The following column was published on March 18, 2017.
Five-term mayoral incumbent Chris Louras commanded in an interview last month, “Write this down. Complaining about process is the last refuge of scoundrels. You can’t oppose the process and oppose the program without opposing the people whose lives are affected,” (Seven Days; Feb. 15).
His rebuke represented another ugly character attack in a yearlong assault against Rutland residents who objected to the secretive and unilateral manner in which he decided to settle 100 Syrian refugees in the city.
Last January, Louras began talks with Amila Merdzanovic, director of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program (VRRP), but they willfully kept the public in the dark. The reason can be found in an April 2016 email from Merdzanovic to Louras in which she wrote, “If we open it up to anybody and everybody, all sorts of people will come out of the woodwork, anti-immigrant… anti-anything” (ABC/ Local 22).
He defended Merdzanovic’s allegation that the people of Rutland are too prejudiced to deserve a say in civic issues that directly impact their lives by declaring, “We don’t get to vote on who lives in our community” (NHPR; June 3, 2016). And yet, he single-handedly manipulated the power of his office to do just that.
Louras (who left the Republican Party a decade ago) could have shared relevant information, encouraged open debate, and strived to win public support for the refugee program with courage of his convictions. Instead, he chose to malign his critics as racist — those that took issue with his dictatorial ways and others that raised concerns about the financial costs associated with settling refugees in the economically troubled city.
The local, left-leaning media aided Louras’ efforts to silence dissent by painting all legitimate criticism with the broad brush of white supremacy. The voters responded in kind by devastating Louras’ re-election bid last week.
The “Rutland response” exemplifies growing public intolerance of slander from the political left — a trend that is sweeping the nation. In a recent, insightful Wall Street Journal op-ed, author Shelby Steele refers to this phenomenon as the “exhaustion of an American liberalism” defined by a dogged pursuit of moral authority and thus power.
Steele explains that the left refashioned itself as the “keeper of America’s moral legitimacy” in the 1960s, when the nation was grappling with its old hypocrisies of racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Modern liberalism thus became an identity (rather than an ideology) that provided “moral esteem against the specter of American shame.”
With its gaze permanently fixated on the past, the progressive movement has insisted on America’s wickedness by disregarding the societal improvements of the past 50 years, and instead advancing newfangled notions like “unconscious and structural bias.”
Moreover, the left has accumulated considerable politico-cultural influence by stigmatizing all opposition as morally indefensible (e.g. fascist, Nazi, misogynist, bigot, anti-LGBT, climate change denier, Islamophobe). Steele argues that era is now over.
Barack Obama’s incessant apologies to the world for our nation’s real and alleged shortcomings seem to have drained the electorate’s endurance for self-righteous moralizing. Furthermore, Donald Trump — whose rise to the presidency was undeterred by ad hominem attacks of every stripe — has helped render the left’s once powerful “weapon of stigmatization” impotent (to use Steele’s phrase).
At the ballot box, Rutland voters expressed their displeasure toward Louras for preaching about refugee resettlement as a moral imperative, while vilifying them for asking questions. In this regard, the former mayor’s description of “Rutland as a microcosm” of a national shift is accurate (Seven Days; March 8).
Demonstrating a woeful lack of awareness, Louras blamed the voters’ supposed nativism for his humiliating defeat, “If welcoming five children in two families to this community while they were escaping for their lives cost me this election, then I am OK with that” (AP; March 8).
Indeed, such stubborn insistence on the evil character of opponents has become customary for the left, and reflects the inability to accept that liberalism’s 1960s power play (i.e. past shame, present guilt, and future redemption) has lost legitimacy. While many argue that a number of contentious actions cost Louras his mayoral seat, he claims that his advocacy for refugees ended his decade-long tenure.
If indeed the election was a referendum on the resettlement program, then the vote against Louras represented a rejection of his arrogant bullying and undemocratic ways, and a warranted step by the citizens of Rutland to reclaim autonomy and respect.
Meg Hansen is a syndicated columnist from Windsor, Vermont. The Vermont House Republican Caucus consults with her communications firm. All views expressed are those of the author alone.