Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, September 19, 2018 7:58 pm

“What do we owe her now?”

Filed under: Evil,Say a prayer — Lex @ 7:58 pm
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After I read this story, a deeply reported and insightful examination of a 2006 rape case that happened to a classmate of the writer, Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig, when they were in high school in Texas, I was warned by some online acquaintances not to share it (even though they admit the story is excellent) because the reporter, Elizabeth Bruenig, supposedly is extremely anti-abortion, believes misogyny is caused by demon possession, and thinks the patriarchy doesn’t exist.

That gave me pause because I generally try not to amplify the voices of people with whom I disagree on social issues. I follow Bruenig on Twitter, but I seldom see her posts and didn’t recall anything like that. So I spent a few minutes Googling this. I didn’t find conclusive information one way or the other except that Bruenig, a convert to Catholicism, opposes abortion. (In my short search I found no indication of whether she thinks abortion should be illegal).

But here’s the thing. Whether or not she holds those views is irrelevant, because if she holds these views, she very clearly kept them out of the story. Isn’t that exactly what we expect reporters to do?

She didn’t keep all her views out; she is, after all, a columnist. She obviously feels the need for expiation:

There were personal reasons, too, for my investigation. I wanted to understand why it had to be as bad as it was — why she wasn’t just doubted but hated, not simply mocked but exiled — and why it had always lingered on my conscience like an article of unfinished business, something I had meant to do but hadn’t. I wanted to look directly at the dark things that are revealed when episodes of brutality unfold and all pretense of civilization temporarily fades, and I wanted to understand them completely.

Otherwise, I thought, they could at any time pull me under. And I could watch mutely while something like this happened again.

Bruenig began work on this story three years ago. In addition to being a strong and damning piece of journalism, it also includes some insights drawn from this 2006 rape case that are frighteningly relevant in 2018. Consider:

Montaigne and Wordsworth lived near enough to the bloody indifference of nature to spare a thought for its victims. But the veneer of civility painted over modern life has paradoxically revealed a certain contempt for victims and the condition of victimhood. And perhaps, lurking in all the complaints about our putative culture of victimhood, there is something uglier than generalized contempt: a disdain for the weak.

That is absolutely true. And in recent years, driven largely though not exclusively by Republican politicians and out-of-control financiers, the “veneer of civility” has been chipping and flaking; since the ascent of Trump, it has begun falling away in chunks. Contempt for victims and disdain for the weak have become more socially acceptable; they are the stock-in-trade of many would-be iconoclasts. They think they are fighting political correctness, neither knowing nor caring that what they think of as political correctness, most people think of as just good manners.

This has always been the case for victims of sexual assault, and the way Senate Republicans are handling the credible allegation of Christine Ford against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh shows just how incredibly little progress we have made in preventing sexual assault and caring for its victims, even in 2018.

This isn’t just evil, it also is distinctly un-American. This country has always been at its best when, whether in good circumstances like moon landings or bad circumstances like Pearl Harbor and 9/11, we realized we were all in this together. But more and more people aren’t just ignorant of the less fortunate, they are actively trying to harm them even more than they already have been harmed. That goes against every ancient teaching, sacred and secular, that above all we must give a damn about one another. I haven’t the first idea how to reverse it, but it needs to be called out, and that is only one service among many that Bruenig has provided with this article.

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Sunday, September 16, 2018 4:53 pm

Anita Hill Redux

So now a woman has come forward to tell The Washington Post that Supreme Court nominee sexually assaulted and attempted to rape her when they were both in high school.

Read The Washington Post’s story. The accuser, Christine Braley Ford, comes across as credible — certainly more credible than Kavanaugh, who has committed serial perjury before the U.S. Senate.

As corroborating evidence, the accuser offers notes from a 2012 conversation involving her, her husband and a marriage counselor, which describes the incident but does not name Kavanaugh (or anyone else) as her attacker. What has the GOP to offer in response? A ham-handed effort to make us believe that they were able to round up 65 female character witnesses from Kavanaugh’s high-school years within just a few hours.

At the very least, the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to vote Thursday on Kavanaugh’s nomination, ought to postpone the vote long enough to get any and all witnesses with relevant information under oath. But that appears unlikely to happen.

