The local uprising calling for the resignation of Republican State Rep. Dawn Johnson from her position in the Legislature and the Laconia School Board is a predictable response to a social media posting that was, at best, ignorant.
The outrage to Johnson’s posting of a link to an article containing an undeniably hateful, anti-Semitic cartoon is understandable. It is important, however, that those calling for Johnson’s resignation conduct themselves as something more dignified than a partisan lynch mob.
Johnson belongs to the pro-Trump, anti-mask wing of the Republican Party and has taken controversial and even extreme stands. That does not, however, disqualify her from holding office. If anything, it probably makes her a fair representative of a lot of people who went to the polls and decided to send her to Concord and elected her to the School Board twice. As active as she is on social media, her views were hardly a secret, so exerting pressure that seeks to overturn the results of an election ought not be done casually. All things being equal, the place to overturn voting results we don’t like is at the ballot box.
Johnson’s poor judgement is not a partisan issue, but a matter of human rights that should transcend politics.
Republican Rep. Mike Bordes, another member of the Laconia delegation, seemed to recognize that when he said the cartoon’s ugly caricature of a Jewish person “goes against everything I believe in.” To his credit, Bordes avoided a knee-jerk partisan response, and said he wanted to talk to Johnson and gather more information.
Other Republicans would do well to follow Bordes’ example. The right thing to do is set partisan politics aside and see Johnson’s post for what it is.
Fortunately for her, whether Johnson can continue to be effective representing the public depends in large part on Johnson herself.
Her so-called apology was weak and unconvincing. She apologized for and professed ignorance of the source of the link – the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, itself a takeoff on a prominent Nazi publication in 1930s Germany. Compounding the problem for Johnson is that she has not, as of this writing, addressed the anti-Semitic message behind the cartoon that illustrated the link she saw fit to post. It is fairly troubling that, when she was blocked from posting the link on Facebook, she doubled down and griped about Facebook refusing to publish what she called “the truth.”
She might have been referring to the part of the cartoon that suggested Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp “rigged” that state’s election, a discredited account to which Trump supporters like Johnson have continued to cling. Even so, it’s hard to understand how Johnson could read the story she linked to, see the cartoon attached to it and not realize it would be deeply offensive to Jewish people, who are now celebrating the eight nights of Hanukkah.
Her critics have tagged Johnson as a racist and anti-Semite, but we should go slow before hanging such powerful labels on people, even when they do stupid things. Moreover, it’s important to make a distinction between who Johnson is and what she did. Was what she did insensitive? Certainly. Was it ignorant? We can only hope, because that would be preferable to some of the darker explanations.
Fortunately, Johnson can show us herself that she is a far better person than the worst things people think and say about her – by how she responds to the people she hurt and offended. That has nothing to do with her political party or whether she resigns or stays in office. It has to do with decency. She has a chance to perform a valuable service by helping a wounded community heal. That ought to start with Johnson engaging the public – and especially reaching out to the Jewish community – in a forthright way.
It’s what she does next that will tell us who she really is.