Note: This piece was written and published prior to Julie Swetnick’s allegations being made public.
As the drama surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court drags on, it unfortunately is difficult to say what has been the most disheartening aspect of this process. Certainly, for people who have lamented the partisan rancor of American politics in recent memory, calls to delay or speed up proceedings have done little to assuage their concerns. On a personal note, I consider anything that makes Mitch McConnell more relevant than he usually is a net loss as well, but that is for each of us to decide.
In all seriousness, though, probably the worst aspect of this whole affair is that it has dredged up so many awful attitudes on the subject of sexual assault, rape, and accountability for males in the #MeToo era. For those previously living under a rock, Kavanaugh has been accused by two women of some form of egregious sexual behavior, with Deborah Ramirez, board member and volunteer at Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence and Yale University graduate, joining Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a psychologist and professor of statistics at Palo Alto University, as an accuser. Since coming out to allege Kavanaugh of trying to force himself on her as a teenager, Blasey Ford and her family have been subject to death threats and have been forced to hire private security. For his part, Kavanaugh and his family have received threats too.
Then again, maybe the pain of hearing and reading the callous disbelief of some observers is worth exposing their misguided and outmoded ways of thinking. Still, that the tenor of arguments outside the purview of Congress and Washington, D.C. echoes that of lawmakers who divide reflexively along party lines is disturbing. In reality, regardless of whether or not Kavanaugh gets the job, the believability of Blasey Ford and other survivors should not be a partisan issue.
That opinions along gender lines might similarly be divided is likewise unsettling, albeit somewhat understandable. There’s a probable generational component, too, as well as other ways by which responses may be separated. As a white cisgender male young adult, my perspective may be indicative of this identity, so feel free to keep this context in mind as you weigh my thoughts.
With that said, let’s address some of the comments one is liable to hear leading up to a prospective vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s candidacy to be a Supreme Court Justice.
“Boys will be boys.”
Ah, yes. The old “boys will be boys” line. While keeping in mind the notion that Kavanaugh was reportedly in high school when he is alleged to have made an unwanted advance on Christine Blasey, or in college when a second instance of alleged unsolicited sexual behavior occurred with Deborah Ramirez, his relative youth or hormones doesn’t excuse the way he acted—it merely provides context. Especially considering that there is no accompanying sentiment that “girls should be girls,” if young women are expected to behave as ladies, young men should be able to comport themselves as gentlemen. Particularly if they belong to the “superior” sex, and sarcastic eye-rolls are warranted in this instance.
What’s alarming to me is how I’ve heard women defend Kavanaugh’s behavior along these lines, more so on the side of supporters of the Republican Party, and yet even so. “I mean, what hot-blooded male hasn’t acted like that?” Well, I haven’t, for one, and neither have the men who make consensual sexual acts a priority. Even if we’re grading Kavanaugh personally on a curve because “things were different then,” it’s 2018 and he will be adjudicating matters according to today’s standards. Right here and now, “boys will be boys” needs to be retired.
“They were drinking/drunk.”
Right. We know that alcohol consumption can lower inhibitions. It can make us do things we wouldn’t normally do and would be wise in avoiding, such as throwing table tennis balls in plastic cups and drinking out of them regardless of where those balls have been or, say, eating at White Castle. Nevertheless, getting inebriated does not obviate an individual’s obligation to behave responsibly, nor it does comprise consent to be violated in any way. This is akin to the notion that females dressed in a certain way are “asking for it.” It’s victim-blaming, and it’s not an acceptable defense for sexual assault or rape. End of story.
The other main reason for invoking alcohol is to cast aspersions on the veracity of the accuser’s account. Deborah Ramirez was drinking at the time of the alleged incident, and as such, there are “gaps” in her memory. This notwithstanding, she maintains she is confident enough in what she does remember about Kavanaugh’s conduct and that it warrants scrutiny. That should be enough, and if what Ramirez is saying is accurate, it makes Kavanaugh’s behavior seem that much more appalling that he would try to take advantage of the situation.
“If it really happened, she/he would’ve gone to the authorities.”
Sigh. There is any number of reasons why victims of sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, or rape might be reluctant to file a police report or even tell people close to them about it. They might feel a sense of shame surrounding what happened, despite deserving no blame. They might be in denial or aim to minimize the gravity of it. They might be afraid of potential repercussions or simply fear they won’t be believed, especially if drugged or under the influence of alcohol. They already might suffer from low self-esteem and somehow think they deserve to be mistreated. They might feel a sense of helplessness or hopelessness about the situation. They might not even recognize what happened to them constitutes one of the above. Perhaps worst of all, they might already have been a victim, fundamentally altering their approach to future such situations.
In short, there’s plenty of legitimate reasons why an unsolicited sexual advance or encounter might go unreported. Noting this, we should afford victims understanding and the chance to come forward with their recollections when they are ready. Besides, this is before we get to the instances of victims who do come forward and still aren’t taken at their word.
“They’re just doing this to get their 15 minutes of fame.”
Yes—all that fame. Besides Anita Hill and famous victims of Harvey Weinstein et al., how many of these people who report an assault or rape do you know offhand? I’m guessing not many. Sure—we know Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez right now. Will we remember them 10 years down the road? Five, even?
As is their misfortune, if they are remembered by the masses, they likely won’t be known for being compassionate, intelligent, proud women with college degrees and inspired careers. They’ll instead probably be known simply as accusers, their names forever tied to the man who allegedly victimized them. Depending on the audience, they also stand to be vilified for trying to bring a “good man” down, and as noted, there’s the matter of death threats and potential professional repercussions. For the supposed benefits, these accusers have that much more to lose. Courageous? Yes. Glorious? No.
“This is all just part of a Democratic smear campaign.”
You can question the timing of these revelations and whether there is any political dimension to them. Blasey Ford and Ramirez are either registered Democrats or have donated to liberal/progressive groups, though they aver that this did not factor into their decision to come forward. At the end of the day, however, if the allegations are true, does any of this matter? So what if these accounts come to light less than two months before the midterm elections? There’s never a “good” time to disclose such inconvenient truths.
Nor does it matter that these events happened years, decades ago. Regardless of whether or not the accused can still be found guilty in a court of law, victims may still live with the pain and shame of their encounter. If left untreated, these wounds will not heal. That’s not something we should encourage in the name of political expediency.
After all, in speaking of timing and political expediency, how are we to regard Kavanaugh’s letter signed by 65 women who knew him when he attended high school and attest to his honorable behavior and treatment of women with respect? How were these women found and contacted so quickly to produce this document? And what does this prove? If we can view Blasey’s and Ramirez’s past conduct through a critical lens, we can view this attempt to sway the minds of ranking congressional members similarly. Just because Brett Kavanaugh didn’t disrespect these women doesn’t mean he didn’t hurt others.
Ever since the likes of Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein were being brought down by accusers nowhere near as powerful or famous as they are, many observers have had a tough time reconciling apparently conflicting principles. One is that purported victims of sexual assault and other crimes should be believed, regardless of gender. Since women are disproportionately victims in this regard, this means implicitly believing women. The other principle is presumption of innocence. Until we know all “the facts,” Brett Kavanaugh shouldn’t be labeled a sexual predator.
While noting that this is more akin to a job interview than a trial for Kavanaugh and while the court of public opinion increasingly seems to eschew the need for a preponderance of evidence before assigning guilt, we would do well to remain open to the idea that both sides of the story could be true. Brett Kavanaugh claims he is innocent. That is his version of the truth. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez claim otherwise. That is their version of the truth. Not being in the room with them, we can’t know for sure. But without subscribing to an agenda, we can choose which of these is the best answer, so to speak. Assuming these parties testify, that is what the Senate Judicial Committee will be tasked with.
Whomever we personally believe, the important thing is that these claims be investigated. With all due respect to Kavanaugh and his family, as well as the aims of Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley, the veracity of the accusations supersedes their feelings. “Judge Kavanaugh’s reputation might suffer.” So? What of his accusers? If recent history is any indication, Kavanaugh might not receive enough votes to be confirmed, but it’s unlikely he will suffer serious adverse effects to his livelihood as a result of these proceedings.
For instance, for his supposed fall from grace, Louis C.K. was able to do a surprise comedy routine less than a year since he admitted wrongdoing. For men like him, it’s evidently a question of when he will come back, not if he should. For the women who were his victims, they can’t come back to prominence—and there’s a good chance they gave up on comedy because of how they were treated by him. For every James Franco starring in The Deuce, there’s an Ally Sheedy who cites Franco as a reason not to ask her why she left the television/film business. That sounds messed up to me.
As for McConnell and his Republican brethren, I have little to no sympathy for their wanting to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed despite multiple claims of misconduct and after refusing to hear Merrick Garland’s nomination by Barack Obama following the death of Antonin Scalia. If you want a nominee for Supreme Court Justice voted on with less controversy, you and your GOP mates should do a better job of vetting one. Pick again. We’ll wait. It’s not our problem if you can’t afford to.
In the end, those of us who believe Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and all purported victims of sexual assault until given a reason to doubt them do so because we simply have no reason to doubt them in the first place. If Brett Kavanaugh is innocent and telling the truth, he will likely be confirmed (and may be anyway, for that matter), and we lose nothing. It is those who reflexively question the accusers and hack away at their credibility that risk inexorable damage to their own. For their sake, I hope they like their odds.
Russian prostitutes and golden showers. If there is anything about the so-called Steele dossier with which you are familiar, most likely, it’s related to these kinds of salacious details/services that Donald Trump is alleged to have solicited at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow in 2013. To be sure, there are more serious concerns to be had within the Trump-Russia dossier, ones pertaining to notions that Vladimir Putin and Russian operatives cultivated Trump as a candidate and means to disrupt Western alliances, that key members of the Trump campaign worked alongside Russian leadership to foster this relationship and to discredit Hillary Clinton, and that Trump and Co. negotiated deals which outlined a plan for Trump to lift sanctions on Russia and to remove Russian intervention in Ukraine from a list of campaign priorities in exchange for a stake in Russian oil. Very, very serious concerns.
Of course, these aspects of the dossier do not grab attention and headlines quite like lurid tales of peeing on beds as a way of thumbing one’s nose at Barack and Michelle Obama. What’s more, this scatological material and doubts raised by some critics as to the veracity of the dossier’s contents have made even those on the left who would characteristically jump at the chance to exploit such intel about Trump reluctant to do so. It is in this context that we may view the delicate relationship between those who demonize the President and his supposed affair with Stephanie Clifford, known more commonly to the world as Stormy Daniels, screenwriter, director, and pornographic actress. According to Daniels, she had a sexual encounter with Donald Trump after meeting him in 2006 when she was 27 and he was 60. Oh, and he happened to be married to Melania at this point, too.
Recently, Daniels was interviewed by Anderson Cooper for 60 Minutes, and while many of the details discussed may have been known to people who have specifically been following this story, having it unfold on national television lends itself to being talked about at the water cooler, or throughout the blogosphere or Twitterverse. Much of it, for better or worse, is entertaining. Daniels spanking Trump with a magazine with his own face on the cover. That the pair did not use a condom. Trump telling Daniels she reminded him of his daughter, Ivanka. (Creeper alert!) As with the Steele dossier, there are larger issues to be found within Stormy Daniels’ insider account, including but not limited to a $130,000 payment to Daniels facilitated by Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, associated with the alleged signing of a non-disclosure agreement to keep this affair secret less than two weeks before the 2016 election (which may be part of a campaign finance violation), as well as threats of lawsuits and physical violence against Daniels if she did not comply or violated the terms of the agreement.