Senate Judiciary Republicans issued a statement calling the accusation “uncorroborated allegations” (despite the counselor’s notes) and criticizing the Democrats for not having brought the allegation forward sooner. Ford sent her congresswoman a letter in July, before Kavanaugh was nominated; she passed it on in July to Feinstein as a member of the Senate committee that would be vetting whomever Trump nominated. Feinstein has said she had kept the letter secret at the request of the writer, whose name had been redacted.

A lawyer close to the White House told Politico the nomination would not be withdrawn:

“No way, not even a hint of it,” the lawyer said. “If anything, it’s the opposite. If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. We can all be accused of something.”

(I imagine it doesn’t bother the White House at all that their lawyer friend is basically conceding that the building is full of rapists.)

Those of us who were around for Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court know how the Republicans will handle this: stonewall on the accusation and attack the accuser. The possibility that there might be something here worth getting sworn testimony on doesn’t even seem to have crossed Republicans’ minds.

If all Senate Republicans toe the party line, as looks likely, Kavaugh will be confirmed with at least 51 votes. So, in all likelihood, Ford will be smeared and Kavanaugh, despite documented perjury, will be confirmed. Two sexual assaulters will be radically reshaping laws that affect all of us, particularly women and girls. And a formerly great major political party will be demonstrating again the staggering depths of its corruption and yet more justification for its utter ouster in November and in 2020.

 

Saturday, December 9, 2017 11:48 am

The diminishing view from the moral high ground

As Democrats work to align their practices with their stated principles, they — and women — risk losing a wider war.

Time magazine has dubbed them “The Silence Breakers” and named them Person of the Year: the women (mostly) who have come forward to allege sexual harassment, or worse, on the part of powerful men, many of them quite famous.

Politics having forever been a boys’ club, it’s no surprise that the trend is affecting official Washington. What has been striking, however, has been the difference in the ways Democrats and Republicans have handled allegations against their respective members.

Democratic Rep. John Conyers, the longest-serving member in the House, was forced to resign. Sen. Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat who some Democrats believe should be the party’s 2020 presidential nominee, was forced to resign. (More on him in a moment.) Rep. Alcee Hastings, the Florida Democrat, is alleged to have used more than $200,000 in taxpayer money to settle allegations; at this writing he has not resigned, but his situation is tenuous.

Contrast that approach with the GOP’s: Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican, also used taxpayer money to settle allegations; he hasn’t resigned and has no plans to. (UPDATE: There are new allegations against him, too.) Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who has been accused of sexual assault by women including one who was 14 at the time, is running for the vacant Alabama seat in the U.S. Senate with the full support of the Republican National Committee, Alabama elected officials (who are mostly Republican) and President Donald Trump, himself currently being accused of sexual harassment or assault by almost 20 women. The Republicans who control Congress have expressed zero interest in expelling Farenhold, expelling Moore if he’s elected (legally, the Senate probably cannot prevent him from being seated if he wins), or even investigating Trump.

The Democrats, having long espoused equality of the sexes, and having argued at least since the 1991 Anita Hill case that women accusers should be believed, are now having to figure out exactly how that will work in practice, lest they be credibly accused of hypocrisy. There’s no road map; it’s being drawn now as they proceed. But they do seem to be acting, or trying to act, on the belief that the party’s practices should align with its principles, however painfully.

This is a particularly acute problem in Franken’s case. The allegations against him are generally far more minor in nature than those against, say, Moore or Trump. Franken has been an ally for women in the Senate. And, again, a lot of Dems would’ve liked to see him not just stay in the Senate but also go on to win the White House. But the party, publicly led by women senators, insisted he resign. And so he said he would.

But the Republicans, having not been a party that particularly favors women’s rights, have no such worries about hypocrisy. As has been abundantly clear at least since 1995, they care not about principles, only power. Accordingly, they’ve doubled down on support for Moore, primarily to protect their tenuous Senate majority.

Think about that. One of the two major parties in this country thinks it’s just fine for a credibly accused child molester to be a U.S. Senate candidate, and to be seated if he wins. And while the press hasn’t exactly endorsed Moore — indeed, Alabama’s three largest newspapers editorialized against Moore and in favor of his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones — neither has it made enough of a stink about the GOP’s appalling lack of a moral center. And Republican voters are all for him, and not just in Alabama.

