It hurts. It’s like finding out that your favorite uncle spent years in prison before you were born.
We worked for Ralph Northam: we canvassed for him, we voted for him, we contributed to his campaigns. We knew him personally.
At first we hoped it wasn’t true. And even if true, we toyed with the idea: this is not who he is today. Could the racist photo be explained? We wanted to find a reason to continue to support him, to urge him to hold onto his office, especially at a time when Democrats are so ascendant in Virginia. One Democratic state senator in fact did argue—at first—that how he has lived for the past 35 years should outweigh a youthful indiscretion.
But. Does it?
Our disappointment and grief must be tempered by reality and fealty to larger principles—equality, honesty, opportunity for all. He was not 18, this was not a high school or even a college yearbook but, rather, a yearbook celebrating graduation from medical school.
So. Ralph Northam’s moral leadership has been decimated. He demonstrated a character flaw and lack of courage that make it impossible for him to remain Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
That the photo was surfaced by right wing advocates is irrelevant; it is there, it is true, it is shocking, and it cannot be erased from memory.
We grieve, not just for Governor Northam, his family, and friends, but for our own hopes, because he has taken positive actions that have helped the citizens of Virginia, and could reasonably be expected to have done more in the future. But our grief is tempered by our honor, which mandates adherence to principles higher than an individual or party. Ralph Northam must resign, not as punishment for a bad mistake but because his moral authority has been lost. He simply can no longer lead or govern.
As historical irony would have it, Northam’s successor, Justin Fairfax, is an African-American whose deep family roots in Virginia should serve him well in rebuilding trust among the state’s citizens still recovering from Charlottesville.