Again, there are elements of this story which people on both sides of the political aisle would find disagreeable, and thus would make Stormy Daniels a strange and uncomfortable bedfellow. Certainly, Trump loyalists will question Daniels’ credibility based on notions that she is leveraging her supposed encounter with Trump for fame and money, or that she claims to have lied about the affair never happening because she felt she was under duress or otherwise forced to; Anderson Cooper alludes to these thoughts of naysayers at different points during the interview. Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, many Trump haters, though perhaps eager to discredit POTUS on matters of deficient moral fiber, are nonetheless gun-shy about invoking the words of a porn star when they may possess their own reservations about her character. There’s a separate discussion that merits having with respect to expression of sexuality in our society, especially for women, but suffice it to say that even discerning members of the left may view Daniels as a lesser-than who lacks real skill or talent, or worse yet, tantamount to a whore.
Even if we see less value than others do in Stormy Daniels’ chosen profession—though I have a number of concerns with aspects of the adult entertainment industry, I personally don’t see value in shaming sex workers, but you’re entitled to your opinion—and even if we question her motives in speaking out publicly about her affair with Donald Trump, whether or not she’s telling the truth about having sex with “the Donald” or being paid “hush money” or being threatened legally and physically is a separate issue. Jose Canseco may have cheated the game of baseball and its fans years ago by using performance-enhancing drugs, but when it came time to name names, a number of his accusations rang true. The genesis of Christopher Steele’s research into potential collusion of the Trump campaign with Russian leaders began with funding by the Clinton campaign for the sake of research, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that all of what Steele came back with is hogwash.
As for Daniels, her career involves people having sex on camera, and she stands to make more money as a result of being in the spotlight of late. But this has no bearing on how truthful her public statements are. Anderson Cooper—and likely scores of viewers at home—too questioned the motives of Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti. Cooper noted how, in the past, Avenatti has done opposition research of his own for Democrat Rahm Emanuel, and how this type of case is not his usual cup of tea, suggesting to some that this involvement is politically motivated. Avenatti, for his part, said he has not been involved in politics in some 20 years, and that he took the case because Daniels is “credible” and “telling the truth.” Skeptical as we may be of that assertion, if the evidence bears out that what his client says about Mr. Trump and her is accurate, who are we to judge? Unless critical evidence is being hidden or manufactured, the truth is the truth and should be recognized as such, regardless of the source.
Stormy Daniels’ account of extramarital intercourse with the man who is the putative “leader of the free world” also makes for a compelling case study against the backdrop of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. In saying this, let me stress that Daniels is not a victim of sexual assault or other misconduct here, nor is she claiming to be; in the interview, Daniels was explicit about the idea the sex was consensual. If there’s any fault-finding to be done here regarding what transpired back in 2006, it’s on the side of morality, and that’s on the individual voter to decide how much (or little) he or she cares about what Donald Trump did before he was ruining the country as President. Still, it’s not as if Trump has been free of genuine allegations of unwanted advances and other impropriety along the lines of #MeToo and Time’s Up. Hell, the man was caught on tape boasting of his ability to exploit his status to cop a feel. That he is a philanderer doesn’t automatically make him a predator, but it doesn’t help recover his character either.
Yet more to the point, the uneasiness that bringing up Stormy Daniels’ name promotes—both among those who defend Donald Trump and those who want to see Congress vote to give him the ol’ heave-ho—intersects with concerns about defending “imperfect” accusers that existed long before advocates of victims’ rights were tweeting their outrage about systemic oppression. Should we value Daniels’ concerns about her image and about what really happened concerning the NDA less because she is an adult entertainer, thereby engaging in another form of “slut shaming?” Does the notion she accepted the $130,000 invalidate those concerns completely? Does her reluctance to bring threats made against her to the police also work to undermine her arguments? On top of all this, even if Daniels were a victim, would the public be putting her lower than, say, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, one of Harvey Weinstein’s more recent victims (from 2015) and a key figure in his downfall, in their continuum of esteem simply because she (Daniels) is a sex worker?
These are seemingly problematic questions even for purported liberals and feminists, making it that much harder for women who tell their stories to find advocates when tabloids and other publications go out of their way to cast aspersions on their character. Battilana Gutierrez’s reward for shedding light on Weinstein’s misdeeds was a slew of negative press about her and her apparent blacklisting in terms of modeling gigs. Kathleen Parker, a nationally-syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, pulled no punches in her negative assessment of Daniels, underscoring the fact she is not a victim and that she could’ve resisted the advances of a man to whom she had no attraction, suggesting she is no more than an attention-seeker “whose principal purpose is to facilitate her audience’s onanistic gratifications,” and asking, point blank, “Who cares about Stephanie Clifford, really?” Jeez Laweez, Ms. Parker. She is a human being, after all.
Even if you, the reader, are not as brutal as Kathleen Parker in your condemnation of Stormy Daniels or as dismissive of the whole affair with Donald Trump, you might very well share her sentiment of “Who cares?” Particularly if we are subjecting this case to the “whatabout-ism” that evidently plagues today’s politics and political analysis, the encounter occurred 12 years ago—before Trump was President of the United States—and thus meriting a distinction from the antics of someone like Bill Clinton. By this token, it’s old news, and plus, nobody got hurt. Daniels got her money and is getting mainstream attention. Everyone wins, right? Besides, it’s not like this is apt to damage Trump in any substantial way. After all, for some of us, it’s pretty hard to like him any less than we already do, if we’re thinking ahead to 2020. Nor will this episode lead to his impeachment, even though that is a “careful what you wish for” scenario given that Mike “Tonight We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 1699” Pence is next in line.
Even the business of Michael Cohen facilitating a hush money payment to Daniels and potentially violating campaign finance laws is likely considered weak sauce to many. On the campaign finance side, as serious as the implications are for this scenario (recall the close proximity of Cohen’s payment to Election Day) and topic undermining democracy, election financing is not a sexy topic. Not when the fate of Dreamers remains uncertain or when people like Stephon Clark are getting shot 20 times by police or when high schoolers have to become activists on gun law reform because previous generations have failed to do their part. There are so many issues facing our country and our world today, and election laws, assuming we are even familiar with them or understand them, aren’t the attention-grabber that they could or perhaps even should be, another aspect of the political process about which to throw up our hands and “wish” we could change.
As for CBS’s decision to make the Stormy Daniels story its feature presentation on 60 Minutes, the network and the show’s producers are being criticized in their own right for their seeming opportunism. Sure, they may have delved into consideration of campaign finance law and possible infractions therein, but as some would have it, what they were peddling was, ahem, trumped-up smut that appealed to a lower common denominator. Stephen Galloway, executive editor for The Hollywood Reporter, indicates as much in a response piece to the Daniels interview’s airing:
Landing an interview with the porn star was a terrific scoop for Anderson Cooper, but it further lowered an already low bar on broadcast and cable. It was the kind of thing once reserved for the tabloids, until the dividing line between tabloid and mainstream vanished with the Monica Lewinsky scandal that came to light exactly a quarter-century ago.
Twenty-five years since the media indulged in an orgy of Lewinsky coverage, nothing’s changed for the better. The sordid and the squalid are still given priority over anything that might shape actual lives.
Sure, 60 Minutes tricked up its interview with talk of campaign finance and the legal risks to President Trump, just like all the news media that have been breathless in Daniels’ pursuit; but deep down, its producers knew we were looking for smut. We were eager for dirt, anxious to glean any detail of licks and tickles and bites. We wanted the licentious, the kind that Standards and Practices probably would never have permitted on the air.
There’s nothing wrong with that — to a degree. But in giving Daniels and her peers so much attention, TV is leaving no room for anything else. Switch on the evening news and you barely get a glimpse of the important events around the world. Turn on cable and it’s even worse: an endless recycling of the same three or four stories, with nary a sop to Brexit or the UN or the refugee crisis that’s upending nation states and devastating millions of lives.
Severe lack of confidence in the media, including cable news, has been brewing for some time now, and for what Galloway’s comments are worth, this TMZ-worthy fodder probably won’t help. Worse yet, Trump supporters probably see this story as further evidence of bias against Donald Trump and a deliberate attempt by the “liberal left” to take down the President. Such a reactionary attitude is reminiscent of the quip that it’s not paranoia if everyone is truly out to get you, but I’ll leave it up for you to decide whether or not CBS is merely trying to get a rise out of its viewers or is interested in pursuing legitimate news.
Going back to the subject of morality, what may be of greatest value with respect to the Stormy Daniels affair is any additional strain this puts on evangelicals and other Christians who contort themselves to defend “Two Corinthians” Trump despite his “lapses” and, while we’re keeping it 100, his ignorance of the Good Book itself. Christians, by and large, went hard for Trump in spite of his adultery, his less-than-fervent commitment to a “love thy neighbor” outlook, and his petty name-calling leading up to the 2016 election. To some, this is just another indication that many ultra-conservative Christians are hypocrites, the likes of whom are standing behind Trump because he defends their positions on abortion, “religious liberty,” and other matters of heightened importance to them.
Then again, it may be simply in the Christian spirit to forgive one for his or her trespasses. Of course, it would help this theory if Trump were to actually admit he has “sinned,” and not only does Trump refuse to acknowledge he had sexual relations with Daniels, but he apparently has commented that he doesn’t even find her attractive. This seems highly dubious, as anyone with a pulse seems more like his speed, but again, you can believe what you choose to believe.
Whether or not you care about whether or not Donald Trump cheated on Melanie with a porn star and later paid her off/threatened her is one thing, but why you care or don’t care is another. Discussions about how we regard Stormy Daniels and sex workers in general, how much importance we place on getting money out of politics, and whether morality matters in today’s politics are all worth having. For all the time spent watching what is captured through a camera’s lens, we should be turning the lens around and seeing what our own reactions say about us.
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Emma Stone made headlines at this year’s Oscars telecast when she introduced the nominees for the award for Best Director, saying, “These four men and Greta Gerwig created their own masterpieces this year.” Not merely because she echoed the sentiments of Natalie Portman, who took a shot at the powers-that-be behind the Golden Globes when she uttered the phrase, “And here are the all-male nominees.” While Stone definitely has her share of supporters for “keeping it 100,” as the kids say, there are a number of critics online who voiced their displeasure with her remarks, specifically in light of the notion that Jordan Peele and Guillermo del Toro, also nominated for the award, are people of color.
As these critics would have it, Peele’s and del Toro’s nods are an achievement in their own right, and shouldn’t be diminished by the likes of her. Furthermore, as April Reign, founder of the #OscarsSoWhite movement suggests, not only does Stone’s criticism ring hollow given that she has worked with Woody Allen, an alleged sexual abuser, and played a character of part-Asian descent in Aloha, a roundly-derided example of whitewashing, but her angst is an illustration of white feminism’s failure to appreciate intersectionality. Emma Stone’s elevation of Greta Gerwig, because it occurred at the expense of Jordan Peele and Guillermo del Toro—not to mention Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan, two talented directors in their own right—led people to cry foul.
