klan robe to find them, rethink your whole plan.
Because nothing stays secret anymore. Does it, Virginia?
Lori Falce is the Tribune-Review Community Engagement Editor. You can contact Lori at [email protected]