Amidst the media tributes for the Ibrox kit-man, there are numerous references to how well he “understood the club” and about being “it’s heart and soul.”
These are coded references, but nobody really mistakes their meaning.
I have often pondered Joe Biden and his character.
As President of the United States, his character is important.
He has a reputation for fairness, decency and bipartisanship.
These stand him good. He’s also a liberal, and it’s here where his decency and bipartisanship have run into a number of apparent contradictions. Can you be a good man and work with bad men?
And at the funeral of one of those bad men, there arose, in some minds, a question; can you be compassionate without taking your tribute and the paying of respect too far?
Our society and our culture is full of this, and we have to wonder whether it’s healthy.
The historical case in point, for Biden, was the funeral of Strom Thurmond, the segregationist bigot who held sway in the Senate for decades.
When he died, aged over 100, Biden performed the eulogy.
It was, some said, the final proof that Thurmond was a better man than his critics would give him credit for.
Why else would a good man like Biden speak for him?
And so the story turned away from who Thurmond was, and what he represented, because there at the end, a good man stepped forward to say goodbye. Biden did that for a friend and a colleague and a man he thought was a magnificent public servant.
We can understand that … but what did it do to the public good?
The thing is, the Beltway Bubble isn’t known by that name for nothing.
All those people whose lives revolve around the US Capitol building, they know each other and have worked together for years. The bitterest racist spends every day working side-by-side with people they wouldn’t have allowed on the school bus, or to share a restroom.
And eventually, these people melt into one.
They defend each other from outsiders.
They make dire excuses for the conduct of their “friends”, just as we all do from time to time.
Within those circles, myths are born and grow until people accept them … but it’s all there on the historical record if you want to look for it. It’s all present and accounted for.
Trent Lott, another bigot who sat in the US Senate, gave a speech to mark Thurmond’s 100th birthday, in which he said, “(He) came to understand the evil of segregation and the wrongness of his own views. And to his credit, he’s said as much himself. … By the time I came to know Strom Thurmond, some 40 years after he ran for president … he had long since renounced many of the views of the past, the repugnant views he had had.”
This is part of the lie of Strom Thurmond, and formed the central plank of what a Slate article that same year called “The Legend of Strom’s Remorse.” And legend is the word for it, because this story was born inside the Beltway Bubble and from there it expanded outwards until people who really should have known better believed it all.
Lott certainly didn’t believe it; he knew full well that Thurmond didn’t renounce those views, because he said so at the same event, expressing his support for Thurmond’s 1948 candidacy for President with the words “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.”
Those words, in fact, were the ones that brought Lott’s own career to the brink.
Thurmond, of course, never did renounce his past views.
He was a bigot and a segregationist until the day he died and Joe Biden presided over his funeral like a long lost brother.
He went beyond paying respect.
He burnished the reputation of a racist, but one who in later years, and out of political expediency, was shrewd enough to hold onto power by publicly changing certain elements of his public persona.
Timothy Noah, the author of the Slate piece, spells out the reasons why the Thurmond Lie was born in the first place, and why it was so aggressively promoted.
“The legend of Strom’s Remorse was invented, by common unspoken consent within the Beltway culture, in order to provide a plausible explanation why Thurmond should continue to hold power and command at least marginal respectability well past the time when history had condemned Thurmond’s most significant political contribution.”
In short, within the Beltway Bubble they were prepared to promote a lie rather than confront the truth; that a man like Thurmond should not have been welcome inside the Senate House. In order to accommodate his presence, they had to pretend that they believed that his views really had changed after all, that he had long since atoned for his sins.
It does not take a genius to see how accurate Noah’s piece is when you look at our politics and our culture, where people’s appalling behaviour is excused away by those who know them as “out of character” or otherwise hand-waived.
It’s why a Scotland manager can sing sectarian songs down a phone only for “friends” in the game to describe him as “not having a bigoted bone in his body.” At any other national association, he would have been gone. He kept his job.
Hugh Dallas almost hung onto his, and although the SFA “sacked” him they gave him the glowing references that allowed him a berth at UEFA. His opinions are frequently sought by the media, fully aware of the circumstances in which he was terminated from his role and he is treated as some kind of elder statesman of the game.
It’s why a cartoon character like John Brown is still the subject of “admiration” today for being willing to “tell it as he sees it” even when the words that have often come out of his mouth have been the most appalling bile.
It’s why some of us aren’t joining the chorus of public support for another ex-Ibrox player from that era who is a bigot of the rawest sort and has spent the better part of his life flirting with Loyalism and despising us.
It’s why suggestions that Dick Campbell or Malky Mackay should be honoured by the sport by being handed manager of the year baubles are reprehensible.
It’s why I will not write a single line in tribute to certain of our former directors and chairmen when they are no longer with us.
I know exactly who these people are and what these people did and didn’t do, and I do not believe that they should be “honoured” in any way, and yet I know that there will be acres of press coverage doing exactly that.
(And before anybody starts, I’m not talking about anybody from the last 20 odd years, so don’t wet yourselves stamping your feet with presumption and indigniation.)
They say you should never speak ill of the dead, but when you consider how many people left this earth without ever being treated as the pariahs they deserved to be, it’s an additional insult to every person their bigotry and hatred harmed to remain silent when they are no longer here to sue.
As you’ll have gathered though, I am not in the least bit concerned about calling some of these people the worst kind of scum whilst they are still alive. I will not be that kind of moral coward either.
We know who these people are, and we know what these people are and some of those who have paid their tributes and voiced their support and gushed out praise do so fully versed in their backgrounds, steeped in intolerance and hate, and smile through gritted teeth.
That’s up to them, and I even have a sort of admiration for it; either they are better people than me, or it’s just that it wasn’t their blood these folk were up to their knees in.
I couldn’t have done what Joe Biden did.
I can’t imagine circumstances under which I would class, amongst my friends, people such as these … but then, I don’t work inside a bubble through which reality is blurred and the rest of the world fades to a whisper, like a quiet voice in a distant room.
These little orbits and their incestuous nature preach a strange kind of tolerance even for the grossly intolerant, and I have never been inside one of them.
Perhaps if I had been exposed to the “pleasure” of their company on a regular basis I too would find them engaging, funny, let them buy me a drink and listen for hours as they regaled me with tales that only a true insider can fully appreciate.
But I have my doubts.
There are just things I would not allow myself to take part in, like the charade by which these people have faux legitimacy; people like Lott, like Thurmond, like Goram, like Brown, like Dallas, like Campbell, like Bell.
I respect Joe Biden for getting up at the funeral of his friend.
I cannot accept his role in the historical rehabilitation of a racist, a bigot and a segregationist and that’s what Strom Thurmond was, and it was what he remained, until the day he died, and it’s not just that Thurmond looks better in light of it but that the failure to recognise him for what he was and call him that is part of what allowed a man like Trump to rise in the first place.
This is why we never move on.
Because we will not confront either what was, or what is.
Instead we live with comforting lies and the myths that these are somehow great men.
Scottish football is like a tiny town where everyone knows everyone else intimately.
And the wife beaters sit and drink with the preachers.
And the fraudsters sit down with the bank managers.
And the guy who murdered his former wife sits and sups beer with the school mistress.
And the barman keeps on pouring for the not-yet-acknowledged alcoholics and tells them they earned a drink after a long hard day.
And the wheel keeps on turning because although everybody knows nobody ever says it outright and although nothing is a secret everyone acts as though there are no secrets to tell.
A town where the word “community” means that everyone lives in blissful ignorance, although nobody is ignorant of anything.
A town where if you never acknowledge it, maybe it didn’t happen at all.