Citing a natural disaster as punishment for the behavior of others is a uniquely right-wing conservative phenomenon.
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You simply don’t hear about progressives sanctimoniously telling folks in Georgia and the Carolinas that they deserved to be inundated with flood waters from Hurricane Florence because of their voter suppression tactics or that the plains states brought tornados upon themselves by opposing a woman’s right to choose what to do with their bodies.
Liberals understand that the random forces of nature, while often influenced by human behavior through the massive increases in carbon emissions that have driven climate change, are not a manifestation of divine retribution avenging someone’s idea of a moral outrage.
It’s not surprising, therefore, to hear the latest story of victim blaming coming from a senior Republican politician in Ohio, as reported in an article on Cleveland.com.
Columbiana County Republican Party Chairman Dave Johnson was forced to delete a Facebook post that called the incendiary wildfires that have devastated the largest state in the nation “God’s punishment to liberal California” after receiving fierce backlash for the statement.
Featuring that text pasted over a photo of a burning highway landscape including an exit sign reading “Welcome to hell,” the post also displayed a hillside inferno with the caption “Hell on Earth brought to you by the liberals in California.”
While Johnson did delete his post and said he didn’t mean to offend anyone after he faced derision for his heartless exploitation of tragedy for political purposes, he hasn’t changed his opinion about the root cause of the fires.
“Look, that’s a meme,” Johnson told Cleveland.com. “And it’s how I feel about liberals, but did I mean that God is going to punish everyone who lives in California? No. It’s a figure of speech, and I probably shouldn’t have done it. But I did, and it doesn’t change how I feel about what’s happened in California,” the GOP leader said in an unapologetic apology.
“Now to the extent that that meme would have offended or hurt someone in California, yes, that’s not the intent, and I don’t think that’s what it says. But you know, it’s in the eyes of the beholder, and so if it offended anyone that had a loss of life, then I’m sorry. That was not my intent, and anybody who knows me knows better,” Johnson added.
The Republican county chairman’s mea culpa came after leading Ohio Democrats called for his resignation after the hateful post.
“Johnson owes the victims, their families, and the heroes who fought the fire and participated in rescue efforts an apology,” Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras wrote on the Mahoning County Democrats’ Facebook page. “In addition, I think his demented comments disqualify him from holding positions of public trust. He should, therefore, immediately resign from all the public positions he holds.”
In an interview with Cleveland.com, Betras called on other GOP leaders to condemn Johnson’s sentiments, which he called “beyond the pale.”
“If you want to have a discussion about environmental policies, that’s fine, but if you say this is God’s wrath coming down because you’re a liberal and people are dying … I don’t know where we’re at as a country then,” he said.
Johnson exposed the hypocrisy behind his lack of remorse over a post that he removed despite continuing to defend, calling the Democratic county leader’s attacks on his comments as a political “stunt” meant to generate a backlash of hostility against him.
“It will eventually die out,” he said. “They’re trying to make an issue out of it because they got their butts kicked in this election cycle.”
As with all Americans, Johnson is free to hold his own religious beliefs. His retributive deity, however, is not the almighty font of love and forgiveness that many other people who worship as Christians would recognize. Nor does his concept of divine vengeance on earth align with Christian theology that posits an accounting of an individual’s sins occurs only after death.
As with all right-wing victim shaming, Johnson’s venal attacks on liberals reflect more on his own moral shortcomings than on any heavenly judgment on his political opposition.
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Original reporting by Andrew J. Tobias at Cleveland.com.