If people want to really blow up one figure here or one word there, I would argue that they’re missing the forest for the trees. I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.–Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in an interview with Anderson Cooper on “60 Minutes” in January.
This response to Anderson Cooper’s question about the Congresswoman’s four “Pinocchios” awarded her by The Washington Post is about the best example of poetic truth that one could find. You may remember that Shelby Steele coined this term in his classic book Shame as “a narrative that disregards the actual truth in order to assert a larger essential truth that supports one’s ideological position and that defends the sovereignty of one’s ideological identity by taking license with reality and fact”. In this sense Ms. AOC is walking, talking poetic truth with her rapid fire public pronouncements, but she has a lot of company. Of course, the poster boy for the phenomenon is Al Sharpton and his Tawana Brawley rape hoax of over thirty years ago. But the recent Jussie Smollett racial attack hoax may rival even that one when it is fully played out because it featured such a swift and completely total sellout of the mainstream media and Democratic presidential candidates in the rush to condemn this “hate crime” presumption as an indictment of America as incurably racist.
Many of us believe that our “hate crime” designation and its special legislative categorization is part of the problem with many of these incidents. This legislative designation around the country was supposed to reflect the public’s special sensitivity to crimes that tend to heighten racial, ethnic, and cultural conflict. But it hasn’t seemed to do more than force local law enforcement to allocate inordinate amounts of resources to these crimes of alleged “hate” and further inflame tensions. The problem is with the designation itself compounded by the “poetic truth” and other sentimentalities that often surround the charges. Proving the act itself is one thing, proving motive is much more difficult and, as a result, it appears that the attempt to do so has a tendency to complicate and often frustrate the prosecution. These tendencies and the perverse incentives they produce are corrupting our social order.