While this moment and stories of Emma Watson’s grammatically incorrect “Time’s Up” tattoo may prompt jeering from those who sneer at Hollywood’s elitist celebrations and limousine liberalism—oh, the perils of missed apostrophes!—the divide that can be identified between “white feminism” and “intersectional feminism” is a concern for #MeToo, Time’s Up, and all movements of a like spirit. Back in January in 2017, when Donald Trump was being sworn in, and women were full-throated in their outrage over how a lying pussy-grabber like him could become President of the United States, Alia Dastagir, culture writer for USA Today, authored a piece concerning the buzz around use of the term intersectional feminism and how it may be defined. Dastagir notes how the Women’s March on Washington, initially organized without much, if any, representation from women of color in leadership roles, helped spark conversations about how white privilege can blind some feminists to other concerns which especially affect women of color.
Intersectional feminism, in seeking to empower all women, strives to account for the differences among women so as to avoid marginalizing certain voices within feminist circles, including differences based on economic status, gender identification (i.e. cisgender or transgender), language, nationality, race, religion, sexuality, and whether or not a feminist can be identified as “radical.” This attention to various distinguishing characteristics, in theory, creates a more complete understanding of the underlying issues facing women in society today. Such that, for instance, a discussion about women breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling or earning equal pay might also include a discussion about raising the minimum wage, or addressing women’s reproductive rights might additionally touch upon the inability of some women to afford abortions or even contraception. Intersectional feminism, therefore, complicates the notion that “the liberation of women means the liberation of all.”
It is through this lens of intersectionality that we may start to more critically view the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements in terms of the big picture, and in saying this, I want to be very delicate with my words and views here. Broadly speaking, I support #MeToo and Time’s Up. That they encourage recognition of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse, harassment, and misconduct, as well as the destructive power these crimes can have on lives and how it is possible for victims to cope with them, notably through sharing their experiences, I believe, is a step forward. That both movements have not only demanded accountability for men who have taken advantage of women in some way, but have yielded real consequences for perpetrators of sexual violence also seems like progress. At the same time, however, and without wishing to appear sexist by invoking criticism, I feel it’s worthwhile to wonder where these initiatives are headed and what their intended purposes are.
First things first, let me speak to the idea thrown around by some high-profile men, notably film director Michael Haneke, that #MeToo et al. are some form of “witch hunt.” While this thinking perhaps bears more credence than Donald Trump’s claim that the investigation into his and his campaign’s dealings with Russia are a witch hunt—if you believe Trump, despite being given every opportunity to succeed, he is the most egregiously persecuted man in the history of the world—framing movements like these along these lines at best undermines the idea that victims should be believed and taken seriously at their word, as well as it belies the low percentage of falsely reported claims of rape and other forms of assault. At worst, it does all of the above and signifies that the person pointing to the irrationality of the angry mob with pitchforks and torches is himself a bad actor. The concept of there being “levels” of sexual misconduct—that not all violations of a sexual nature are created equal—should be similarly and deservedly downplayed. As many observers and experts on these matters have put forth, not every perpetrator is going to be a Harvey Weinstein. Rather, in all probability, they will be more like Al Franken or Louis C.K., ostensible “good guys” who are guilty of misdeeds, even if they don’t involve jail time or even if we like their work. A violation is a violation, no matter the size (I am being serious here, but feel free to conjure innuendo-laden imagery if you desire a humorous aside).
On that last note about how “good guys” can do bad things, even men who are presumably “woke”—a term I usually forgo owing to its ambiguity, if not its blatant disregard for grammatical correctness—one woman’s tale of a date gone wrong with comedian Aziz Ansari created quite a stir when it was published on Babe.net. Prompting its critics to declare that #MeToo had “gone too far” or “run amok,” it depicted an encounter in which the woman felt shocked by Ansari’s aggressive behavior, likening him to a horny teenage boy, a night that he thought was a great time, but that she obviously saw as a nightmare. For some, this is wrong behavior, pure and simple, and Ansari should be admonished for his actions. For others, even those who would identify as feminists and/or socially conscious, though, outing Ansari for something that isn’t a crime, but is related to differences in how men and women may view consent in sexual situations (not that this excuses Ansari, mind you) and something which probably should prompt a larger dialog on the dynamics of sex and male domination, strikes them as excessive, if not sensational or deliberately designed to start controversy. Accordingly, for all the good this cautionary tale might bring about by fostering a conversation, its logistics and naming of names arguably overshadow its merits.
In turn, and speaking to a problem seemingly faced by other activist-led movements concerned with social issues, critics of #MeToo and Time’s Up have suggested that it is not enough to merely name names and wag fingers in condemnation, but to provide a clear path to actionable goals. That is, while stories of sordid acts might entertain us, in the way car accidents may “entertain” us as we rubberneck our way across concrete landscapes, these accounts do not necessarily help us in our bid to reform boardrooms, workplaces, and the like, and need to be more forward-thinking and focused on the victims, as opposed to the due process of and fairness to suspected perpetrators. For all the hoopla about putting Aziz Ansari in the spotlight for poor sexual etiquette, realistically, he is not likely to lose much credibility over the long term (or sleep) in light of what could be recognized as sexual assault (I, not being there, don’t doubt both that Ansari believed the sex was consensual and that the woman believed she was being coerced).
To their credit, people like Tarana Burke who have been instrumental in creating and furthering these movements have identified potential avenues for change, including increased protections for victims, as well as training and vetting of candidates for service, whether in places of worships, schools, workplaces, or anywhere else. This includes Congress, not only as a supposed hotbed of sexual impropriety, but as a place where legislation has been introduced on the subject by Rep. Jackie Speier, and where additional, more far-reaching laws may be approached that more adequately serve the needs of constituents. Still, at a critical moment when change on so many issues seems possible—just look at how the conversation about gun control after the Parkland, FL school shooting has taken on a markedly different tone than it did following, for instance, the Orlando nightclub massacre—and this is not to suggest an onus be thrust on movement leaders, but care must be taken to avoid current and prospective supporters, women and men alike, becoming disenchanted by inaction or feeling alienated as irredeemable obstacles on the path to progress. Lest, at least on the part of the males, they take a cue from the words of Matt Damon and deny any wrongdoing, pushing the truth back into the darkness for fear of what it will do to them and their livelihood.
Returning to the backdrop of the film industry, author Lindy West, in a recent opinion piece for The New York Times, expresses admiration for Academy Award-nominated films like Call Me by Your Name, Get Out, and Lady Bird for challenging the reassertion of “white Christian masculinity as the tentpole of the universe” by Republicans and their ilk, and embraces the resolve and real-world power possessed by supporters of the #MeToo movement. At the same time, though, she insists we as a society need to leverage this newfound influence to address unfinished conversations already begun on related issues. From West’s op-ed:
In the rush of catharsis, it’s important not to lose track of some of those old conceptual conversations, because we never came close to finishing them. We are not done talking about why so many men feel entitled to space, power and other people’s bodies. We are not done talking about our culture’s hostility toward women’s sexual pleasure. We are not done talking about how to get justice for “imperfect” victims, and how to let go of perpetrators we love. We are not done talking about how to decide which abusers deserve a path to redemption, and what that path might look like. We are not done talking about the legal system. We are not done talking about sex. We are not done talking about race.
As we’ve noted, intersectional feminism has something to say about race and the fairness of the legal system on top of other institutions—or lack thereof. Nonetheless, other nuances of the #MeToo/Time’s Up discussion within West’s enumerated list do seem to get lost in the shuffle and kerfuffle of bringing down powerful men. With high-profile political figures like Mike Pence predicting abortion will become illegal in the United States in his lifetime, the sense of entitlement men in power feel to what women do with their bodies is an important area of exploration. Ditto for the double standards that exist for men and women in terms of expression of sexuality, which lends itself to the former being lauded for keeping in mind the biblical mandate to “be fruitful and multiply,” and the latter being called “sluts” and being told to “keep their legs closed.” Meanwhile, on the specific subject of redemption for abusers, while the depth of Harvey Weinstein’s misdeeds and his unrepentant defiance of violating consent would appear to negate any hope for reformation within the sphere of public opinion, for someone like Louis C.K. who admitted his faults and wrongs—albeit after his initial denial of the “rumors”—is the door closed on him as well? Does Aziz Ansari now make for an unwanted advocated for the Time’s Up movement? And how do we regard the work of those like Kevin Spacey or Jeffrey Tambor? That is, can we separate their craft from what they have done or allegedly done in real life, not to mention our enjoyment of it? These are conversations that many might agree are worth having, but don’t seem to be getting their due in light of the focus on specific perpetrators.
As Lindy West says in closing, “Unseating a couple (or a score, or even a generation) of powerful abusers is a start, but it’s not an end, unless we also radically change the power structure that selects their replacements and the shared values that remain even when the movement wanes.” This echoes her own sentiments expressed earlier in the piece that #MeToo can’t just disrupt a broken culture, but become the culture. It’s a goal that will likely take generations to realize, and thus, will need direction and commitment to survive over that duration. For West, that involves making art that reflects the values we seek to promote. For all of us, it requires a shared recognition that gender inequality is a problem which affects us all, and that women’s and men’s voices of all make and model will be needed if we are to advance the conversation.
2017 looks poised to finish on a high note, at least economically speaking. The stock market in the United States is near a record high, likely buoyed by the GOP’s corporation-friendly tax cut that President Donald Trump signed into law. Reportedly, the holiday season saw an increase of 5% in sales, an increase of 3.7% from the same span in 2016. Winning, winning, winning. Aren’t you tired of winning so much, fellow Americans? Aren’t you glad Pres. Trump is making America great again? Never mind the notion that he may not have as much to do with the economy as he would lead you to believe. Also, maybe we shouldn’t mention that, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research in London, England, China and India’s economies will surpass that of the U.S.’s by 2030. In other long-term news, meanwhile, productivity growth within America’s economy remains low, income inequality remains startlingly high, the federal debt continues to skyrocket, and the nation is gripped by an opioid dependency epidemic.
So, glass half empty or glass half full? How do you see these United States shaping up over the next few years and into the future? It likely depends on which side of the political or socioeconomic fence you live—and whether or not you stand to personally benefit from the policies the Trump administration and a Republican-led Congress aim to advance. Looking just at the GOP tax cuts, opponents of this policy shift have assailed it as a present for the super-wealthy and industry leaders at the expense of average Americans, and as a greasing of the slippery slope toward the erosion of Social Security, Medicare, and other social safety net programs. In other words, the advantages of this agenda would tend to be appreciated by the few rather than the many, and perhaps it is no wonder Trump’s approval ratings are languishing south of 40%, a historical low at this point in the presidency.
Perhaps it’s instructive to see where we’ve been to help gauge where we may be going in 2018, in 2020, and beyond. Let’s take a look back at some of the topics covered in 2017 on United States of Joe. Warning: we may have a bit more to say regarding our orange leader. If you have any small children in the room, you may want to move them to a safe location—especially if they happen to frequent beauty pageants. I hear El Presidente and his buddies like ’em young, and like to invade dressing rooms of contestants while they’re potentially less-than-fully clothed. Without further ado, let’s do the…
US of J 2017 Review: This Time, It’s Personal—Because Our President Takes Everything Personally
The Biggest Inauguration in U.S. History—Kinda, Sorta
Hey—did you realize Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election? No? Let Trump himself tell you about it! In fact, let him tell you about how he won going away every time something goes wrong or the press challenges him on the quality of his performance as President. You know, even though he didn’t win going away—dude didn’t even win the popular vote. Of course, Trump being the stupid baby that he is, he would challenge the legitimacy of Hillary Clinton’s supremacy in the popular vote, a harbinger of a disturbing trend that continues to play out with the Tweeter-in-Chief. Hillary didn’t win the popular vote—it was massive fraud involving undocumented immigrants that illegitimately got her that small victory. There’s absolutely no credible evidence of this, mind you, and the bullshit voter fraud task force the White House commissioned hasn’t turned up anything either. Trump’s Inauguration crowds were bigger than Barack Obama’s. Don’t believe the visual evidence? That’s OK—Trump, Sean Spicer and Co. were simply offering “alternative facts.” Don’t care for CNN’s brand of reporting? No problem—it’s “fake news.” After all, the media isn’t to be trusted in the first place—it’s the enemy of the people. I’m sure you felt that deep down anyhow, though.
