The past two essays here have dealt with the nineteen (19) separate allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior by President Trump, where I pondered which of the two parties is telling the truth, and then raised the subsequent question of moral trade-offs: specifically, is receiving desired electoral outcomes—Neil Gorsuch, corporate tax cuts, etc—a worthwhile exchange for supporting a man who treats women as Trump does? ((And yes, I know, these are still only allegations, but if you seriously believe that there’s a cabal of nineteen (19) women who’ve colluded and conspired to fabricate stories and subsequently bring these charges against the President, then I’ve got a war to sell you in Iraq. Also, it’s worth noting that during the course of writing these essays, women who’ve previously accused Trump of harassing them have returned to the media and renewed their accusations. Trump’s response has been to call them all liars and deny ever having met any of them, a whopper so absurd that all it took was about four minutes for media outlets to find photos of Trump standing alongside several of these women. Are you still really wondering who’s lying???))
Perhaps it’d be useful to take step back and take a general look at the recent spate of allegations against an ever-growing number of men. On the whole, I think most of us know what is patently wrong and unacceptable treatment—having sex with, or soliciting sex with, a minor; grabbing women by their pussies; insisting that employees provide you with naked massages; masturbating in front of co-workers; making lewd sexual jokes or advances—and most of us can run those behaviors through a filter that incorporates power dynamics (President Bill Clinton pursuing low-level interns.). ((Curiously enough, I can write that “most of us know” what is right and wrong, which I believe is true, and yet it’s equally clear—based upon those real-life examples I just listed—all too many men can’t seem to act properly upon that knowledge.))
That said, in many situations there’s also a lot of gray—I’ve certainly misread women’s interest in me, and women have misread my interest in them; when such things don’t involve malice that’s simply part of life, and it’s something we all have to learn to navigate better. In addition to grayness, there’s the issue of punishment, specifically, what penalty suits which crime? What is the condign reprisal for flashing? For groping? For unwanted kissing? Lastly, time is often a factor, which is really an issue of memory, about which, if we know anything, it’s that memory is a very plastic, dynamic, and unreliable resource. My point here is not to defend creepy men (or women), rather to emphasize that often things aren’t as simple, clear and concise as we’d like to imagine.
I’ve noticed that of late many liberals have been all to willing and excited to throw any accused man under the nearest bus. I think the intention here is to give hearing and credence to women whose voices have been silenced for far too long, and while that’s admirable I think it’s effects leave a sour taste in my mouth, for two reasons: the first is that the court of public opinion is not, by definition, the appropriate court to try or convict anyone, on any charge, but especially not on one as significant and life-altering as sexual harassment. The second was mentioned above—once you get beyond the obviously wrong, sexual dynamics often become very muddied.
By and large we know where the fence posts are that demarcate the acceptable from the unacceptable, but the terrain between them is often a confusing, hazy wilderness where the compass doesn’t always point clearly to the north. ((It’s also curious that liberals, who typically tout education as a solution to social ills, have been more interested in carte-blanche castigation than in focusing upon opportunities to educate both men and women how to better interact in respectable, considerate ways. Likely that’s simply zeal at playing Gotcha!, and hopefully it’ll change sooner than later.))
To further demonstrate what a divided nation we’ve become, it’s also worth considering conservatives’ behavior. As you might expect, we see almost diametric opposition to liberals, with many conservatives transforming themselves into something straight out of Greek mythology—a monolith whose eyes and lips have been sewn shut any time accusations of sexual misbehavior arise. As an egregious example, several women accused Roy Moore of sexually assaulting them when they were minors, and in response the Republican National Party, from the President on down, got in line to support Moore. ((And those that didn’t outright support Moore sure didn’t speak loudly in opposition to him, which in situations like this is known as support of a more benign nature. More on that below.))
I also understand ((I want to be very clear in my wording: understanding is not empathizing, validating or agreeing with; it is simply seeing clearly)) the logic that many white evangelicals appear to have followed in regards to Moore, Trump, and others. As absurd as it seems, for many white evangelicals abortion is THE ISSUE OF ISSUES, and they seem to calculate the following math: If we elect Trump we’ll get Gorsuch (and hopefully others) who’ll overturn Roe v Wade, which will end legalized abortion and culminate in the saving of an endless number of lives. We don’t necessarily like Trump, he might even repulse us, but we’ll hold our noses when nineteen (19) women accuse him of sexual assault because he’ll put in motion a plan that will save millions of babies.
I’ll come back to this calculus in the last essay of this series, but in an effort at olive-branching I’ll note here that I understand this way of thinking—frankly it’s all too often how the world moves—and while my calculus was different and based upon far less odious character defects, I also held my nose a year ago when I voted for Hillary Clinton.
We could go through a long list of other examples where conservatives have remained eerily silent, but it’s worth sticking with Moore as his situation permits an opportunity to quickly study the impact a few choice words can make. In response to the allegations against Moore, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “I believe the women,” (a statement he subsequently amended to, The voters of Alabama should decide what’s best, further proof that McConnell’s back is held upright by a medically installed broom-stick and not a human spinal cord) while Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Alabama Republican Senator Richard Shelby both said, “I have no reason to doubt these women.” Ostensibly those appear to mean the same thing, but there’s a Grand Canyon’s worth of difference between believing someone and having-no-reason-to-doubt them.
Now that the special election in Alabama is over and Moore has been defeated (by a razor-thin margin, no less), liberals breathe a sigh of relief and cheer “a victory for sanity,” as if there’s anything sane about a credibly accused pedophile barely not-being-elected to the US Senate. On the opposite side of things, President Trump is now trying to distance himself from having backed a loser, a term he foolishly equates with defeat, not moral character. But who, really, has won, and what?
Electorally, Democrats have gained a Senate seat, but it’s not enough to earn them a majority, and it’s not going to stop the tax bill (which is also an environmental bill, a healthcare bill, an education bill…), undo Neil Gorsuch, or replace EPA regulations that have been rescinded.
More importantly, reducing this to electoral politics, while it plays to a certain narrative, seems to miss the point, because the fact remains that nine women have credibly accused Roy Moore of sexual misdeeds, and even though he’s now lost an election Moore does not appear set to face any civil or criminal charges for his actions. In fact, if nearly half of his fellow Alabamans still support him enough to vote for him—clearly he’s got stockpiles of community love. For someone like Moore who’s built a career out of emphasizing “justice” of the Old Testament variety, he’s clearly getting off with a very gentle form of it.
For the women who have accused Moore of misdeeds—I can’t imagine the justice that would offset being molested as a child. On this earth it’s unlikely there will ever be such a thing. Sadly, so sadly, that is a reality that they, and all of us, will have to live with.
The people of Alabama have a new senator, which is something most of us have overlooked with all the focus on the allegations against Moore. But the state’s many problems—endemic poverty, low education levels, derelict infrastructure, limited employment opportunities, to name but a few—are not entirely the fault of Republican politicians, and it’s highly unlikely Doug Jones is going to make much of a dent in any of those issues.
A creep has been kept from elected office, and clearly that’s a good thing. Each day this subject remains in the news appears to embolden more women, and their supporters, to come forward with their stories, and that also seems like a very good thing. What it means for President Trump, and the women who’ve accused him specifically, we’ll have to wait and see.