Now think about this: Suppose Moore were a Democrat, and his Republican opponent would become the 51st Republican senator — enough to, say, overturn the Affordable Care Act or some other law favored by liberals. Would the Democrats take the “Democrats uber alles!” approach? It’s inconceivable that they would (I suspect most would sit the race out, which is as good as voting for the Republican). And in the unlikely event that they did, it’s inconceivable that the news media would accept that decision with the equanimity that it seems to be accepting GOP support of Moore.

Herein lies a major dilemma for Democrats: If they do the right thing — and punishing sexual harassers and abusers is indisputably the right thing — they’ll get, at best, nominal congratulations from their base (some of whom will argue, correctly, that this course correction is happening decades too late), nominal praise from the news media, and little to no political bump.

Republicans, on the other hand, have decided that they can brazen out anything — and that therefore, they will. If anything, this is enhancing the already-strong party support from the base. Moreover, Republicans are not paying a price either in news coverage or in public esteem; the country already is deeply divided along partisan lines, so any movement would be minimal to begin with, but even so, the latest disturbing news about GOP support for a sexual predator is having little to no discernible impact on voter registration.

So from a political standpoint, what’s the benefit to Democrats of doing the right thing? It keeps the base on board, which is important, but beyond that, benefits are hard to see. And why does that matter? Because the Republicans are actively hostile to women’s rights, and only the Democrats can stop them from their current path toward banning not just abortion but also birth control, halting efforts to ensure equal pay for equal work, and many other things — yes, including stopping sexual harassment. As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick observes:

Is [Franken going while Moore stays] the principled solution? By every metric I can think of, it’s correct. But it’s also wrong. It’s wrong because we no longer inhabit a closed ethical system, in which morality and norm preservation are their own rewards. We live in a broken and corroded system in which unilateral disarmament is going to destroy the very things we want to preserve.

To see the double standard in action, watch Mike Huckabee making the case that Roy Moore should be welcomed into the Senate because Franken has stayed. Then keep watching and realize that in the next breath, he adds that Moore has “denied the charges against him vehemently and categorically” so they must be false. Franken and Conyers are deployed by the right to say Moore should stay, and then they are dismissed as suckers for crediting their accusers.

We see this dynamic in other areas of politics, too, such as to what extent Nazis should be given the same rights as everybody else: The problem is that Nazis aren’t playing by the same rules as everyone else; they intend to use their rights to get into a position in which they can deny the rights of others. And as Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who presided at the Nuremberg war-crimes trials, has famously observed, “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.”

So what can the Democrats do? I don’t think playing the game the way the Republicans do is the right call; that way, no one wins, least of all the victims of sexual harassment and assault.

Beyond that, I would argue that the party needs to make this issue a priority, by which I mean Democrats in both houses of Congress, and particularly the women senators who brought about Franken’s resignation, ought to use the rules of their respective houses to throw enough wrenches into the works to bring business to a standstill until there’s a bipartisan investigation of the allegations (including alleged the rape of a then-13-year-old girl) against Donald Trump and against Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas for lying about his treatment of Anita Hill, and a standard procedure to follow in each house when a member is accused of sexual misconduct. If a government shutdown ensues, so be it. This matters (UPDATE: and if Vanity Fair is correct, it’s about to start mattering a whole lot more).

From where I sit, Al Franken had to resign. Yes, there’s some circumstantial evidence that the first accusation against him was by a Republican operative. But the accusations against him, though minor as these things go, were too serious, numerous and credible to ignore.

But rather than simply announcing he would resign — and even noting the irony of his resignation when Trump, accused by more people of having done worse things, remains in office — I wish Franken had said, “I will resign … right after you do, Mr. President.” That would help restore some of the moral and ethical balance now currently MIA in U.S. politics, and it would lessen the political costs and enhance the political benefits to the Democratic Party of redoubling its work on behalf of the victims of sexual misconduct, and on behalf of women generally.

Saturday, August 29, 2015 4:41 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 29

It was easier to give in than to keep running.

This is the kind of climate-change contradiction that likely can be explained only by following the money.

Sarah Palin interviews Donald Trump: the dumber leading the dumberer.

A West Point professor, Willliam Bradford, has gone WAY off the constitutional reservation on the War on Some Terror.

So fracking, among its many other charms, can produce radioactive material. Woo-hoo!

Remind me again why anyone would or should listen to Dick Cheney.

On this, the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Heckuva Job Brownie is quite literally the last person we need to hear from.

 

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