On October 5, the New York Times published a well-crafted report detailing lurid sexual assault allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Not long after, journalist Ronan Farrow, contracting with the New Yorker, dropped a few bombshells of his own: Weinstein contracted an “army of spies” to harass and shame his many accusers, often settling these cases in secret using “elaborate legal agreements.”
Weinstein was just the tip of the iceberg. With the Times‘ October surprise, the floodgates opened wide. The accused ranged from comedians to journalists to a slew of politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Conservative firebrand Roy Moore, an alleged child molester, is running for a U.S. Senate seat from Alabama in a special election set for December 12. Meanwhile, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, both Democrats, face calls for further investigation and possible removal stemming from allegations of sexual harassment. Republicans on Capitol Hill face problems of their own. In a report from Newsweek:
It is clear that the problems on Capitol Hill go far deeper than the names that have emerged so far. During a House Administration Committee hearing this week, multiple women described instances of sexual misconduct. California Democrat Jackie Speier said that two current members of Congress, one Democrat and one Republican, had engaged in sexual harassment.
Virginia Republican Barbara Comstock added a story of a male lawmaker who asked a young female staffer to his home and opened his door wearing only a towel before exposing himself. Separately, Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono described to the Associated Press how a male colleague harassed her with suggestive comments over a period of years. And, on Friday, Betty McCollum, a House Republican said she was forced to use a newspaper to fight off another member of Congress from engaging her in an unwanted hug.
It’s a fascinating cultural shift to see this type of behavior publicized and shamed, just over a year after the country elevated a bigoted sexist to the highest office in the land. The trend, however, has some crying “witch hunt,” worried about the shunning of due process in favor of self-righteous denunciation.
The concern would be valid if these men were being tried in a court of law — as it stands, there is no right to due process in the realm of public opinion
I understand this anxiety, to a point. It’s important we don’t ruin the careers of innocent men. But it’s equally important to stamp out the rampant sexism that has gone unchecked in many industries for far too long. And it’s vital we do this in an apolitical manner, condemning equivalent misdeeds no matter the party affiliation of the accused.
We must also keep proportionality in mind. What Senate candidate Roy Moore and sitting Sen. Al Franken are accused of are not equivalent sins, though both are reprehensible. Serial sexual assault of underaged girls, of which Moore is accused, is a bit more severe a crime than Franken’s taking of a lewd photo and alleged groping and kissing of non-consenting adult women.
But it’d be a mistake to brush aside this sweeping cultural moment in favor of mere incremental advancement. None of these men will face criminal punishment unless found guilty through the slow, plodding process of the American legal system. That’s how it works in law: one is innocent until proven guilty.
But that’s not how politics works; democracy is a different beast. If there is compelling evidence that a man has abused his power to coerce, harass, threaten, rape or demean those with less power than he, the public ought to know, and the public ought to be free to render its judgement upon the accused using the facts at hand.
No one has a right to political office, but we the people have a right to choose our political representatives. If we decide the burden of proof for ousting an alleged sexual abuser from elected office is a mere preponderance of the evidence, a bar many of these cases have easily cleared, it is our right to assert as much.
Right now, the verdict seems pretty clear. The American people are demanding accountability — and giving birth to a new revolution. ■