I accuse: Channeling Emile Zola in today’s Asheville

Carl Mumpower


France in the late 1800s was not a happy place. Although frivolity and immorality flourished, the country was swollen with vanity, harms and pretense. But even darker than the drunken corners of popular cabarets such as the Moulin Rouge were the halls of politics. Then and there, much like now and here, words and imagery flourished at the expense of truth.

No one event typified this internal decay more than the multiple injustices of the Dreyfus Affair.

In 1894, Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army, was falsely accused of treason. Central to the ruse was an investigator who was eventually proven to be the real spy. Sentenced to life on Devil’s Island, Dreyfus suffered his fate — in isolation — for years.

Salvation came via a gentleman of remarkable wisdom and courage named Emile Zola. Already famous for tackling inequities in France’s social justice system, the crusading man of letters saw an opportunity in the lies and deceit of his country’s political and military leadership.

In an open letter addressed to the French president that was titled “J’Acuse” and published on the front page of the Paris newspaper L’Aurore, Zola made his case against a parade of wrongs. His bravely placing both himself and his career at risk helped force a process, arduous and painful, that ultimately led to Dreyfus’ exoneration and reinstatement.

The perpetrators, much like today’s villains, largely evaded earthly accountability. Still, truths were revealed, and France’s bureaucracy was thereby shaken and reformed.

Then and now

Zola’s time-traveling impact provides a reminder that our America is equally in need of voices offering more than recycled popular sentiments: There’s no heart in an echo.

I am certain the French author would take no offense at a less talented voice borrowing his “J’Acuse” model. What better way to challenge a home community that is similarly darkened by discounted vanities, harms and pretense?

Accordingly, here are six in your honor, Mr. Zola:

  • I accuse our city leadership of a grave betrayal of their primary governing mandate: to protect the public. I offer as evidence their systematic destruction of our city police force, selective application of the rule of law and patent support for violent lawbreakers masquerading as social justice protesters. I offer as further evidence our having recently landed in the top 10% of American cities with the highest rates of violent crime.
  • I accuse former Mission Hospital board members, the medical community, city and county elected officials, and hospital administrators of collaborating to sell our community’s hospital to a band of health care robber barons. Complicit in this mission were mainstream media outlets, an indifferent populace and oversight agencies that ignored HCA’s astoundingly visible track record of profiteering and deteriorating service, all of which is easily discoverable by a computer-armed middle schooler. This sacrifice of an irrecoverable pillar of community health will long haunt us in the form of crushed standards and hushed sufferings.
  • I accuse our city of surrendering to the scourges of an out-of-control drug culture. This omnipresent harm is consuming individuals, families and neighborhoods; ruining the lives of children, the elderly and other vulnerable citizens in public housing; and overwhelming an abused and fragile public safety system. The evidence sleeps amid our woods, streets and emergency rooms.
  • I accuse our commerce associations, businesses and community entrepreneurs of ignoring or supporting a parade of misguided public policies in exchange for economic bounty. There is earned condemnation in the consequent creation of a city where normal people can no longer afford to live and historical values have been carelessly discarded and betrayed.
  • I accuse our local daily paper and television station of failing to uphold the most basic of journalistic ethics: the inclusion of diverse points of view on matters of community importance. This stoically liberal bias on the part of the indispensable Fourth Estate has aided and abetted the previously cited forces of harm. This misstep has undermined faith in media credibility and resulted in city and county governments that have abandoned the key principle of incorporating a wide range of views. Where diversity of thought is betrayed, error and corruption are ensured.
  • Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I accuse those whom Christian psychiatrist M. Scott Peck warned us about in his book People of the Lie. In a society in which so many advocate for the seven vices (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth) rather than the seven virtues (chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness and humility), we find the nourishment for most of today’s miseries.

Were he with us today, Mr. Zola would proclaim his crystal-clear recognition that in the struggle between right and wrong, there’s no lasting immunity. He would also understand that when you lock your eyes on evil, it’s only a matter of time before evil locks its eyes on you.

Former Asheville City Council member Carl Mumpower is a practicing psychologist. He can be reached at drmumpower@aol.com.


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20 thoughts on “I accuse: Channeling Emile Zola in today’s Asheville

  1. Phillip Williams

    Yes, very well put, Doc. I warrant that the Usual Suspects will set in directly, hollering either about your piece or any comment that supports it!

  2. Voirdire

    Lest we forget, the meek shall inherit the earth …what’s left of it anyway. I have a sneaking feeling the righteous Mr. Mumpower and his decidedly self-appointed pious ilk will not be included amongst them. In the meantime, let’s remember that more often than not, it is the accusing whom are often the owners of their very accusations. We can and must do better than this hollow bombast. Emile Zola, in the end, was a complete believer in his fellow man. We need more of that and less of this.

