Sexual violence, intrigue, racism: scandals plunge US Democrats into deep crisis

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  • Karl Doemens
Ralph Northam

Ralph Northam



Washington –

Just a year ago, his inauguration ushered in the revival of the US Democrats after the Trump shock. Ralph Northam, with the strong support of ex-President Barack Obama, had won the governorship elections in previously Republican Virginia. The base was electrified and later sent a record number of Democratic MPs to the Washington Congress. Since then Virginia has been considered a democratic land of hope. But all of a sudden the eastern coast state has plunged into a huge political crisis. It is about latent racism in the American South and about sexual violence, but also about intrigue and bigotry. At the center of a series of scandals are Northam, his deputy Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring – the complete democratic government. The party, which actually wanted to conquer the state parliament in autumn, is in shock.

It all began when the 1984 student yearbook of the Medical University of East Virginia appeared two weeks ago. The page devoted to Northam shows the student casual with a cowboy hat and sitting in front of a sports car. In a third photo, a person with a face painted black and plaid trousers is next to another person in the robe of the racist Ku Klux Klan.

US governor dpa 020219_Bild

The page in the yearbook with the controversial photo.


picture alliance / dpa

The fact that the explosive side emerged shortly after Northam had triggered a wave of outrage with a plea for liberal abortion laws suggests political motives. Nevertheless, the conviction soon prevailed that the 59-year-old boy made fun of black people as a student. Northam apologized. Democratic politicians demanded his resignation up to parliamentary head Nancy Pelosi.

Ralph Northam defends himself from the press

But the governor remained in office and stepped in front of the press. Now he declared that he had reacted in shock. After consultation with fellow students, he was convinced not to be the man in the photo. However, he was at the same time in the circle of friends with black shoe polish on his face as Michael Jackson impersonator with the Moonwalk occurred.

In fact, Northam is unsuspected of racist thinking. But the “blackfacing”, the blackening of the face, is not a harmless masquerade in the USA. It goes back to the minstrel shows of the 19th century, in which blacks were degraded as happy-naive slaves in the plantation work. It is now being debated whether the adolescent was aware 30 years ago. But it will hardly come to a critical reappraisal, as the affair was overshadowed by a new scandal: A university professor accused Vice Governor Fairfax to have sexually coerced her in 2004. The African-American Fairfax spoke of a smear campaign behind which he suspected Northam. But meanwhile, a second woman has appeared, accusing him of rape.

Both would be enough to tear down the democrats at the interface between the me-too movement and the fight against racism. But in the slipstream, Attorney General Herring, the third in the succession, has admitted to having colored his face black for photos. Herring had previously vehemently demanded Northam’s resignation. That he now “voluntarily” went public, is nevertheless praised by party friends.

With consistent adherence to their morally rigorous attitude towards Trump allies, all three Democrats would have to resign. But then Virginia would be leaderless. Thus, the internal pressure on Northam has noticeably eased over the weekend. “I’m not going anywhere,” said the governor. On the other hand, Fairfax should vacate his post – if necessary with the help of an impeachment procedure. In fact, the allegations against him are serious and punishable. Nevertheless, if at the end of a racism affair the only black man in the government top would have to go, the Democrats would have a new problem. (Rnd)