Sherrod Brown & Ohio: Succumbing to Passion

Senator Sherrod Brown (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

This morning, Ohio senator Sherrod Brown tweeted the following:

This is, at best, a tendentious reading of events. Facts have emerged about the police encounter Brown is referencing that complicate this simple narrative. For one, Bryant was armed and in the middle of an attempt to stab another person when shot by police. But Brown, the media, and other interested parties are ignoring such facts in service of their preferred narrative.

For these latter groups, one can at least understand what they are doing, while also disdaining it, as I do: They are trying to connect two isolated events that occurred hundreds of miles apart and lump them into the same ineffable category of systemic racism, regardless of the details involved. This conditions the same kind of national-level groupthink that has made Minneapolis the center of attention for almost a year now to direct its gaze to the next item of controversy, an unceasing search made necessary by an inexhaustible ideology.

But why is Sherrod Brown playing along? The man is a senator representing the state of Ohio (where I am from, and of which I remain fond). It is unseemly for such an individual to reflexively and thoughtlessly join a mob of people who will now undoubtedly use this incident to castigate unfairly the state he represents. In doing so, he does not merely render a disservice to Ohioans, but also violates one of the Senate’s original purposes. The Senate was designed from the start to act as a refining agent of popular passion, not an agitator thereof. From Federalist No. 63, which advocated the utility of the proposed body as part of The Federalist Papers‘ broader case for ratifying the Constitution:

Such an institution may be sometimes necessary as a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions. As the cool and deliberate sense of the community ought, in all governments, and actually will, in all free governments, ultimately prevail over the views of its rulers; so there are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn. In these critical moments, how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body of citizens, in order to check the misguided career, and to suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind?

Brown would be well within his rights to represent the sorrow of the state that such an encounter occurred, to investigate it (which he apparently has not done), and to work to prevent such things from happening. And the tragedy of Ma’Khia Bryant’s death is not one to downplay. It must be understood correctly, however, and not yielded over thoughtlessly in service of ideology. Brown’s decision to abandon sober, particularistic advocacy for his state in favor of a national-inflected, convulsive passion that seeks to advance its preferred narrative irrespective of facts suggests that he does not seem interested in ensuring that “reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind.” He would have been better off saying nothing at all. 

Jack Butler is submissions editor at National Review Online.

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