Donald Trump’s assault on the truth and on verifiable fact is unmistakable, and his attacks on the press, including his fetishistic obsession with CNN, are overstated. That said, it’s not as if American news media is blameless in this regard either. Even before Trump was elected President, the mainstream media was an unabashed enabler of his antics. With Buzzfeed’s release of the “Pee-Pee Papers,” a salacious and unauthenticated account of Russian prostitutes performing sex acts at Trump’s behest supposedly based on credible intelligence, and CNN retracting a story on a supposed connection between Anthony Scaramucci, whose tenure as White House Communications Director was remarkably short-lived, and Trump’s Russian ties, Trump suddenly appears more credible. In the push for ratings and clicks in an turbulent era for journalism, the rush of media outlets to meet the demand of consumers for up-to-date information is understandable, but this does not excuse sloppy, irresponsible reporting. For the sake of the institution as a whole, the U.S. news media must balance the need to generate revenue with the importance of upholding standards of journalistic integrity, and must stand together when Trump et al. would seek to undermine one among their ranks—or risk a more precipitous downfall.
Gorsuch: Silver Fox and Supreme Court Justice
One of the big concerns following the death of Antonin Scalia and prompting voters to think hard about voting strategically between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was the idea the next President would get to nominate Scalia’s successor. We would be remiss if we did not mention that Barack Obama, well in advance of his departure from the White House, had already tapped Merrick Garland, a fine candidate to fill Scalia’s void. Mitch McConnell a.k.a. Turtle McTurtleface and the other Republicans in the Senate, meanwhile, would not even entertain Obama’s choice, prompting their constituents to protest outside of their offices and chant “Do your job!” In other words, it was really a dick move on the GOP’s part, and a gamble that the party would win the 2016 presidential election so they could install Antonin Scalia 2.0. Trump’s upset electoral victory thus paved the way for Neil Gorsuch to ascend to the highest court in the United States.
Gorsuch, previously a U.S. Circuit Court Judge with a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, is eminently qualified in his own right. This didn’t seem to be a point of contention between leaders of the two parties. Still, coming off a situation in which a perfectly good candidate in Garland was blocked as a function of mere partisanship, it brought an added measure of scrutiny and tension to confirmation proceedings. The Democrats filibustered to prevent cloture and delay a confirmation vote. The Republicans countered by invoking the so-called “nuclear option,” effectively changing Senate rules whereby they could break the filibuster with a simple majority. By a 54-45 vote, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed as the latest Supreme Court Justice. The whole process ultimately revealed few interesting tidbits about Gorsuch, and more so demonstrated the ugliness of political brinksmanship that has become a hallmark of Congress in this day and age. And we wonder why average Americans are not more politically engaged.
The Trump Administration vs. the World
As a function of “making America great again,” Donald Trump apparently believes strongly in defense spending and letting the world know the United States is #1. After alternatively touting his desire to bring the country along a more isolationist track and vowing to “bomb the shit out of ISIS” on the campaign trail, Trump, well, sort of did both. In terms of shows of force, his administration was responsible for dropping the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan, as well as approving the launch of dozens of missiles into Syria, supposedly as retaliation for the Assad regime’s use of toxic gas on its own people. The latter, in particular, got the dander of his white nationalist supporters up, though as far as most kinder, gentler souls are concerned, the disappointment of a bunch of ethnocentric xenophobes is not all that much of a loss. Less talked-about, but perhaps no less significant, were other less successful operations across international lines. First of all, not long after Trump took office, there was a botched raid in Yemen that saw Navy SEAL Ryan Owens killed, and to date, little information has been offered on the attack that led to his death and by all appearances was ill-advised. And there was the massacre at a mosque in Syria outside Aleppo. According to U.S. officials, numerous al-Qaeda operatives were taken out by the strike in the town of Jinah, but activists and others on the ground there tell a different story, one of civilians attending religious services and being fired upon as they tried to flee the place of worship. Reportedly, at least 46 people were killed in the assault on the mosque, and the U.S. military was criticized by humanitarian groups for not doing its due diligence in assessing the target for the possibility of civilian casualties. Oh, well—they were Muslims and not Americans anyway. Whoops!
In terms of isolating itself from the international community, America has done that under Donald Trump—if for other reason than it has done to things to alienate that international community. There was the whole backing of out of the Paris climate accord thing, which is voluntary in the first place and thus mostly serves as a middle finger to those here and abroad who give a hoot about polluting and climate change. Even before apparent attacks on American diplomats there, Trump and his administration have reversed course on Cuba relative to an Obama-era thawing of frigid diplomatic relations, and the benefit of this 180 to either side merits questioning. They’ve taken a tough tone with Iran and accused the country of not meeting its end of the bargain with respect to the nuclear deal much hated by conservative Republicans, in apparent deference to the whims of Saudi Arabia. Trump and North Korean president Kim Jong-un have basically had a year-long war of words through television news media and social media, with the latter referring to the former as a “dotard.” (Essentially, he told our President he’s a senile moron. Thanks, Merriam-Webster!) The White House has resolved to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and to acknowledge the city, contested as to its very boundaries, as the capital of Israel, prompting a United Nations resolution condemning the move. And this is all before we even get to the investigation into Trump, his transition team, his administration, and suspected ties to Russia. In short, if Donald Trump hasn’t pissed you off this year, you’re either one of his core supporters or have just run out of f**ks to give—and I’m not sure which one is worse.
Race to the Exit: The Trump Administration Story
Viewing some of Trump’s picks for Cabinet posts and various positions within the White House at length, it was a wonder for many to see who might be first to go or fail to even get confirmed. At least Andrew Puzder, then-CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, had the decency to withdraw before the confirmation process was over; as potential Secretary of Labor, it was his employ of undocumented immigrants which was his undoing. Not giving less than half a shit about his employees and being opposed to raising the minimum wage? Nah, that was fine. In fact, it made him more than suitable for nomination in the era of Trump. Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, Linda McMahon, Mick Mulvaney, Steve Mnuchin, Rick Perry, Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, Jeff Sessions—these are the kinds of individuals that Donald Trump, seemingly without irony, tapped for important government posts despite a lack of proficiency in their area of supposed expertise, a stated desire to abolish the very agency they were named to head, or both. Price ultimately resigned when information about his questionable spending of the government’s finances to suit his convenience came to light, and there have been whispers about the job security of Sessions and Rex Tillerson from time to time, but for the most part, the bulk of them still remain. And so much for draining the swamp—between Goldman Sachs and billionaires, this Cabinet is as marshy as they come.
As for other appointees and residual officeholders, there was yet more volatility to be had. Michael Flynn was National Security Adviser for all of about a month before getting canned, and currently, he’s facing repercussions after pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators. Not to be outdone, the aforementioned Anthony Scaramucci lasted a scant ten days before his sacking as White House Communications Director, and in that short time, he divested himself of business ties and ruined his marriage. Welcome to the team, Mooch—and don’t let the door hit you on your way out! His predecessor, Sean “Spicey” Spicer, made it to July before bowing out, but not before some hilarious cameos on Saturday Night Live featuring Melissa McCarthy as Spicer. Steve Bannon, the Skeleton King, made it to August before he was either fired or before he resigned—depending on who you ask. Sebastian Gorka also departed in August, and seeing as he didn’t do much but argue with the press in interviews anyway, I’m relatively sure he isn’t missed. Omarosa Manigault Newman is set to resign in January, and evidently is not afraid to tell all. In sum, people can’t get out of the Trump White House soon enough, and whether some vacancies will go unfilled or simply are taking forever to get filled, the hallmark of this administration is disarray and upheaval. And somehow Kellyanne Conway still has a job. Sorry—that’s the sound of my head hitting the wall. I’ll try to keep it down.
The Democrats Form a Killer Strategy to Win in 2018, 2020, and Be—Oh, Who Are We Kidding?
For a while, it was relatively quiet on the Democratic Party front following the election and even the Inauguration with the Dems licking their wounds. This is not to say, obviously, that nothing was going on behind the scenes. One event which seems fairly minor but reflects deep conflicts within the Democratic ranks was the election of a new Democratic National Committee chair to replace departing interim chair Donna Brazile, herself a replacement for Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Keith Ellison, a Bernie Sanders supporter and popular progressive Democrat, was the front-runner for the position early, but concerns about Ellison’s lack of obeisance to the positions of the DNC’s rich Jewish donors and the establishment wing of the party not wishing to cede too much control to the “Bernie-crats” among them led former Labor Secretary Tom Perez to enter the fray. In the end, the vote was close, but Perez carried the day. That the Obama-Hillary segment of the Democratic Party would expend so much energy on a position that is largely ceremonial and concerned with fundraising is telling, and signals that any progressive reform of the party will be slow in coming—if at all.
If there is any further doubt about this, look at how certain races played out outside of the presidential milieu. Sure, Democrats may point to more recent victories in the gubernatorial elections of New Jersey (Phil Murphy) and Virginia (Ralph Northam), as well as the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in Alabama (Doug Jones), but other losses appear indicative of the Dems’ failure to commit to a comprehensive, 50-state strategy, namely Jon Ossoff in Georgia, James Thompson in Kansas, and Rob Quist in Montana, who lost to Greg Gianforte, even after the latter beat up a reporter. Seriously. Elsewhere, Hillary Clinton, after a moment of repose, released a book in which she accepted full responsibility for losing a election she was largely expected to win. Kidding! She blamed Bernie Sanders, voters for not coming out more strongly for her, James Comey, and even the DNC. That last one seems particularly disingenuous, especially when considering that Donna Brazile herself had a book to release critical of Hillary and one which confirmed what many of us already knew: that Hill-Dawg and the Committee were in cahoots long before the primaries. The Democrats seem content to allow Donald Trump and the machinations of the Republican Party to dig the GOP into an electoral hole. For an electorate increasingly weary of the “We’re Not the Other One” line, though, this does not a strategy make, and without an obvious frontrunner for 2020, the Democratic Party’s presumed advantage could well be overstated. Such that, if Trump actually makes it that far, it’s not inconceivable to think he could be re-elected. Talk about a recurring nightmare.
The White Supremacists, They Come Bearing Tiki Torches
In 2017, I would’ve thought it crazy for a scene to play out like it did in Charlottesville, Virginia this past August. And yet, lo and behold, it did. Some 250 protestors, carrying kerosene-filled torches and rebelling against a perceived erosion of their heritage and history, marched on the University of Virginia campus, shouting epithets, vowing not to be “replaced,” and generally ready to start a ruckus over the planned removal of a statue honoring Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The next day, though, if not as frightening in terms of the imagery, was worse in terms of the outcome. Protestors arrived carrying nationalist banners clubs, guns, and shields. Counter-protestors were also on hand to “greet” the white supremacists, the anti-fascists among them armed as well. It was not long before violence broke out, and by the time the police intervened, there already were injuries to tally. The worst of it all, though, were the fatalities. Heather Heyer, a counter-protestor, was killed as a result of a man deliberately plowing into people, and two state troopers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, died in a separate helicopter crash. In terms of senseless violence and loss, the Charlottesville riots seem to epitomize the very concept.
