Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Four Balanced Perspectives on the Wave of “Sexual Misconduct” Accusations Against Influential Men in the U.S.

Following are excerpts from four commentaries written in response to the recent wave of "sexual misconduct" allegations and accusations against powerful men in the entertainment industry and in politics here in the U.S. I find all four writers – William Kaufman, Ken Darling, Pam Costain, and Kate Harding – to be thoughtful, articulate, insightful, and balanced.

I confess to being troubled rather than elated by the daily rumble of idols falling to accusations of “sexual misconduct”. . . . Weinstein and Trump and Roy Moore and Bill Clinton are vile pigs and creeps, no doubt; I have always detested the smug neoliberal performance-art strut of Al Franken and the careerist-toady journalism of Glenn Thrush and Charlie Rose, the latest dominoes to tumble amid the barrage of public accusations of “inappropriate” advances or touching.

But the boundary between cultural tolerance/intolerance blurs and shifts with each passing revelation, as the litany of sins, ancient or recent, cardinal or venal, snowballs into an avalanche of aggrieved, undifferentiated accusation – a stampeding herd of “Me-Tooists.” Successive waves of long-forgotten gropes and slurps now overwhelm the news channel chyrons, leaving us with the sense that no greater crime against humanity is possible than an unsolicited horndog lunge of the hand or tongue, some of them from twenty or thirty years past but divulged only in the past few weeks.

. . . [W]hat interest of sanity or reason is served by this reckless lumping together of flicks of the tongue and forcible rapes into the single broad-brush term “sexual misconduct,” as though there is no important difference between an oafish pat or crude remark at an office party and a gang rape? This would be like applying the term “communist” alike to advocates of single payer healthcare and campaigners for one-party centralized control of the entire economy – oh wait, we have seen precisely that: during the McCarthy era. Now then . . . is all this beginning to have a familiar ring to it?

. . . Something surpassingly strange is at work here – a wrong-headed authoritarian ire over the spasmodic misfires of the human comedy combined with some primal meltdown of a besieged and increasingly desperate ruling class and its longstanding winking sexual hypocrisies. It is a moral panic that is, ironically, immoral at its core: repressive and diversionary, an identity-politics orgy of misdirected moral energies that breeds a chilling conformity of word and deed and, in so doing, cripples the critical faculties and independence of spirit needed to challenge the status quo the PC monitors profess to abhor. In reality, their speech and conduct codes foster a spirit of regimentation rather than rebellion, thereby shoring up the power of the repressive elites that are leading the human race to social, economic, and ecological disaster.

So this is not just a moral panic—but a bizarre inversion of values in which Bill Clinton can murder 500,000 Iraqi children, throw millions of poor women and their children off welfare, and instigate the global rule of transnational corporations with NAFTA, but he is not impeached or stigmatized for any of those atrocities but rather for a workplace blowjob; in which Hillary Clinton can lead the charge for the destruction of Libya, reducing that country to primeval rubble, and is not only not fired or ostracized but is rewarded with the Democrats’ presidential nomination and lauded by corporate feminists as a champion of “inclusiveness”; in which Barack Obama pushed fraudulent health-care reform that leaves a barbaric 27 million people with zero coverage and millions more with crippling premiums and deductibles that render their “coverage” all but unusable, thus sentencing tens of thousands of people to death every year because they cannot afford timely medical care, and dropped 26,171 pounds of bombs in 2016 alone, and yet he is not only not reviled and abominated as a con artist but is worshipped as an icon of enlightened governance; in which the entire ruling elite and its associates in the corporate media are chronically underplaying – indeed, scarcely mentioning – the gravity of the climate change crisis, which would merely spell the end of the human species within a hundred years, yet no copycat 24/7 umbrage or five-alarm indignation on the part of anyone in those elite circles or their acolytes over this unprecedented planetary emergency.

Hence the long-buried, freshly unearthed ego bruises of the privileged identity-politics crowd eclipse mass murder and ecocide on the outrage meters of this country’s opinion shapers. The same solemn cohort – mostly white and middle-class, many of them ardent McResistance DNC partisans (or, in the case of Leean Tweeden, Franken’s tongue-kiss accuser, a movement conservative who twice voted for George W. Bush) – is so easily roused to near-apoplexy about a naughty lunge of the hand or tongue yet discreetly ignores or openly cheers on unparalleled crimes against humanity: endless debilitating wars against nameless enemies abroad, the toxic mercenary corruption and annihilation of democracy, staggering political/social inequality (the top one percent of the world’s population now owns half of the world’s wealth), and ecocide everywhere – committed and abetted with impunity by the PC brigades’ culture heroes like the Clintons and Obama and their cohorts in the media and the corporate/political elites.

