Opin­ion

For all its right­eous—and com­mend­able—out­rage over the Eric Sch­nei­der­man scan­dal, the Democrats’ grasp on moral su­pe­ri­or­ity is ten­u­ous

Newsweek - - Contents - BY DANIELLE TCHOLAKIAN @danielleiat

Sex Scan­dals and the Party Line

the head­line said it all: “Four Women Ac­cuse New York’s At­tor­ney Gen­eral of Phys­i­cal Abuse.” At first, there was de­nial, talk of “role-play­ing” and vows of con­sen­sual sex. But just three hours later, Eric Sch­nei­der­man, a Democrat and prom­i­nent women’s advocate, was fin­ished, brought down by The New Yorker in the lat­est #Metoo scan­dal. His party had de­manded it. “The vi­o­lent ac­tions de­scribed by mul­ti­ple women in this story are ab­hor­rent,” said Se­na­tor Kirsten Gil­li­brand of New York. De­scrib­ing their re­la­tion­ships with the at­tor­ney gen­eral, two of the women told the mag­a­zine he had slapped and choked them re­peat­edly. “Given the damn­ing pat­tern of facts and cor­rob­o­ra­tion laid out in the ar­ti­cle, I do not be­lieve it is pos­si­ble for Eric Sch­nei­der­man to con­tinue to serve as at­tor­ney gen­eral,” said Gov­er­nor Andrew Cuomo. Though he dis­puted the al­le­ga­tions, Sch­nei­der­man promptly re­signed.

Yet half­way across the coun­try, Eric Greitens set­tled in for a fight. The Repub­li­can gov­er­nor of Mis­souri also stood ac­cused of abuse. Ear­lier this year, a wo­man said he blind­folded her and bound her to ex­er­cise equip­ment. Then, the wo­man charged, he took her photo to keep her silent and co­erced her into oral sex. Greitens dis­puted the ac­count—he says the en­counter was a con­sen­sual ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair—but when the calls for res­ig­na­tion came, he dug in. Echo­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, he claimed he was the vic­tim of a “po­lit­i­cal witch hunt,” even as he faced felony charges for in­va­sion of pri­vacy. As of pub­li­ca­tion, he was on trial.

The di­vide be­tween Sch­nei­der­man and Greitens shows how much—and how lit­tle—has changed since the Har­vey We­in­stein scan­dal sparked the #Metoo move­ment. Nei­ther party is blame­less. But Democrats, who once de­fended Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton against charges of sex­ual trans­gres­sions, are now try­ing to de­fine them­selves as the party of #Metoo. Watch­ing a surge of women at the polls this year, they rightly saw Sch­nei­der­man’s hypocrisy as a po­lit­i­cal al­ba­tross. Repub­li­cans, how­ever, see a dif­fer­ent land­scape. Led by Trump, who has been ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct by at least 22 women over the years, their base is no longer as an­i­mated by a “moral ma­jor­ity,” as it was decades ago, but by a silent one, driven more by com­pe­ti­tion. To many of these vot­ers, stay­ing in power seems to be the ut­most value.

In elect­ing Trump, Amer­i­can vot­ers told the world that they didn’t care about abused women.

Last year’s Alabama Se­nate race re­mains in­struc­tive. Re­mem­ber, GOP nom­i­nee Roy Moore was ac­cused of prey­ing on un­der­age girls by nine women who said he pur­sued them ag­gres­sively when they were teens and he was in his 30s. One wo­man said he ini­ti­ated a sex­ual en­counter when she was 14, younger than the al­ready-low age of con­sent in Alabama. Moore barely de­nied the al­le­ga­tions, and yet he re­mained a paragon of Chris­tian moral­ity for some. While a num­ber of Repub­li­cans backed away from him, the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee (RNC) re­stored fi­nan­cial sup­port to his cam­paign af­ter he re­ceived Trump’s en­dorse­ment. As for Moore’s sup­port­ers, many found ways to over­look or dis­miss a moun­tain of moral in­dict­ments—and he al­most won the race. “I’m just vot­ing for the Repub­li­can,” one told The New York Times. An­other, an­other cited lyrics from Randy New­man’s Good Old Boys al­bum: “He might be a fool, but he’s our fool.”