The apparent surge in white nationalist leanings following the election of Donald Trump is disturbing in its own right, but by the same token, so too is it unsettling that people would condone attacks against their ranks so readily. Some people who reject any set of principles that resembles Nazism believe violence to suppress hateful rhetoric is justified. Such is the belief of various antifa groups, and this where the debate of the movement’s merits comes into play. Though anti-fascists like those who don the mark of the Black Bloc don’t actually have much to do with traditional liberalism, their association with the left threatens the credibility of true liberal and progressive groups, and nullifies the bargaining power that these individuals have over the deficient worldviews they oppose. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and violence as a tool to suppress violence does not serve its intended purpose.
Congress vs. Everyday Americans: F**k Your Health Care, and F**k Your Income Inequality
Per President Trump, the Affordable Care Act, also affectionately known as “ObamaCare,” is a total disaster. Republican leaders likewise have been decrying the ACA for some time now, painting it as an unwanted intrusion of the federal government in the health care industry. Never mind that a significant portion of red-state voters depend on the provisions of the Affordable Care Act to be able to pay for medically necessary services, and that a sizable subset of America would actually like to see the nation move to a single-payer/Medicare-for-all model. Trump and a GOP Congress had a lot riding on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and replacing it, though owing to the notion the devil is in the details, that Republicans tried to rush legislation through the House and the Senate with little idea of what was in it was telling that it probably wasn’t something they would want to share with their constituents. In the end, John McCain’s “no” vote on a “skinny” repeal of ObamaCare turned out to be pivotal in the measure’s failure to pass. Trump would later issue an executive order that would broadly task the government with working on ways to improve competition, prices, and quality of care, though it faced criticisms for how it essentially opened a backdoor for the destabilization of ACA marketplaces by taking younger, healthier consumers of the equation. Yet more significant could be the planned ending of cost-sharing subsidy payments to insurers that would likely mean higher prices for the consumer. Whatever the case, Trump and the GOP haven’t killed the Affordable Care Act, despite their boasts—they’ve only repealed the individual mandate aspect of the law. Of course, this doesn’t mean the Republicans are done coming for affordable health care. Far from it, in all likelihood.
Where Trump et al. found greater success—to our detriment, it should be stressed—is in the passage and signing of their tax reform bill. Once again, the knowledge of its contents prior to voting among lawmakers was questionable, but ultimately, by relatively slim margins in the House and Senate, what many have referred to as the “GOP Tax Scam” cleared Congress. Make no mistake: this is not good news for average Americans. Any benefits to be enjoyed in the short term are outweighed by how the wealthiest among us and corporations will experience that much more of a boon, with long-term consequences to the national debt and minimal rewards to be trickled down to the rank-and-file. In short, it’s class warfare, and potentially a troubling herald of future attempts to screw with Medicare, Social Security, and other entitlement programs—and the worst part is most of us seem to know it. One can only hope that Republicans will face their own consequences in forthcoming elections. It’s not a great consolation, but at this point, it’s the best we’ve got.
Some Protests Get Lost in the Shouting/Tweeting; Others Succeed Beyond Expectations
Even before Colin Kaepernick, there were player protests and refusals to stand at attention for the playing of the National Anthem at professional sporting events. Not long after the start of the NFL season, however, the continued kneeling, sitting, staying in the locker room, or raising of fists raised the ire of one President Donald Trump who, while apparently not busy playing golf or signing disastrous legislation into law, started a fracas about players refusing to stand during the Star-Spangled Banner, suggesting they should be suspended or outright released for their disrespect of the flag and of those who have served and died for our country. Trump also cited the NFL’s declining ratings and ticket sales as a direct impact of the players kneeling. While it’s possible reactions to player protests may be a factor in these downturns, this overlooks other persistent issues facing professional sports in general: declines in traditional television viewership among younger adults, high costs of premium sports channel packages, the prevalence of injuries and concerns about traumatic brain injuries, the steep price tag for attending games in person, and the mediocrity of play of any number of teams. All the while, the original thrust of Kaepernick’s protest—to raise awareness of the unfair treatment of people of color at the hands of police and other institutions—seemed to get lost in the discussion of who was protesting, which teams issued ultimatums about standing and which did not, and why people weren’t watching now. So much for fighting racial injustice. Better luck in 2018, people of color.
In perhaps a surprising turn of events, though, and possibly a watershed moment in the fights for gender equality and for standing up for victims of sexual assault and harassment, movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s exposure as a habitual offender of sexual misconduct, if not outright rape, opened the floodgates for other accusations, admissions, allegations, and denials. Hollywood has apparently borne the brunt of the revelations inspired by the #MeToo movement, with any number of projects shelved or cancelled as a result of men’s misdeeds, but the political realm also has seen its share of high-profile figures caught in the spotlight. Al Franken was forced to resign from his seat in the U.S. Senate after numerous women accused him of impropriety. John Conyers, another congressional Democrat, resigned too in the wake of a veritable mountain of allegations. Roy Moore didn’t abandon his political aspirations even after the likes of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan suggested he should step aside, but he also didn’t win as a Republican in Alabama. And then there’s maybe the biggest fish of them all: none other than Donald Trump. That Trump hasn’t been brought down by his own accusations—or for any other wrongdoing, for that matter—is somewhat deflating. Then again, maybe it’s only a matter of time. As with members of the GOP losing in 2018 and 2020, once more, we can only hope.
Meryl Streep famously put Donald Trump on blast at the Golden Globes. Predictably, this invited jeers from Trump supporters who felt “limousine liberals” like herself should “stay in their lane.” You may not like that Streep has a platform in this manner, but she still is an American, and that means not only is she entitled to say what she wants given the opportunity, but as she and others might see it, she has a civic duty to speak out when someone who ostensibly represents us, the people, does so in a destructive way. Kudos, Ms. Streep. I look forward to your acceptance speech at the forthcoming Golden Globes. Come on—you know it’s coming.
Bill Maher more or less engaged in a conversation with Sam Harris about how Islam is a deficient religion—though both men notably have their issues with organized religion, so take this for what it’s worth. In a separate chat with Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, when jokingly asked by the senator if he would work in the fields of Nebraska, Maher referred to himself as a “house n****r.” For an educated guy, Maher is kind of a dickish moron.
Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz had a health care debate on CNN. Why? Why not! At any rate, it was better than the Republican Party debates from last primary season.
In perhaps a glaring example of where we are as a nation in 2017, our President revealed he did not know who Frederick Douglass is—though Trump being Trump, tried to play it off like he did. Also, Kellyanne Conway continued to speak words that sounded like actual thoughts, declaring herself a “feminist” who apparently doesn’t know the meaning of the word, and elsewhere suggesting microwaves can be turned into cameras and be used to spy on us. Hmm—it appears my nose is bleeding. Or maybe that’s just my brain liquefying from these comments. Carry on, please.
In international news, Canada moved closer to legalizing marijuana, with a target date of Canada Day, 2018. In the States? Jeff Sessions the Racist Dinosaur and others like him talk about how weed is a drug for “bad people.” So, if you’re keeping score at home: cannabis :: bad; alcohol, tobacco, and firearms—things that are way more deadly than cannabis :: good. Well, at least we’ve got our priorities straight.
A handful of inmates were executed in Alabama, essentially because the state had a bunch of drugs used in lethal injection at its disposal set to expire, so—what the hell!—might as well use them! Pardon me for waxing philosophical as this moment, but the death penalty is state-sponsored murder. It is revenge for the sake of revenge, and way too often (and too late), it has ended the lives of those whose guilt would be proven false with new evidence and advances in forensic science. It should be abolished. Thank you. I’ll get down from my soapbox now.
James Comey was fired from his post as FBI director. This was in no way politically or personally motivated and in no way related to the investigation into Donald Trump, his finances, and any collusion with or other connections to Russia involving him or his surrogates. Right.
In Florida, the Grieving Families Act was signed into law, allowing women who have had miscarriages to obtain a “certificate of nonviable birth” for their fetus. So it’s about providing solace to women and their families? No, not really. At heart, it’s an end-around about abortion that seeks to specify when life begins and potentially heralds future attempts to chip away at women’s reproductive rights. Not to mention it connotes the idea that women who lose or terminate their pregnancies should only feel grief, when really, it can be a complex mix of emotions. As long as men are making decisions on the behalf of their female constituents about what they can and can’t do with their bodies, we’ll continue to see policies like this. Keep your eyes peeled.
Dana Loesch released a fiery video about the NRA and how it is “freedom’s last stand.” In other exciting gun news, a guy shot up a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and killed a bunch of people. Let freedom ring, eh?
White nationalists apparently love Tucker Carlson because he question the merits of all immigration—legal or not. Carlson, like Bill Maher, is kind of a douche.
Venezuela held a sham election “won” by Nicolas Maduro. Maduro identifies with socialism. Socialism, therefore, is bad, and Bernie Sanders is the devil. Are you following this logic? If it makes sense to you, um, you’re probably not the intended audience for this blog, but thanks for reading anyway.
Catalonia had a vote to declare independence from Spain. The Spanish government, well, didn’t like that too much. The result was a violent crackdown against pro-independence protests and a lot of international attention drawn to the situation, and in a recent vote, separatists won a slim majority after Spain ousted the previous Catalan government. Great job, Prime Minister Rajoy! You really screwed the Puigdemont on that one.
Joe Arpaio, a virulent racist and all-around ass-hat who held inmates in substandard conditions and profiled residents suspected of being undocumented immigrants as Maricopa County Sheriff in Arizona, was pardoned by President Trump. In other words, f**k off, Hispanics and Latinos.
Millennials can still be blamed for pretty much anything, depending on who you ask. The extinction of the dinosaurs? Oh, yeah—we did that shit.
Bitcoin continues to see wild swings in its valuation after the spike in the second half of the year which brought it to the national consciousness. Does this mean it’s inherently bad? Not necessarily. As with any emerging technology, there are ups and downs to be had with Bitcoin made more pronounced by its recent prominence. Are you behind the curve now, though, with respect to making big bucks off of a relatively small investment? Most definitely.
By installing Mick Mulvaney as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, America moved one step closer to eliminating the one agency expressly devoted to protecting consumer interests as regards their finances and investment vehicles. Consumer advocacy—what a joke!
Speaking of one step closer, the powers-that-be edged the Doomsday Clock one tick nearer to midnight. Er, pop the champagne?
In advance of the coming year, as far as politics and current events are concerned, there are all kinds of things that may factor into predictions for 2018. Certainly, though, we would expect certain things to continue as they are. Our beloved President will undoubtedly keep Tweeting acrimonious barbs at anyone who runs afoul of him and making cheap concessions to his supporters, especially from the context of rallies that he shouldn’t be having while not on the campaign trail. A GOP-majority Congress will still try to pass off policy designed to primarily benefit its wealthy corporate and individual donors as a boon for the “American people.” Bitcoin will probably still see extreme volatility as to its price, if the bubble doesn’t burst outright. And don’t even get me started about America’s attention to environmental conservation. When Trump and his Republican cronies are repealing Obama-era protections on keeping mining waste out of clean water, reversing bans on the Keystone XL Pipeline going through Native American reservations, allowing for the use of lead ammunition in national parks, and greenlighting drilling for oil in wildlife refuges, you know we are not close to doing our part to combat deleterious climate change. These actions belie the seriousness of the problem, and stunt the progress which can’t be stopped regarding the transition to renewable energy sources away from fossil fuels. At a time when we need to do all we can to slow or reverse the damage we’ve done to our planet, standing still is going backward.
