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He’s baaaack! Lessons from the Smollett case

Whether cracked or attacked, there is insight to be wrung from the actor’s saga.

With his mother, Janet Smollett, on his right arm and flanked by other family members and supporters, former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Tuesday morning, Nov. 30, 2021. The 39-year-old actor and singer is charged with lying to Chicago police in 2019 when he claimed he was the victim of a racist and anti-gay attack near his Streeterville apartment. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Tuesday.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Has the law ever been compared to a dim cat? No? Good, then let me be the first. Waking Monday morning to see the dead mouse of the Jussie Smollett case dropped on our collective pillow is a reminder not only of walnut-brained felines, but that when Hamlet lists the reasons to kill himself, “the law’s delay” is No. 2, right after the pangs of unrequited love.

Almost three years. Longer than COVID-19, and COVID-19 feels like forever. You’d think it should be done by now. But no. He’s baaaaack.

Given that a trial is going on, journalistic convention discourages me from endorsing either of the two possible narratives: A) That Smollett was the victim of this strange racist/homophobic attack committed by a pair of his employees, as the defense now suggests. Or B) Smollett himself paid his two associates $3,500 — by check, since we are not dealing with Lex Luthor here — to stage the attack in some kind of cracked effort to boost his profile and hence his salary.

I’m not publicly endorsing one or the other. Let’s just say I believe the one that doesn’t require a suspension of common sense. While we’re waiting for the jury to choose, no one can fault us, the unwilling audience, if we pass the time by trying to extract a bit of benefit out of this waste by noting three of the general lessons illustrated here.

1) Don’t lie. Lying is a trap. Alas, the same sort of person who fabricates stuff also lacks the fortitude to admit it when caught. And so it continues.

We’ve seen this on a national scale as the election fraud lie of Donald Trump has become the bedrock belief of the Republican Party. Worse than merely a lie, it’s a flimsy lie. They obviously don’t really believe the election was stolen from them in some amorphous way they can’t explain, never mind prove. If they actually believed that, why vote at all?

Rather, it’s just the lie they use to grease the skids of their bad behavior to fool themselves, if nobody else. The way Smollett is ignoring the fact that at one point he did community service — not the usual route taken by victims of hate crime — before Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s special alternate system of justice for TV stars came to light and the matter was taken out of her hands and given to a special prosecutor.

2) An example isn’t proof. Smollett became the poster child for the frantic GOP dance to deny endemic racism in this country — most recently seen in the whole “critical race theory” canard. They celebrate this possible farce as a code — another in an endless series of nudges and leers and winks. Just as individual crimes committed by immigrants are tossed up by those who hate immigrants, criminal or not, so the Smollett incident, whatever the law eventually deems it, is offered in the smirking suggestion that all racist attacks are fabricated. When, of course, they’re not. Just a few isolated rare instances, without pointing any fingers at any situations being adjudicated right now.

3) The general tendency to assume people aren’t loathsome haters trips us up. I get this from Jews every time I write anything even mildly negative concerning any Jewish practice, or individual, or the state of Israel. They shrey (Yiddish for “cry out in a complaining manner) that I am just providing ammunition for anti-Semites. This gives anti-Semites way too much credit by suggesting they’re weighing reality and trying to decide in what direction the evidence goes. “Hmmm, should I be a decent human being or throw in my lot with Hitler? Here’s a data point to add to my decision chart ...”

Not what happens. The people who are going to hold up Smollett as indicative of anything beyond what may or may not have occurred are just using him as propaganda. They’re also ignoring he could be innocent. Maybe the confederates are the liars, hiding behind a fabricated story. It’s possible.

I believe it would take the best actor in the world to convince a jury of that. Maybe Jussie Smollett is the best actor in the world. Maybe not. A big part of success in acting is knowing which roles to pick. This tawdry drama is not something a decent person would want to cast himself in. Like any lousy production, it can’t end soon enough.