    • WNC

      “it is the accusing whom are often the owners of their very accusations“
      Sorta like those who call discrimination the loudest are often the most predisposed to their opinions of other groups and thought?

    • Voirdire

      …hollow partisan bombast. Anyway, your point is well taken vis a vis those who accuse the loudest… ah oui? I might add that Mr. Mumpower’s criticism of the Mission Hospital “sale” is not without some merit. It was, without a doubt, a complete and utter disgrace (bordering on criminal) with the Mission board bearing complete responsibility…. for the shocking shirking of their responsibilities. The silence from our local elected officials during the heist was deafening as well.

    • Bornandraisedhere

      The meek shall inherit the earth, and that’s just enough earth to bury you in.

      I also accuse this coxcomb of journalism, mountainx, of toxic censorship to tweak its bottom line. I was just getting ready to make a contribution but no, not after your latest round of censorship.

  3. North Asheville

    Whatever the merits or demerits of Mr. Mumpower’s use of Emile Zola as his framing device, he is correct on at least one item: “former Mission Hospital board members, the medical community, city and county elected officials, and hospital administrators of collaborating to sell our community’s hospital to a band of health care robber barons.” Could some serious investigative journalist dig deeply into this story and find out why this happened, why non-profit systems like Duke, UNC Health, were not considered? Who benefited from this sale? Avl Watchdog? Cecil Bothwell? Jason Sandford? Angie Newsome? Mountain Xpress, do you have any investigative journalists left? Citizen-Times, do you have any investigative journalists left?

    • Patrick

      After the city and county decided to not support Mission with its BCBS battle, pretty sure Ron Paules decided to give WNC the big middle finger.

      • luther blissett

        Pretty sure Ron Paulus needed all of his fingers to hold those giant bags of cash. Mission was being fattened up for market long before the BCBS standoff.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      NO! North Asheville, there are NO investigative journalists here…and the term is an oxymoron.

  4. Jason

    In other news: local conservative uses local paper to complain how local papers are silencing local conservatives.

  5. ashevillain7

    Action: Disregard

    Anyone who thinks that either the AC-T or WLOS have a liberal bias is not worth paying attention to.

  6. luther blissett

    Dr. Mumpower is never not an interesting conservative in a modern political climate where conservatism is mostly a loud and repetitive and tedious drumbeat. (This is only the faintest nod to Zola, though. My modest proposal is that writers should not try to emulate such models.)

    Should City Council prevent police officers from resigning? That seems unconservative. What does it even mean to support the police? Does it differ from a demand to support firefighters or sanitation workers? Who gets to say whether the police are being supported or not? Should it be the police themselves? The good doctor knows that people are often not the best judges of whether they are being supported. And if not the police, who earns the right to pass judgment?

    Should officers be paid more? Then that will require the money to pay them. Should revenues be diverted from the TDA slush fund in lieu of raising taxes — and if so, has he advocated this to elected members of his party? I’m sure he has Chuck Edwards’ number.

    The accusations against Mission/HCA are less controversial, with one exception:

    “Complicit in this mission were mainstream media outlets, an indifferent populace and oversight agencies that ignored HCA’s astoundingly visible track record of profiteering and deteriorating service”

    That’s not true, is it? Pretty much everybody predicted it at the time and plenty of people spoke out. Most people lacked the power to prevent it; a few people lacked the political will to do so, or weren’t prepared to step in front of a bulldozer. Perhaps Dr. Mumpower should have attended a few WNC Healthcare for All meetings where the Mission CMO made all kinds of promises about HCA’s management that have not been kept. Perhaps he should advocate for all hospitals to be placed in public ownership. Perhaps he should advocate for the end of fee-for-service health care.

    As Jonathan Swift wrote in one of his more obscure works, there are many vices that are illegal but many that are not, and there are many virtues that are punished when they should be rewarded. Those with the power to make laws or influence them will often do so in a way that deems their own vices virtuous. Who wields power in Asheville and Buncombe County — who really wields power — and who does not?

    • Mike

      “The good doctor knows that people are often not the best judges of whether they are being supported.”

      Yes, please, tell me what is best for me.

      • luther blissett

        “Yes, please, tell me what is best for me”

        An alcoholic thinks that support means “buying me some liquor.”

        Dr. Mumpower is a clinical psychologist. He literally gets paid to help people work through what is best for them and what is not.

    • Ed Rothberg

      When you allow the base of a monument to say DEFUND THE PIGS, city council is not supporting the police. Do you think? They could have paid to clean it off just like they paid to demolish the monument.


      • luther blissett

        That’s not an answer, though. What does “supporting the police” look like? What actual criteria do you set for that would make you say “yes, the police are being supported”?

  7. Big Al

    Such a cliché when a pseudointellectual quotes a philosopher to try and impress their liberal frenemies.

  8. Bright

    Mumpower should have used Dostoyevsky instead of Zola to frame his little commentary above…recall Crime and Punishment?

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