Sounds bad, huh? While there are yet more reasons to be concerned from an activism/human rights standpoint—the all-too-slow recovery from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico; the pervasive influence of money in politics and gerrymandering purely for political gain; the plight of immigrants, migrants, and refugees worldwide; and the repeated iterations of the travel ban (read: Muslim ban) jump to mind—there is yet for hope for those on the left, and perhaps even those on the right. You know, even if they don’t know any better. In the political sphere, in particular, the deficient policies advanced by Republicans could end up in an electoral backlash in 2018 and 2020. Granted, this does not mean that Democrats don’t need to be held to higher standards, and as bad as GOP leadership has been, that Bernie Sanders, an aging independent from Vermont, remains a more popular choice than most prominent Dems suggests not is entirely well with the Democratic Party either. Speaking of bad leadership, and depending on the contents of Robert Mueller’s investigation, President Donald Trump might also be in real trouble from an ethical/legal standpoint. While visions of impeachment and President Mike Pence aren’t all that inspiring, at this point, anyone seems better than President Pussy-Grabber. I mean, eventually, all the terrible shit Trump has said and done has to come back to him, right? Right?
In truth, I am not terribly optimistic about 2018. But I’m also not done resisting against those who compromise ethical and moral standards to enrich themselves at the expense of others. By this, I mean the people at the top who are willing to see everyday Americans struggle through hunger, poverty, sickness and even death to further their bottom line. For all the preoccupation about border security, crime, and terrorism for many prospective 2020 voters, the “rigged” system about which Trump offhandedly talks is a yet bigger worry, and the aforementioned climate crisis our Earth faces is potentially worst of all. This all sounds very old-hat and trite, but until we start making real progress on the various forms of inequality which plague our society, these aphorisms must be repeated and stressed. Accordingly, through all the trepidation we might feel, there is too much work to be done not to do it. It’s worth the effort. After all, it’s our very lives and livelihoods we’re fighting for.
Whatever path you choose, best wishes to you and yours for 2018 and beyond, and keep fighting the good fight.
What began as a trickle of allegations of sexual impropriety against Harvey Weinstein and Alyssa Milano’s unwitting revival of a decade-old hashtag campaign has since crescendoed to a tidal wave of admissions of guilt, suspicions of wrongdoing, and canceled project releases, suspensions, and firings. The list is a growing one, an impressive collection of high-profile names that’s becoming too long to contain even for my purposes in a 3,000-to-4,000-word blog post. Ultimately, what seems most important about these revelations is that they are happening at all. Women and men are coming out of the proverbial shadows to explicitly name their assaulters/harassers, and late in 2017, some measure of accountability for the abusive actions of men in power appears to be being exacted. In this respect, the identities of the accusers and the accused do not seem to be the most critical aspect, especially as it concerns attempts by media outlets and publicists to paint the accuser as a deceiver, liar, Jezebel, or seductress. Civil rights activists hope the #MeToo campaign and other associated movements are indicative of a sea change, a watershed moment for sexual freedom and reproductive rights, or some other water-related metaphor for social progress.
The idea that the names are less important than their associated dirty deeds becomes complicated, however, when the accused are charged specifically with representing and protecting members of the very populations against which they are alleged to have sinned, if you will. Sen. Al Franken, a leader within a party broadly identified with ideals of inclusivity and empowerment of women and other minorities, recently apologized after being confronted by several women about inappropriately touching them—though he didn’t really explain what in particular he was apologizing for. Rep. John Conyers is under pressure from fellow Democrats to resign from his post after his own allegations of sexual misconduct and after announcing he would step down from his role as top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. And then there’s Roy Moore. Beyond questions of his fitness to serve the public in any capacity in an unbiased way—let’s not forget his erecting a monument to the Ten Commandments outside his courthouse as well as continuing to enforce Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage despite it being deemed unconstitutional as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court—there’s the matter of several women accusing Moore of making unwanted sexual advances on them prior to the age of consent (16 in Alabama) and/or sexually assaulting them. And this man currently has a 50-50 shot of winning a ticket to the U.S. Senate seat from Alabama voters.
Herein, a pattern begins to emerge just among those alleged to have committed unthinkable acts within the political sphere. The obvious commonality is that these supposed perpetrators are male and hold more power than the women claiming to be their victims. (I say “supposed” and “claiming” under the premise that these men are innocent until proven guilty, but by the same token, I believe their accusers, so at least for my sake, this is largely a question of semantics.) What are not part of the pattern, it should be stressed, are the race of the would-be assailants—Franken and Moore are white, Conyers is black—or their party affiliations—Conyers and Franken are Democrats, Moore is running as a representative of the Republican Party. Owing specifically to the notion sexual deviancy is a nonpartisan issue—or at least should be—and is a hot-button topic at that, it should be relatively easy for other party members to call for their colleagues to resign or step aside. As noted, other Democrats in Congress and members of the Congressional Black Caucus have suggested that John Conyers resign. Meanwhile, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, alongside other prominent Republicans, have urged Roy Moore to remove his name from consideration for the vacant Senate seat set to soon be decided via special election, or otherwise have distanced themselves from supporting his campaign. Apparently, that he was a birther, hates homosexuals and Muslims, has past ties to neo-Confederate and white nationalist groups, and lied about monies received from his nonprofit Christian legal organization is all OK, but going after young women amidst a groundswell of public support for outing sexual predators—whoa, draw the line!
Which brings us to Donald J. Trump. Before we even get to his seemingly sordid history with women, let’s acknowledge the fact that he has maintained his support for Roy Moore through the litany of allegations, in this regard deviating from key members of his own chosen party. To be fair, other politicians, chiefly fellow Alabamans, have defended Moore in their own right, participating in their share of character assassination of the purported victims of Moore’s misdeeds. Also, Steve Bannon is set to publicly stump for Moore in advance of the election, which should be as much of a red flag as anything, but the point here is that Trump isn’t alone in backing Roy Moore. Then again, when Mitch Mc-freaking-Connell won’t even get behind someone purely for political reasons, you know he or she must be pretty damn toxic. That prospective voters in Alabama are yet on the fence about him would be mind-boggling if not for the idea roughly half of Americans who came out to the polls this past November opted for someone as scandalous and unqualified as Trump. For those voters, morality was an afterthought next to the issue or issues that mattered most to them at the time they cast their ballot. Unless they were voting strategically to block Hillary the Neoliberal and the Democrats, which would be more forgivable if it didn’t play directly into the hands of the two-party system.
So, what possible sins of Donald “Two Corinthians” Trump’s are his supporters potentially forgiving or at least overlooking? You know, besides generally being a shitty human being? In the arena of sexual predation, allegedly, there’s a lot to forgive/overlook. At least 12 women have made accusations of unwanted physical contact, not to mention several women have cited his effective invasion of the dressing rooms of various Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants while the contestants were undressing or undressed. It would be one thing for Trump if it were merely his word against theirs, and even then, he is vastly outnumbered. Being the blowhard and entitled-feeling brat he is, however, we have everything short of an admission on these fronts. Regarding the allegations against him of undesired advances and physicality, Trump basically copped to being a repeat offender in the infamous leaked recording from 2005 where he boasts to Billy Bush, then of Access Hollywood fame, about being able to grab women “by the pussy” and being able to do so essentially because he’s rich and famous. As for the discussion of him being a voyeuristic perv, possibly involving underage women at that, Trump bragged about that, too. In 2005—wow, this was quite the banner year for “the Donald,” wasn’t it?—Trump uttered these words during an interview with Howard Stern, really playing to his predominantly-male audience:
I’ll go backstage before a show, and everyone’s getting dressed and ready and everything else. You know, no men are anywhere. And I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner of the pageant. And therefore I’m inspecting it…. “Is everyone OK?” You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. And you see these incredible-looking women. And so I sort of get away with things like that.
“Sort of get away with things like that?” What does that even mean? Either you do or you don’t get away with it, and through a #MeToo lens, Donald Trump shouldn’t get away with anything. For a man that many would contend shouldn’t have been allowed to be President in the first place, it stands to reason that he, like Louis C.K. and others fallen from grace, should be removed from his current role, even if he is President of these United States. That is, just because he is POTUS doesn’t mean he is infallible.
President Trump said these things. He may not have been President when he said them, but he did say them. At least with respect to the Access Hollywood tape, though, and more recently, Trump has indicated his disbelief, however insincere or warped it may be, that the tape actually exists. Again, it would be one thing if Trump merely denied the existence of the tape to begin with, and that would make this denial at least plausible on his part. But Trump has publicly acknowledged the contents of the tape. Leaked in the weeks before the 2016 election, it prompted him to issue a hasty apology. That’s a matter of public record, too. He literally said, “I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.” So, if the tape doesn’t exist or was “doctored” in some way, for what was he apologizing in the first place? If it was a sincere apology, first of all, it was a terrible one, because it involved one of his favorite strategies to attempt to mitigate his personal responsibility: pivoting to the misdeeds—real or imagined—of the Clintons or some other made-to-be-reprehensible figure. More likely, though, Trump’s apology was wholly insincere. Why do I say this? Because Trump never really apologizes or takes responsibility for anything. It’s been his way leading up to the presidency, so why should it change now? The man simply doubles down on his assertions, claiming he does not remember key details of events that reflect poorly on his character, attacking the credibility of sources that report these events (see also “fake news”), and pivoting once more to other subjects. Even if he is not an abuser—and that’s a big “if”—he sure fits the profile of the kinds of men who have been brought down for less in recent weeks.
When Donald Trump isn’t busy trying to make the incontrovertibly true false, he’s trying to do the opposite. Much as recent reports have indicated that Trump has waffled on the very existence of the tape that painted him as a pussy-grabber, apparently, the man is not done with the whole birther controversy. You know, the one where Trump and others have insinuated Barack Obama was born in another country and should have never been able to be President. According to Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin, writing for The New York Times, Trump has questioned the veracity of Obama’s birth certificate behind closed doors. In the same type of forum, Trump has also repeated his belief that widespread voter fraud led to his losing the popular vote. The problem with these notions is that they’re both patently false. Obama has long since released his birth records showing proof of his Hawaiian birth, and Trump has even publicly acknowledged Obama was born in this country—period. As for the whole voter fraud angle, there is no credible evidence to back up Trump’s theories. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Besides, in what would seem to be a telling turn of events, the commission authorized by Pres. Trump has not even convened in recent weeks, though this may simply be a function of it being sued over a dozen times because of lack of transparency and concerns about the privacy of voter information. Either way, it’s a big to-do about something that ultimately has no bearing on the outcome of the election—and seriously, we should get on that whole making-the-popular-vote-decide-the-election thing the law of the land.