So yes – prosecute the rapists and pedophiles and let them suffer in jail. But you will excuse me if I stand aside from the stampede of outrage about Al Franken’s wayward tongue or even Donald Trump’s juvenile frat-house boasts while the world teeters on the brink. The scale of values of this country’s liberal elites, and the issues that fuel and exhaust their capacity for outrage, border on moral dementia. Their vaunted “values” lead us not to virtue and to spiritual renewal, but to the nauseating sanctimony of the custodians of a charnel house – to the abyss.

– William Kaufman
Excerpted from "The Great American Sex Panic of 2017"
November 22, 2017

One thing we men could do when listening to women is acknowledge that many women are asking Can we please see the difference between inappropriate and criminal behavior? Can we please see the difference between public and private morality, between a single boorish act and a pattern of abuse? This is not the same thing as "making excuses." It is understanding the world as patches of grey, not bright lines separating black and white. Not all behavior – even really gross behavior – should be career-ending. Liberals should not give a weapon to Trumpism in order to show our purity. Outrage, to have true meaning and power, must be calibrated.

. . . I read this piece and wholly agree that a powerful man touching a woman on the bare back in a work situation is creepy and deserves to be called out and condemned and [Garrison] Keillor deserves the public shame he is now receiving, but, unless I am missing something, I have to say the reaction from MPR is excessive. We have to be able to make distinctions between obnoxious, inappropriate behavior and criminal, violent or threatening behavior, between individual acts and patterns of harassment, between behaving inappropriately and threatening a subordinate's job when demanding sexual favors. I don't see evidence in this story of Keillor having a pattern of harassment or threatening a woman's job or career. Shame him. Condemn him. Penalize him. But fire him? Remove his show? Erase his career? That seems disproportionate. Ditto with Franken. We need nuance and proportion in this important discussion.

Ken Darling
via Facebook
November 18 and 29, 2017

. . . Since President Trump has been in office I have been repeatedly impressed at the depth and breadth of Senator Franken’s questioning of cabinet and judicial nominees, feeling at times he was standing between us and total disaster as he has sought to slow down or defeat the worst of the President’s choices.

So, we come to the present moment and the allegations of sexual misconduct against Al Franken. I find myself aligned with those who do not want Senator Franken to resign, at least on the basis of information that has already surfaced. In fact, I have found reactions to the situation somewhat baffling and the vitriol toward him something I cannot understand.

While the action Al Franken is shown doing in the photograph is crude, boorish and juvenile, I do not believe it is sexual assault as some have alleged. I have witnessed behavior like this for years at parties, on beaches, in bars and elsewhere. I always find it disgusting and immature, and I do not want to be around it. But while it is achingly commonplace, I do not think it is sexual assault. If we accept that mocking touching a women’s breast is sexual assault, eventually the word has no meaning.

Why is this important? Because men in power (and those without power) physically coerce, brutalize, subjugate and hurt women every single day sexually and that must end. There is a real problem with sexual assault in our culture that must be confronted and stopped. I fear the issue is being trivialized in the current context and will ultimately do more harm than good.

Yell at me now, but I am not even sure I consider Al Franken’s actions sexual harassment. I tend to think of sexual harassment as activities designed to keep women in their place, making them fearful on the street, fearful they won’t get a job or promotion, fearful of being a leader, fearful of challenging men, fearful of challenging authority, fearful of speaking up. Harassment is a power play meant to take away power from women and to reduce them to people whose purpose is for the pleasure and pursuit of men.

I do not accept the false equivalency that Al Franken’s boorish behavior on a USO tour (designed specifically to titillate the troops as these tours have done for decades) is equivalent to Roy Moore’s serial pursuit and entrapment of under-age girls. I do not think Al Franken needs to pay for behavior of other men whose deeds went unpunished, whether they be Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy. I do believe in due process for individuals, not only in the court of law but in the ethics process of the Senate. I do believe social media can be a terrible way to move through complex social issues when everyone is an instant judge and jury of the actions of others without knowing the full context.

