MSNBC, CNN and the network nightly news anchors and commentators for weeks could not stop talking about all the politicians, men of power and celebrities who have groped, assaulted, or raped women over the years. It had started awhile back in Hollywood with Bill Cosby’s now all but forgotten drugging and raping many women over his career. The latest flurry of revelations began with the belated exposure of Harvey Weinstein’s decades old practice of using his power as a movie producer to subjugate vulnerable young actresses and take carnal advantage of them.
Then it was deranged Alabama politician, “Judge Roy Moore,” well, twice removed from the bench Roy Moore. His career of stalking, groping, and attempting to seduce underage girls apparently spanned decades. Numerous accusations about Donald Trump’s exploiting his celebrity to make rude advances to pretty women had surfaced during the 2 016 presidential campaign. “Access Hollywood” had videotaped his bragging about the behavior. It want viral, for a while. Occasionally, as cases of other politicians and celebrities are exposed, someone asks, what about that long list of victims who complained of Donald Trump’s exploiting his celebrity status to grope women, and even bragging about it on camara?
Well, the congenital liar has vehemently denied it all, calling all sixteen or so women “liars.” Apparently, that is enough to establish the innocence of a narcissistic sociopath of sufficient celebrity or authority. In cases of accusation of sexual abuse of women or girls by men, especially men of power or fame, the accuser is assumed guilty of maligning the reputation of a good man, until proven otherwise, in which case, “she wanted it.”
Is the media attention overdone? Well, yes and no. The media over-reported in that the interest was to some extent prurient. I noticed that on MSNBC, CNN, and every nightly news program I watched during this time, virtually no mention was made of the struggles in Bonn to move the agenda of climate action forward at the United Nations conference in the face of the singular Trumpist resistance. That was surely under-reported. Salacious reporting does drive viewership to some extent. Sensationalism Trumped global crisis. At the same time, significant and valuable cultural and political commentary has emerged from the sexual abuse scandals. Maybe some executives, politicians, and celebrities will think twice now. Maybe.
The list goes on. Now even Al Franken, stands accused of inappropriately touching a female reporter on a USO tour while still a comedian, and spinning crass riffs in the writers room of Saturday Night Live. Franken’s case is a bit different; he is the only one to have fully admitted the facts and apologized for his behavior. The apology seemed sincere and his victim accepted it. Now, Senator Elisabeth Warren and others have proposed a permanent bipartisan ethics committee to investigate sexual harassment accusations in the Congress.
Charlie Rose, famed television interviewer, has had his contracts cancelled and has lost his shows with CBS and PBS, after several women accused him of sexual abuse. Some folks were quite shocked, since they viewed the articulate interrogator as a paragon of virtue. After all, he was so talented at throwing softballs at world leaders and celebrities. The quick corporate response indicates a cultural change. But the deeper question is, why now, why so many revelations so fast?
Well, the answer is not so difficult. Women and girls have suffered sexual abuse for decades, without recourse, in the U.S. Whether in the corporate office, senate chambers, television studio, Olympic Games locker room, or even at home, victims consistently suffered disbelief and denial all that time. The Women’s Liberation movement had never really reached that level of oppression. Silence was the fruit of “blaming the victim,” as well as disbelief and denial. I suspect the Harvey Weinstein case broke the ice in a way, especially with Bill Cosby’s track record as context. So many people in Weinstein’s company and in the industry knew of Weinstein’s behavior, that his equivocating and dissociating fell on deaf ears. A groundswell of courage among victims slowly began, then became contagious.
Bottom line: all this, except for the current revelatory contagion, has gone on for a long time. Men of power have used that power to take advantage of subordinate women, sometimes men, and even vulnerable children just about everywhere. Sexual abuse is the abuse of power. The “political correctness” of women’s rights built up over the past four decades, so maligned by Trump and his misogynist base, set the scene for the wellspring of courage of many victims to tell their stories in a new context of recognition and acknowledgement of their victimhood. The massive participation of men and women together in the Women’s March also demonstrated the underlying cultural change that Trumpery cannot stop.
None of these men, from the Kennedys and Bushes to Al Franken and Charlie Rose, (even, I dare say, the disturbed pistol-waving Roy Moore) are merely one-dimensional characters. Even the late Hugh Hefner, despite his exploitation of “Bunnies” and subjects of centerfolds, contributed to civil rights and to the protection of abandoned and exploited street children. Life is complex. But the ability of the powerful to exploit or abuse the dependent and the vulnerable is a simple matter of differential power. Failure of others to deal with the culprits results from the mistaken, often unconscious, cultural illusion of might making right. That is why Trump has gotten away with so much … so far. After all, to his politically blind base, he can do no wrong. Vigilance remains, as always, the price of attaining freedom and realizing human values.