Anyone who thought the jury’s verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse case might prompt some reflection among the political and media classes will have been rudely disabused over the last five days. The teenager was convicted in the court of elite opinion long before he set foot in the Kenosha County Courthouse and that sentence isn’t about to be overturned. The response underscores how far American liberals have drifted from liberalism and how their total surrender to progressivism has rendered them incapable of understanding events except through the prism of ‘anti-racism’.
Newsweek told its readers that ‘emboldened white supremacists and neo-Nazis have celebrated the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse in far-right channels online’. A Guardian op-ed pronounced: ‘The Rittenhouse verdict is proof that it is reasonable to believe that the fear of Black people can absolve a white person of any crime.’ Another termed the verdict ‘the latest in a centuries-old American tradition of protecting white terror and vigilantism’ and said the jury’s decision meant ‘it is now open hunting season on progressive protesters’. The University of Chicago historian Kathleen Belew suggested the not guilty verdict could be ‘a much more significant moment’ and could ‘set off renewed activity by the white power movement’. Late-night scold Stephen Colbert was almost thoughtful by comparison when he opined: ‘If he didn’t break the law, we should change the law.’
What is striking about these reactions is not that the side of US politics most associated with sentencing reform was yearning for a teenager to be tossed in a penitentiary, nor that American progressives now see racists like Joe McCarthy saw communists. It’s that journalists, commentators and academics have abandoned all neutrality. Not in the sense of being partial and critiquing the jury’s verdict, but in seeing themselves as part of the prosecution.