September 29, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
JR Majewski, heir to white power, deserves ‘democratic contempt’
A born mediocrity, the Republican candidate lied about his military record in order to claim glory others achieved through sacrifice.
Last Friday, I argued, a la Tom Paine, that to democratize our way of life, we must embrace “democratic contempt.” Today, I would like to offer a meaningful illustration of Paine’s revolutionary concept.
The Associated Press published a report last week exposing a congressional candidate in Ohio for misrepresenting his military record. JR Majewski, who “presents himself as an Air Force combat veteran who deployed to Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” did no such thing, according to public records obtained by the AP.
They indicate Majewski never deployed to Afghanistan but instead completed a six-month stint helping to load planes at an air base in Qatar, a longtime US ally that is a safe distance from the fighting.
Prior to the report, Majewski told macho tales of his time overseas. He talked about going 40 days without a shower for lack of running water; about his squadron being “one of the first on the ground in Afghanistan after 9/11”; about how, after last year’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, he’d “gladly suit up and go back to Afghanistan.”
His campaign is littered with references to a manufactured war record. He identified himself as a “combat veteran” and “Afghanistan war veteran.” He’s portrayed, in one TV spot, as marauding “through a vacant factory with a rifle while pledging to restore an America that is ‘independent and strong like the country I fought for,’” per the AP.
It seems to me that his campaign’s fighting-man image looks like a cover-up for a “post-military career [that] has been defined by exaggerations, conspiracy theories, talk of violent action against the US government and occasional financial duress,” the AP said.
After the AP’s report, Majewski doubled down.
He said he couldn’t show documents proving that he’s a combat veteran, because his missions were classified. Majewski insisted, given that the air base in Qatar is designated a “combat zone,” that that makes him a combat veteran, even though he never saw combat. He called the AP story a hit piece. He threatened to sue the reporters
When a reporter from the Ohio Capital Journal asked “directly if he can call himself a combat veteran, Majewski offered: ‘I believe so.’”
It seems to me that Majewski illustrates meaningfully why Paine’s “democratic contempt” is necessary to democratize our way of life – the socioeconomic structure of our society, the top-down orders of political power that normalize, influence or coerce every decision.
In Common Sense, Paine argued that monarchies are undeserving of respect. Kings and queens are born into unquestioned privilege. They inherit their parents’ power. They never earned the right to rule. Because nature affirms political equality, their rule offends nature.
Paine’s concept addressed not only monarchy but any kind of “hereditary political privilege,” according to Mario Feit, who wrote about Paine for 2018’s Democratic Moments. In an American context, I argued last Friday, “hereditary political privilege” is white power.
White power, I said, is passed down from one generation to the next, as if it were wealth, land or property, just as kings, queens and dynasties passed down wealth, land or property to the next generation.
In effect, the dead grant the living privileges that they neither earned nor deserve. By accepting their inheritance, the heirs of white power deprive those born without an inheritance of political equality.
The result is a social structure resistant to change on account of change requiring the heirs of white power to choose between the easy advantages sent from the past and hard responsibilities expected in the present. It calls on heirs to recognize that their liberty rests on a bed of oppression and injustice. They rarely do.
Hereditary political privilege – whether monarchy or white power – is a perversion of the natural order, as Paine understood it. To be sure, the champions of “family values” believe social strata are natural. White people at the top isn’t a choice. It’s just the way things are. Any effort to change that is a perversion of the “natural order,” they say. But this is where Paine’s genius, Common Sense, comes in.
If the heirs of hereditary white power (or in Tom Paine’s case, the heirs of hereditary monarchical power) deserved naturally to be born at the top of the hierarchies of political power, you would never see a mediocre white person (or mediocre prince). They wouldn’t exist.
Obviously, they do, in abundance.
White people, like other people, are born with attributes that may or may not send them to the top of the social hierarchy. Everyone is born with an equal chance. White power defies the natural order.
Paine’s argument turns the conservative view on its head.
What is natural, according to Paine, is political equality – for the same reason. Mediocre white people, who are born with advantages nonwhite people can only dream of, can and do fail spectacularly.
JR Majewski, for instance, inherited the unearned and undeserved rights and privileges of white power. But he’s a born mediocrity. When challenged, he falls to pieces. He can’t keep his fictional stories straight. He wants the glory of “combat veteran,” but none of the sacrifices. He’s nothing special, as good or bad as any schmuck.
Majewski laid claim to the prestige of combat veterans by lying while attacking honorable people – ie, AP reporters – who exposed his lies.
To be worthy of democratic contempt, however, social conditions must be structural, as when an entire society organizes itself around protecting the heirs of white power, going so far as to using propaganda, lies and violence to ensure that it stays that way.
As such, Majewski can lie, be exposed for lying, then double down, all the while trusting that his inheritance, established 10 generations ago, will carry him over. A victory for Majewski would indeed reflect the political tyranny of the dead over the political rights of the living.
That’s democratically contemptible.
Contempt is necessary for democratizing our way of life, Paine said, because anti-democratic forces are too entrenched to be dislodged by reason alone. “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right,” Paine wrote in Common Sense, “and raises a formidable outcry in defense of custom.”
Something stronger is needed.
“There is existing in man a mass of [common] sense lying in dormant state, and which, unless something excites it to action, will descend with him in that condition to the grave,” Paine went on to say.
That’s democratic contempt for people like JR Majewski.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.