All of this talk of personal accountability for Donald Trump and his—how shall we say this?—special relationship with the truth has been within the purview of easily verifiable and already-verified data. There’s a recording of Trump saying awful things about his physical contact with women. There are authenticated birth records that reveal Barack Obama is a natural-born citizen of the United States. There is no evidence that millions of people voted illegally on Hillary Clinton’s behalf. Such an operation to meddle with the results of the election would require a significant amount of organization and resources to effect. You know, the kind of organization and resources, say, a central government would be able to provide, maybe even a foreign power such as—oh, I don’t know—Russia. Wait a minute—that did happen, only it was Trump who was the intended recipient of such collusion! It is on the subject of Russian interference and ties, meanwhile, that we segue to discussion of things yet less transparent: that of matters financial for Trump and his administration.
Even before the election, scrutiny was levied upon the unknowns surrounding Donald Trump’s personal finances. Specifically, people wondered—and still do—what the contents of his latest tax returns might reveal. Sure, Trump has claimed that only the media wants to see his tax information. In fact, at various points, a majority of Americans have wanted him to release his returns, believing it to be important to them and/or how the President does his job. What’s more, the returns are only part of the conversation re Trump and his money. For one, there’s the matter of Trump failing to put his assets in a blind trust. Oh, Trump’s legal representation has gone through contortions in explaining how what he has done with his businesses constitutes such an arrangement, but unfortunately for them, it’s a bunch of hogwash. That the Trump family has still managed a high degree of involvement in Trump Organization affairs clearly points to this so-called “blind trust” as being neither blind nor trustworthy.
There’s also the matter of Trump’s umpteen trips to Mar-a-Lago and other Trump-owned properties. These trips cost money, particularly when considering the need to safeguard the President and secure a host of properties not optimized for ensuring Trump’s safety. While we are talking about particulars, we, the taxpayers, are the ones footing the bill. And the Trump clan is materially benefitting from this arrangement—every time the President takes his golf clubs out of his bag. Based on a 2016 estimate from the Government Accountability Office, just one trip to Mar-a-Lago costs about $3 million. Donald Trump has been President for less than a year, but in that time, has made trips to at least one of his properties on 34 weekends, as of November 22. That’s no small potatoes, and we thus have every right to wonder whether any decision the Trump administration is making is primarily for the family’s benefit. Recall the first iteration of the embattled travel ban, a thinly-veiled bit of prejudice. Conspicuously, the countries that were named in the ban were ones in which the Trump Organization held no properties. Coincidence? Hardly.
It is against this inconsiderate and reckless financial backdrop that I invoke the recent tumult surrounding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for when Donald Trump isn’t busy enriching himself—and boy, has he been enriching himself at our expense for longer than he has been President—he’s been doing his part alongside his adopted Republican brethren to help other rich assholes like himself stay rich or otherwise unaccountable for their actions. (See also, “Republican tax reform.”) First, a little backdrop for the backdrop, the CFPB was authorized in 2010 with the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a piece of legislation designed to approve accountability for financial institutions and lenders following the financial crisis of 2007 to whenever-the-heck-analysts-want-to-claim-it-ended-despite-people-and-companies-still-trying-to-recover. Broadly speaking, the Bureau is devoted to empowering consumers to make financial choices that best serve their needs, enforcing existing regulations against predatory lenders and other institutions that break the law, and educating consumers and companies alike about their capabilities and responsibilities. Much of their work has focused on credit cards, mortgages, and student loans, the likes of which just happen to produce mountains of debt and keep millions of Americans in financial shackles.
And this is the organization Trump, professed man of the people, and his cronies want to dismantle. The CFPB has not been above controversy in its brief tenure, not the least of which involves its unique structure as an independent agency controlled by a single director, i.e. “who will watch the Watchmen?” As Bryce Covert (great name for an investigative journalist, by the by) writes for New Republic, however, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been the one organization devoted solely to protecting financial consumers, and has produced tangible results, namely netting some $12 billion from the likes of Wells Fargo and other financial institutions as compensatory relief for Jane and John Q. Public. According to Covert, this is precisely why Trump and the GOP want to gut the agency. Despite Trump calling the CFPB heretofore a “total disaster,” (much like ObamaCare, but who knew people actually like keeping their health care!) and despite disputed acting director Mick Mulvaney labeling it a “sad, sick joke,” many would contest the assertions of its conservative Republican critics that the Bureau is bad for banks. As Covert and others would maintain, the big banks, in particular, seem to be doing just fine ten years removed from the financial crisis. That’s what makes the current legal battle over the CFPB’s directorship so critically important. Prior to his resignation, Richard Cordray named deputy director Leandra English as acting director, and English has maintained the language of Dodd-Frank specifies that she should automatically take over as director. Pres. Trump, meanwhile, has appointed Mulvaney, previously one of the conservative mob looking on at the CFPB from afar with pitchforks and torches. Not literal pitchforks and torches, mind you. After all, this is Washington, D.C. we’re talking about here, not Charlottesville, VA.
When it comes down to brass tacks, then, why is Bryce Covert so concerned about Mick Mulvaney taking the reins of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and why should you be as well? Well, in a nutshell, because each and every appointment made by President Trump so far has been a deliberate attempt to undermine the purest applications of the underlying office. From the appearance of things, in fact, Donald Trump looks to be directly trolling the disapproving left, but to suggest such things would be giving him far too much credit. Just look at some of his nominees for key Cabinet positions. Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education—despite having no experience with public education. Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA—after suing it umpteen times as Oklahoma Attorney General. Rick Perry as Secretary of the Department of Energy—an agency he wanted to dismantle while on the presidential campaign trail but the name of which he famously was too blockheaded to remember during one debate. Even Mick Mulvaney himself barely got through Senate confirmation hearings to name him director of the Office of Management and Budget. Mulvaney, a fervent Tea Partier, rode the GOP offshoot’s wave of success during Obama’s tenure to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for the state of South Carolina in 2010. Among his soaring achievements as a member of the House (sarcasm intended) are his involvement in voting in 2015 against a funding resolution which would have prevented a government shutdown, in significant part due to the resolution also funding Planned Parenthood, which he named as a “traffick[er] in pieces of dead children,” being a founding member of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus within the House ([INSERT EYE-ROLL EMOJI HERE]), and opposing the Affordable Care Act and gun control, two things many of his constituents need or want, even the Republicans. Thanks for nothing, Mick!
Between Donald Trump in the White House and Mick Mulvaney as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, there is little to inspire or warrant enthusiasm. Once more, we turn to the insights of Bryce Covert:
[Republicans] opposed the creation of the CFPB from the beginning, and are devoted to whittling away at it. They’ve pushed to weaken its independence and effectiveness by monkeying with its structure. The House passed the CHOICE Act in June, which would strip the CFPB of its authority to supervise, police, and examine financial institutions; bar it from overseeing payday loans; and let the president fire its director at whim.
Candidate Trump appeared ready to strike a different pose in office. On the campaign trail, he railed against “hedge fund guys.” He promised not to “let Wall Street get away with murder,” arguing that “Wall Street has caused tremendous problems for us.” It was all part of his supposedly populist message that he would stand up for those left behind by an elite-driven economy and Washington, D.C. Yet, now in office, he’s gone soft on banks. His administration has already loosened financial regulations, dropped a rule to rein in Wall Street bonuses, and allowed AIG to wriggle out of stricter rules to protect the economy if the insurance giant failed.
And he’s followed the rest of his party in attacking the CFPB. His budget zeroed out its funding completely and proposed other ways to significantly change it. His Treasury Department released a report arguing that the CFPB’s “unaccountable structure and unduly broad regulatory powers” have “hindered consumer choice and access to credit, limited innovation, and imposed undue compliance burdens, particularly on small institutions.” The Treasury also recommended that the president be able to fire the director, that its enforcement be slowed down, and that many of its supervisory powers be handed back to agencies that previously did barely anything to police financial firms.
If Mulvaney survives English’s court challenge, he would be able to bring much of that wish list to life. And there’s no reason to think he’d do anything different. He has outright stated, “I don’t like the fact that CFPB exists.” On Monday he got to work, saying all new regulations from the CFPB will be frozen for 30 days. If he remains the bureau’s leader, we can expect much, much more of the same.
OK, so here’s the thing: Mick Mulvaney is only the acting director. If Leandra English’s legal challenge fails to make an impact, though, who knows how long Mulvaney will be at the helm of the CFPB or if it will even last long enough to make the contested director’s seat a meaningful point of contention? Pres. Trump’s administration has been marked by discord and disorganization, a notion highlighted by his molasses-like filling of key government positions that does little to help serve his agenda, as makeshift as it is. Why wouldn’t he drag his feet on appointing a successor for a bureau he wants to delete in the first place? And why wouldn’t we anticipate more abandonment of existing investigations into misdeeds of the financial sector and relaxation of regulations all under the vague impression regulation kills businesses? To take a cue from Ms. Covert, why expect anything to get better until it gets much, much worse?
Accountability. Responsibility. Truth. Whether with respect to something as trivial as the size of one’s Inauguration crowd vis-à-vis that of the previous President or something as of paramount importance as the health of the nation’s economy, rest assured you will not get these virtues from Donald Trump and the gaggle of Republican yes-men and yes-women he has tapped to distract and dissuade from the real damage they are trying to do for the benefit of their corporate and otherwise wealthy benefactors. Putting Mick Mulvaney at the head of the CFPB in an apparent attempt to eviscerate the one truly consumer-oriented agency designed to safeguard everyday Americans’ finances only furthers this notion. Amid Trump’s culture war on the most sacred American values, the vast majority of us stand to lose. Whether his supporters fail to recognize this, or do and simply don’t care, is the only thing left to question.
The ongoing scandal concerning film producer Harvey Weinstein as a decades-old serial sexual predator is a mind-boggling one. Not merely because of Weinstein’s high profile, mind you—if anything, that would seem to make it more likely, in that film producers and other men in positions of power have leveraged or have tried to leverage their stature over women for centuries and longer. The growing list of names of women who have come forward to tell their tales of horrifying, demeaning encounters, and potentially criminal ones at that, with Weinstein, meanwhile, is alarming. For us, the average media consumers, regarding the breadth of the scandal both in terms of the number of women alleged to have been victimized by Harvey Weinstein and the period over which his alleged offenses transpired, the obvious question is: how is this all just coming to light? How did the press and other parties involved not know about Weinstein’s misdeeds? As I’m sure many of us realize, much of Weinstein’s abusive behavior probably was known, just not talked about. Money and influence afford the holder many things in our society, and discretion is among the most valued of them, particularly those up to no good.
As tends to be the case, there will be those commenting on the Harvey Weinstein situation who see the mounting allegations against the disgraced now-former studio executive as something of a “witch hunt” or who otherwise would question the veracity of the statements made by these women after the fact. First of all, we would be naïve to think that more of these incidents weren’t reported to authorities. Whether or not these accounts could or even would be prosecuted at the time, though, is another story. Furthermore, whereas some allegations of rape or sexual assault by women against a more famous male individual might be seen as a “money grab”—which doesn’t mean that these claims should necessarily be dismissed in either the Court of Public Opinion or the judicial system, mind you—what apparent need is there for stars like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow to come forward? Money? Fame? These actresses don’t need either. Likely the worst you could say of these women is that they’re promoting some feminist agenda, and that arguably is not just advisable, but necessary with the likes of President Pussygrabber in the Oval Office as perhaps an unsettling sign of present-day attitudes toward women.