Al Franken is accountable for his actions. He has apologized publicly and that apology has been accepted. He undoubtedly has a lot for soul-searching to do with his family and colleagues. But, it is also true that vicious people bent on destroying our democracy, denying people health care, providing enormous tax benefits to the rich, dismantling environmental protections and getting control of our courts, are counting on you and me to keep focused on Al while they do their evil deeds. We cannot continue to be distracted.

– Pam Costain
Excerpted from "My Thoughts on Al Franken"
via Facebook
November 20, 2017

I am a Democrat because I am a feminist who lives under a two-party system, where one party consistently votes against the interests of women while the other sometimes does not. I am not a true believer in the party itself nor in any politician. I am a realist who recognizes that we get two viable choices, and Democrats are members of the only party positioned to pump the brakes on Republicans’ gleeful race toward Atwoodian dystopia. Meanwhile, I recognize that men’s harassment of and violence against women is a systemic issue, not a Democrat or Republican problem, a Hollywood problem, a sports problem, or a media problem. Its roots lie in a patriarchal culture that trains men to believe they are entitled to control women’s bodies – for sex, for sport, for childbearing, for comedy.

When you combine these things – an awareness that the Democratic Party is no more or less than best of two, and an understanding that men in power frequently exploit women – it becomes difficult to believe that Franken is the only sitting Democrat with a history of harassment, abuse or assault. The recent #metoo campaign demonstrated how normalized unwanted kissing and groping are in our culture. Donald Trump was caught on tape crudely admitting to both of those transgressions, and we made him our president. According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 1 in 3 women experiences some sort of contact sexual violence in her life. Sexual harassment and assault are simply too widespread for Democrats to respond to Franken’s offense with only Franken in mind: We need to respond in a way that helps us develop a protocol for meaningful change.

. . . [I]f we [force Franken to resign] in the interest of demonstrating our party’s solidarity with harassed and abused women, we’re only going to drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms. The legislative branch will remain chockablock with old, white Republican men who regard women chiefly as sex objects and unpaid housekeepers, and we’ll show them how staunchly Democrats oppose their misogynistic attitudes by handing them more power.

– Kate Harding
Excerpted from "I’m a Feminist. I Study Rape Culture.
And I Don’t Want Al Franken to Resign
The Washington Post
November 17, 2017


Al Franken Resigns from Senate
Over Sexual Misconduct Allegations

– Lauren Gambino (The Guardian, December 7, 2017)

Al Franken Resigns: Democrats Fail
the GOP Sexual Harassment Test. Again

StrategyCamp (December 7, 2017)

Franken's Out, But It's No Victory for Women
– Miles Howard (Cognoscenti, December 7, 2017)

Why Franken Had to Go
– Christina Cauterucci (Slate, December 7, 2017)

Al Franken Resigns, Setting Precedent
for Donald Trump and Roy Moore

– Matthew Rozsa (Salon, December 7, 2017)

Donald Trump Has Made Roy Moore
the Face of the Republican Party

– John Nichols (The Nation, December 7, 2017)

Related Off-site Links:
Men in Power Abusing Women – What a Surprise! – Peter Montague (CounterPunch, November 19, 2017).
How Should Women Respond When a Man We Like Is Accused of Harassment? – Emer O'Toole (The Guardian, November 13, 2017).
The Backlash Against the Bullies – Robert Reich (Common Dreams, November 19, 2017).
Yes, Donald Trump Is a Role Model – for Men Accused of Sexual Abuse – Margaret Carlson (The Daily Beast, November 30, 2017).
Celebrity Sexual Abuse Scandals Highlight Everyday Sexism – Emily Mills (Common Dreams, November 18, 2017).
Groping for Manhood – Robert Lipsyte ( via Common Dreams, November 16, 2017).
What We Lose When We Let Predatory Men Shape the National Conversation – Emma Gray (The Huffington Post, November 29, 2017).
“Should Al Franken Resign?” Is the Wrong Question – Masha Gessen (The New Yorker, November 19, 2017).
Rebecca Solnit: Ending Sexual Harassment Means Changing Masculinity and Undermining Misogynist CultureDemocracy Now! (November 22, 2017).
Let's Bring Some Rationality to Discussion Around Al Franken – Judith Koll Healey (Star Tribune, November 29, 2017).
The Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against Donald Trump – the Full List – Lucia Graves and Sam Morris (The Guardian, November 28, 2017).
Trump Officially Backs Roy Moore Despite Allegations of Sexual Misconduct – Inae Oh (Mother Jones, December 4, 2017).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What a Man! – Connor Beaton
Quote of the Day – November 17, 2017

No comments: