The #MeToo social movement has taken off with surprising swiftness after numerous women broke their silence in October over Harvey Weinstein’s years of alleged assaults. Every day new revelations emerge of yet another prominent man in power facing accusations from multiple women of sexual misconduct and predatory behavior—sometimes dating back decades. News media are enthusiastically reporting on these stories, and employers have been quick to suspend alleged perpetrators and launch investigations. The accusations are aimed at men across the political spectrum, revealing that men who profess liberal and conservative views alike appear to have resorted to despicable behavior behind closed doors—simply because they could.
Why then is Donald Trump still immune from the equal-opportunity whirlwind of public shaming?
It is nothing new for women to come forward about their victimization at the hands of men. But until now they have paid a high personal price for doing so, and often had their experiences discounted. One of the earliest high-profile cases in recent memory was that of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who during his confirmation hearings in 1991 faced allegations of sexual harassment by junior staff attorney Anita Hill. Hill’s accusations were ridiculed and dismissed. Right-wing operative David Brock even wrote a book about her called “The Real Anita Hill,” which he has since disavowed as “character assassination” after he changed political sides. Hill’s experience was a message to women in Washington, D.C., and the nation as a whole: If women dared expose the predations of powerful men, they would pay a stiff personal price.
And so President Bill Clinton was able to weather the storms of accusations of rape and assault by Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey—women whose names were entirely eclipsed by Monica Lewinsky and who were thrown under the bus even by feminists, as The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan describes.
Just as Clinton was able to brush off such accusations in the 1990s and remain a liberal darling, California’s socially liberal Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also swept his way into victory in 2003 despite numerous women coming forward during his election campaign, alleging that Schwarzenegger violated their bodies. Schwarzenegger, as an actor and politician, perhaps best embodies the combination of two industries (Hollywood and politics) where sexism and misogyny remain most rampant. Despite people becoming less tolerant of sexual predators in the immediate post-Weinstein era, the liberal group Common Cause has decided to honor the former California governor because he has taken a principled stand on redistricting. But a number of activists have started an online petition urging the organization to rescind its award.
Today, beloved liberal and progressive political leaders like Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and Michigan Rep. John Conyers are at risk of losing their influence and careers because they have been accused of preying on women. Despite the fact that a critical balance of power is at stake in Congress, it is crucial that the allegations be fully investigated rather than be swept under the rug. Only when standards upholding women’s rights and dignity are equally applied can all sexual predators be exposed and brought to justice—predators such as Roy Moore and Donald Trump are accused of being.
Liberals and progressive-leaning Americans have made mistakes in the past, defending men accused of being sexual predators because it was politically expedient to do so. Today, the “predator in chief” enjoys the fruits of that hypocrisy. President Trump, against whom 16 women have come forward with allegations of rape and assault, feels emboldened enough to comment on the #MeToo movement with no hint of irony, saying recently that “Women are very special,” and “I think it’s a very special time, a lot of things are coming out and I think that’s good for our society and I think it’s very, very good for women and I’m very happy.” Certainly he is happy that many of the men being accused are Democrats. But on the issue of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused by at least two women of pedophilia and sexual assault, Trump has chosen to side with the accused rather than the accusers. “He totally denies it,” was all Trump said of Moore on Tuesday, clearly throwing his weight behind a candidate whom the president is counting on to retain a solid Republican majority in the Senate.
While some Republicans, especially at the state level in Alabama, have decided it is OK to have an alleged child molester in power, prominent national GOP leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and even Attorney General Jeff Sessions (whose vacated seat Moore is running to fill) have said they believe Moore’s accusers and want him to withdraw his candidacy.
But none of the aforementioned leaders appear to believe the 16 women who have accused Trump of numerous dirty deeds, at least not in public. Just as the Democrats ought not to be able to pick and choose which women accusers they believe, the GOP leadership should be called out on its hypocrisy in believing Moore’s accusers but not Trump’s.
The sexual assault allegations against Trump are among the countless compelling reasons why he should never have become the Republican nominee or won the Electoral College last year. But that was before Weinstein was outed and before the #MeToo movement became mainstream. Today, at this particular political moment when women’s voices are being taken seriously, there is no reason a sexual predator should remain in a position of power. To undermine women and their agency in such primitive and destructive ways ought to annul all claims to authority—even years and decades removed from the alleged crimes.
Among the men facing serious accusations are some who have admitted their guilt and apologized. Others have denied the allegations against themselves. Still others are remaining silent but face investigations. In some cases the men have been suspended or fired. For those whose predations are proven true, any hardship and public shame they face today is minuscule compared to the trauma, defeat, career derailments or ridicule their victims have faced. There is rarely a reward for a woman publicly accusing someone of harassment, assault or rape. Usually there is only a deep price to pay. If today that price has become somewhat diminished, we have the #MeToo movement to thank.
Trump’s accusers have largely been dismissed by the Republican Party and its supporters and have faced threats of lawsuits by the president. Just over a year after the 2016 presidential election, will they, too, finally be heard?