Outside of the realm of Hollywood, many—if not most—women are apt to know a “Harvey Weinstein” in their lives, likely one in a past or current workplace, at that. This is to say that the allegations against Weinstein are not some sort of isolated incident, but indicative of a corporate and patriarchal culture that marginalizes women and is built on their commodification and subjugation. Belen Fernandez, for one, writing for Al Jazeera English, urges readers to “face it: we have an epidemic of sexual harassment.” As Fernandez insists, the Harvey Weinstein scandal (Weinstein-gate?) is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to instances of males in a position of power intimidating women physically or professionally as a means of trying to coerce them into behavior they almost certainly would object to under different circumstances. Going back to the milieu of the film and television industries, Fernandez invokes the anecdotal observations of Molly Ringwald, who wrote about her own experiences with sexual harassment in a piece entitled “All the Other Harvey Weinsteins” for The New Yorker. Here is Ringwald’s critical ending passage alluded to in the Al Jazeera piece:
I could go on about other instances in which I have felt demeaned or exploited, but I fear it would get very repetitive. Then again, that’s part of the point. I never talked about these things publicly because, as a woman, it has always felt like I may as well have been talking about the weather. Stories like these have never been taken seriously. Women are shamed, told they are uptight, nasty, bitter, can’t take a joke, are too sensitive. And the men? Well, if they’re lucky, they might get elected President.
My hope is that Hollywood makes itself an example and decides to enact real change, change that would allow women of all ages and ethnicities the freedom to tell their stories—to write them and direct them and trust that people care. I hope that young women will one day no longer feel that they have to work twice as hard for less money and recognition, backward and in heels. It’s time. Women have resounded their cri de coeur. Listen.
It’s perhaps strange looking at the problem of sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood from an historic perspective, wondering how tropes like the infamous “casting couch” came to be. Then again, perhaps not. As Belen Fernandez outlines, sexual harassment is a problem irrespective of industry or academic pursuit. Citing numerous studies both recent and comparatively antiquated, Fernandez underscores how even in the STEM fields, for example, instances of reported sexual harassment are “alarmingly widespread,” as they are in the medical field or medical studies. Anita Hill, herself once a subject of scrutiny for her high-profile accusation of sexual harassment against then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas, goes as far as to report 45% of employees in the United States are targets of sexual harassment, the majority of them sadly and unsurprisingly female. (As Fernandez mentions, possibly somewhat wryly, Thomas was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice despite Hill’s accusations, evidence that “justice” on this front merits qualification.) And then there’s the U.S. military, which, if you’ve been paying attention to the news in the slightest over the years, you understand serves as a metaphorical hotbed for sexual harassment and sexual assault. Fernandez points to the fact a record number of sexual assault cases were reported in 2016 among our Armed Forces. While the Pentagon regards this as proof the system works, those of us not speaking on behalf of the nation’s military are left to be skeptical, if not patently incredulous. Indeed, this area is one of any number of areas by which the United States military forces merit more scrutiny—and not less, as the White House would insist.
As Belen Fernandez and others see it, all of the above is symptomatic of a larger societal structure that values moneyed white males above all others. It is a patriarchy, moreover, that has not only subjugated women, but has subjugated other groups which more readily value women as equals, namely Native Americans. Fernandez, in particular, cites the work of the late, great Howard Zinn in informing this view. From the article, and by proxy, A People’s History of the United States:
Earlier societies—in America and elsewhere—in which property was held in common and families were extensive and complicated, with aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers all living together, seemed to treat women more as equals than did the white societies that later overran them, bring “civilisation” and private property.
Those references to “civilization” and “private property” are a cue for Fernandez to wax philosophical about the corporatized nature of America. As she sees this matter, since capitalism is primed to divide and exploit people, a significant culture change will need to be effected before this sexual harassment “epidemic” is cured:
Given that capitalism itself has no place for human equality—predicated as it is on divisions between exploiters and exploited—it seems that the current question of how to fix the sexual harassment epidemic in the U.S. will require some extensive out-of-the-box thinking. Enough with the patriarchy. It’s time to get civilised.
The answer, or at least a good start, would be empowering women to seek leadership roles and lead by example, thereby inspiring women across generations and industries to seek their own opportunities to lead and help change a culture so often defined by the metaphor of the “glass ceiling.” Then again, the durability of this repressive culture is such that while the fight for equality and to curb sexual harassment in the workplace is a worthy one, such achievements are easier said than accomplished. Extending the conversation to matters of access to abortion and contraceptives, child care, and spaces safe from emotional, physical, and sexual violence, too, this fight is one that will certainly take time and effort to wage.
In the dawning of the magnitude of Harvey Weinstein’s misdeeds, use of the #MeToo hashtag by victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence to share their experiences has exploded, and this much is not to be undersold. Some see the revelations about Weinstein as a potential watershed moment, that recognition of the unspeakable treatment of women at the hands of men, particularly those close to the women affected, as well as the power of female voices, is beginning to occur. To be sure, it would seem that we have made progress in this area, and specifically concerning the exposure of high-profile sexual predators, the fairly recent downfalls of Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly, to name a few, suggest the bad behavior of their ilk eventually will catch up to them. As heartening as these shows of strength are, however, and while the visibility of females’ victimization is important, when, say, someone like Donald Trump in this day and age can brag about taking advantage of women and otherwise berate or demean them en route to the presidency speaks volumes about how much more is needed on the road to real progress.
Jia Tolentino, staff writer for The New Yorker, explores the weight of the burden faced by female victims of sexual harassment and assault alongside the deeply-ingrained systemic sexism inherent across American institutions. Her insights begin with recalling the incident that led to the revelations in news media about Harvey Weinstein’s character: that of Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who reported to the NYPD Special Victims Unit back in 2015 about being unwillingly groped by Weinstein and later wore a wire in a sting operation of sorts that produced disturbing audio in the vein of Pres. Trump’s off-handed “pussygrabber” comments from his taped conversation with Billy Bush, then of Access Hollywood fame, circa 2005.
Battilana Gutierrez, for her trouble, has had her character questioned if not assassinated by the likes of the New York Post and the Daily Mail—no great beacons of journalism, mind you, but widely circulated and salacious enough to warrant reading. This is no strange occurrence in the world of reporting sexual crimes, whether in the world of producing million-dollar films or the supposedly safe spaces of college and university campuses across the country. Especially when someone of prominence like Harvey Weinstein is accused of sexual impropriety, there is a tendency to call the history of the accuser into question, yet another iteration of the time-honored practice of slut-shaming. Realistically, though, anything beyond the facts of the case at hand involving Weinstein and Battilana Gutierrez is superfluous. Whether she’s a saint or the “she-devil” the tabloids make her out to be, the merits of the available evidence are what matter. Besides, are we supposed to throw out the allegations of every woman who has pointed a finger at Weinstein? After a certain point, trying to prove the contrary seemingly borders on the absurd.
This is not the point of Tolentino’s exercise, however. Beyond the individual complications that surround a woman’s reputation and threaten her very professional livelihood, Tolentino’s concern is the welfare of all women, and despite the goodwill created by #MeToo and the apparent increased accountability for predators like Harvey Weinstein, there is room for concern, if not outright trepidation. Tolentino writes:
Nevertheless, the hunger for and possibility of solidarity among women beckons. In the past week, women have been posting their experiences of assault and harassment on social media with the hashtag #MeToo. We might listen to and lament the horrific stories being shared, and also wonder: Whom, exactly, are we reminding that women are treated as second class? Meanwhile, symbolic advancement often obscures real losses. The recent cultural gains of popular feminism were won just when male politicians were rolling back reproductive rights across the country. The overdue rush of sympathy for women’s ordinary encumbrances comes shortly after the Department of Education reversed Obama-era guidelines on college sexual-assault investigations, and Congress allowed the Children’s Health Insurance Program to expire. On October 3rd, the House passed a ban on abortion after twenty weeks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that “virtually all” Republicans in the Senate support the legislation.
Being heard is one kind of power, and being free is another. We have undervalued women’s speech for so long that we run the risk of overburdening it. Speech, right now, is just the flag that marks the battle. The gains won by women are limited to those who can demand them. Individual takedowns and #MeToo stories will likely affect the workings of circles that pay lip service to the cause of gender equality, but they do not yet threaten the structural impunity of powerful men as a group.
To put Jia Tolentino’s assertions another way, it is one thing to have a voice and to preach to the proverbial choir, but quite another to have the power to bring about positive change. And this doesn’t even address the unique challenges faced by different segments of the female population, whether based on age, race, sexual orientation, or other identifying characteristic. Systemic bias is not something that can be overcome overnight thanks to a hashtag campaign; in fact, activist Tarana Davis had the idea to create a grassroots “Me Too” movement back in 2006, before Alyssa Milano and her Tweets even broached the subject, illustrating just how difficult it can be to sustain the momentum needed for meaningful and substantive progress. When influence is concentrated in the hands of a few males at the top of the patriarchal hierarchy, penetrating the associated power disparity is essential to achieving authentic gender equality.
The term “toxic masculinity” is used to describe the kind of social environment that not only is created by the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, but aids and abets them, as well as perpetuates the conditions by which future generations will breed new sexists and sexual predators. Wikipedia defines toxic masculinity as such:
The concept of toxic masculinity is used in the social sciences to describe traditional norms of behavior among men in contemporary American and European society that are associated with detrimental social and psychological effects. Such “toxic” masculine norms include dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance, and the suppression of emotions.
Conformity with certain traits viewed as traditionally male, such as misogyny, homophobia, and violence, can be considered “toxic” due to harmful effects on others in society, while related traits, including self-reliance and the stifling of emotions, are correlated with harm to men themselves through psychological problems such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse. Other traditionally masculine traits such as devotion to work, pride in excelling at sports, and providing for one’s family, are not considered to be toxic.
Some may argue this definition is too expansive or vague, but nonetheless, it is apparent from this conceptual understanding that there are issues beyond just Harvey Weinstein, or sexual violence for that matter. On one hand, basic human decency tells us that the unfair treatment of women is wrong and the institutions that lead to their systemic oppression must be reformed, if not dismantled. On the other hand, meanwhile, various societal cues only reinforce the value attributed to the domineering “alpha” male. Seemingly every month, a new hyper-masculine superhero movie is in theaters, in which our male protagonist conquers evil, saves the day, and gets the girl, and in which he could give f**k-all about his feelings, the treatment of women, or the structural integrity of surrounding buildings. Is this the ideal of manhood? With leaders like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in place around the world, you get the sense that many of us, male and female, believe this is so. For those of us without a suit of armor or a high office, where does that leave us in the grand scheme of things?
Jia Tolentino, in her closing remarks, hits the nail on the head regarding from where recognition of the scope of the problems in the forms of sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual exploitation will need to come for Western culture to realize substantive gains:
This type of problem always narrows to an unavoidable point. The exploitation of power does not stop once we consolidate the narrative of exploitation. A genuine challenge to the hierarchy of power will have to come from those who have it.
As with the Black Lives Matter/blue lives matter/all lives matter dynamic, while we seek not to discount the energy, passion, and importance of grassroots activist movements, from all sides, there must be an understanding that this is a human issue above being a black or female or [INSERT QUALIFIER HERE] issue. On both counts, Tolentino points to lines being drawn in a “predictable” manner, thus requiring men everywhere to be as courageous in defense of (and like) the more vocal women they know, on top of the untold numbers of female (and male) victims of harassment and assault suffering in silence. Belen Fernandez, too, believes it’s time for us to get civilized. Amen to that, sister.