Over the course of the past two months, movements to unearth sexual misconduct of public figures in nearly all nationally recognized professions has led to an unfortunate realization—American culture still does not support women nearly enough. While this movement has disproportionately centered around the media and politics, it stands to reason it does not stop there. Yet, what becomes crucial in this time of disappointment and outrage, is that our elected officials act in a fashion becoming of the desires of their constituents, and as a moral compass for society. Gamesmanship ought to be pushed to the side, and everyone from Franken to Moore needs to resign themselves from the public eye and allow more morally sound leaders to take their place. Remaining in positions of power, when those positions of power themselves gave these inhumane, abhorrent men the ability to take advantage of women, sends a message to the American public that their politicians are complicit and de facto sponsors of brutalizing and demeaning behavior towards women.
If anything is to change, the buck needs to stop here. No more equivocations, no more justifications of lewd and deeply unsettling behavior. Conyers and Franken have done what is necessary. Moore must follow suit. President George H.W. Bush needs to truly apologize, not apologize for the misinterpretation of his actions. Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly, Charlie Rose, and Mark Halperin should never receive a second more of airtime to legitimize their behaviors. The best course of action at this point is to make a statement to all of the abusers and all of those who are still at large in the public trust (which there are undoubtedly many): those who disrespect women have no place in government.
The question then becomes, “How did society get to this point?” There are multiple answers to this question. The first may be when true feminists became so unmoored from their principles they so unconscionably defended Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial for his actions. The Atlantic has even noted this movement’s power in such a process, observing “Feminists saved the 42nd president [Clinton] of the United States in the 1990s.” When the greatest advocates for women’s’ rights, or rather, the most heard advocates such as Gloria Steinem openly stated that Clinton’s sexual harassment of Paula Jones was simply a “pass” and not a crime, it is hard not to construe that as normalizing what many would call misogynistic and patriarchal behavior. Simply because President Clinton belonged to the more progressive party known to sponsor a women-focused agenda does not allow him any exculpation from actions that indicate otherwise.
Senator Franken has a past of supporting very progressive pro-women agenda, but that did not stop him from groping a sleeping and utterly defenseless woman with a grin. Roy Moore may preach a return to Christian values in his campaign, but that seemingly did not prevent the Alabama judge from ‘dating’ girls half his age, and his supporters rationalizing it biblically.
It is equally conceivable to think that the true #MeToo movement that caught fire with Harvey Weinstein ought to have started months or perhaps years earlier, with the disgusting behavior demonstrated by Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, and company at FOX News. When Megyn Kelly openly came on the record before many of the brave women who have come forward today to tell her story of her superiors’ sexual misconduct, it was not looked at as a national issue, but simply a FOX News issue. To think that due to the partisan leanings of a media outlet the voices of oppressed women were ignored is morally untenable. FOX News’ sexual deviancy should have been the start of a national discussion of how women receive treatment in the work place months and years before Weinstein, but the alleged moral superiority of the elitist and non-principled left in power made this impossible. Instead, what came of it was that a nonsensical crafted narrative of morally backward conservatives who enjoy to cat-call and grope younger women. Frankly, it should not have mattered whether the perpetrators were employed at FOX or MSNBC. What does matter is that due to politicized moral hypocrisy, this movement to support women was delayed in its synthesis for months, allowing many more women to fall by the wayside.
When Americans discuss the moral standards that they hold their public figures to, what should never come into conversation is political party. Senator Franken has a past of supporting very progressive pro-women agenda, but that did not stop him from groping a sleeping and utterly defenseless woman with a grin. Roy Moore may preach a return to Christian values in his campaign, but that seemingly did not prevent the Alabama judge from ‘dating’ girls half his age, and his supporters rationalizing it biblically. What the conversation needs is deserving moral clarity; no matter how high in the political ranks one rises, they are not and will never be above the law and decent human standards for behavior. What the party and the country needs are more people who see the distinction—country over party. Sen. Jeff Flake’s inspiring and noble act of donating to Moore’s opposition campaign is now drawing undue fire from both sides of the aisle. Americans need more senators like Flake, who put the reputation and honor of the legislature ahead of party loyalties, not gamesmanship oriented politicos who criticize Flake’s stand on principle to score points with far right and far left voters.
What needs to happen now is a bipartisan nationwide response. Granted, the balance between due-process rights and political expediency is a tough one to strike, but what remains a common thread between Conyers, Franken, and Moore, is that each actor’s guilt is truly self-evident. For Franken, there is photographic evidence, and yet the senator refused to consider resigning his post until today after more women came out against him. All it should have taken is one credible case for Franken to recuse himself from office.
The Democrats have the moral high ground right now. It is high time Moore follows suit, not for political expediency, but simply because it is the right thing to do.
In Moore’s case, the Washington Post’s piece was rock-solid in its evidence, and when far-right wing fanatics tried to insert false allegations into it to delegitimize its findings, the robustness of its journalistic standards rejected the inclusion. Moore has even gradually admitted some degree of truth to the allegations, but culpability has not followed suit. For Rep. Conyers, it took days for Nancy Pelosi to revise her assessment of him as an “icon in our country” to urge him to resign. Even after he did resign, the fact that news outlets are following who he decides to ‘endorse’ is ethically dubious at best. As far as any voter should be concerned, Rep. Conyers lost the license to have a say in who his successor is when he defiled the dignity of those women.
Finally, to no surprise, President Trump has provided horrendous leadership through these trying times. While he has staunchly and fully endorsed Moore, an utterly disgusting and shameful act, he has pounced on any opportunity to damage the reputation of his left-wing counterparts. This type of behavior sends a message to our enemies and friends alike, that Americans are too gridlocked in their party divisions to even call out as blatant a wrong as sexual assault. In fact, American politicians harbor known assaulters. How far does this need to go for it to transcend party lines? Does a senator have to be a closet terrorist, Klansman, and North Korean spy to get full opposition, or will that even spur party insult hurling?
What the President also neglects to mention are the more than dozen accounts of his own sexual misconduct in the past. He now even in private circles states that he does not believe the Access Hollywood tapes to even be of his own voice. Both parties, especially the Republicans needed to apply more pressure to him during the election to bar such a pseudo-conservative and reviling person from office.
How does this problem get fixed? It starts in families, where fathers need to make clear to their sons that they need to be gentlemen and decent human beings at all times. It starts in the workplace, where policies on sexual misconduct need to be far clearer and complaint systems must become more workable for the victim without compromising due process rights.
This type of heinous behavior is unacceptable from the highest office in the land, but to be clear, it is nothing new: President Kennedy was well known for his regular philandering, President Clinton is rather self-explanatory. The public needs to know that this behavior is nothing new and is not symptomatic of a Trump presidency. Unfortunately, as frustrating and sad as it is, Trump should not be removed from office on this basis. The damage that a discontinuity in our presidency would do is immeasurable. In fact, President Trump is a byproduct of a culture that keeps women powerless and objectified.
How does this problem get fixed? It starts in families, where fathers need to make clear to their sons that they need to be gentlemen and decent human beings at all times. It starts in the workplace, where policies on sexual misconduct need to be far clearer and complaint systems must become more workable for the victim without compromising due process rights. It starts in our government, where known sexual abusers need to step away from public lives and careers immediately.