To be fair, since Moore’s im­plo­sion, a string of Repub­li­cans have taken a dif­fer­ent ap­proach: sur­ren­der. Among those en­gulfed in sex­ual mis­con­duct scan­dals were Texas Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Blake Far­en­thold, who re­signed in April fol­low­ing ac­cu­sa­tions by for­mer staff mem­bers, and Penn­syl­va­nia Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Patrick Mee­han, who stepped down af­ter it was re­vealed he used tax­payer funds to pay off a sex­ual ha­rass­ment claim. Even in Mis­souri, top Repub­li­can lead­ers have called on Greitens to re­sign, and, as of pub­li­ca­tion, the Gop-led Leg­is­la­ture was set to con­vene a spe­cial ses­sion to con­sider im­peach­ment.

But for the gov­er­nor and too many in the party, Trump re­mains the model. In Fe­bru­ary, af­ter one of his key aides, Rob Porter, re­signed fol­low­ing mul­ti­ple do­mes­tic vi­o­lence al­le­ga­tions, the pres­i­dent con­tin­ued to de­fend him, em­pha­siz­ing not the women’s claims (one ex-wife had pho­tos of the black eye she said Porter had given her) but his aide’s de­nials. (Af­ter a week, Trump clar­i­fied that he was “to­tally op­posed to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.” Big league.) In May, how­ever, within min­utes of Sch­nei­der­man’s res­ig­na­tion, the White House was gloat­ing. “Gotcha,” ad­viser Kellyanne Con­way wrote on Twit­ter. Con­sid­er­ing

Trump’s long list of ac­cusers, an­other tweet, this one by Don­ald Trump Jr., ap­plied as much to the White House as it did to its in­tended target, Sch­nei­der­man: “Self aware­ness level: 0.”

Sim­i­larly, the RNC suc­cess­fully pres­sured Democrats to re­turn do­na­tions from We­in­stein, but then it ne­glected to do the same with funds pro­vided by al­leged sex­ual abuser Steve Wynn. This warped world­view flows from the an­i­mat­ing touch­stone of Trump’s life: the 2016 elec­tion vic­tory. De­spite the un­re­lent­ing string of sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions, Trump won. And when his ac­cusers came for­ward to re­new their claims against him in the #Metoo mo­ment, White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders re­peat­edly called them liars. “The peo­ple of this coun­try, at a de­ci­sive elec­tion, sup­ported Pres­i­dent Trump, and we feel like these al­le­ga­tions have been an­swered through that process,” she said.

The un­com­fort­able truth is, she’s not wrong. In elect­ing Trump, Amer­i­can vot­ers told the world that they didn’t care about abused women. They didn’t care about over a dozen women com­ing for­ward with grotesque al­le­ga­tions; they didn’t care even when con­fronted with a video in which Trump him­self bragged openly that he could “grab them by the pussy.” Since the elec­tion, law­mak­ers have shown how lit­tle they care, con­tin­u­ing to praise the pres­i­dent as though he’s not an al­leged sex­ual preda­tor.

The ques­tion now is how much vot­ers have changed. Since Oc­to­ber 2017, women who have come for­ward with al­le­ga­tions against pow­er­ful men in a va­ri­ety of in­dus­tries are fi­nally be­ing heard. Some com­men­ta­tors claim that women have only now be­come em­bold­ened to speak up. That’s not true. Women have been speak­ing for decades. The pub­lic has only just de­cided to lis­ten—and Democrats hope they vote ac­cord­ingly.

But for all its right­eous—and com­mend­able—out­rage over Sch­nei­der­man, the party’s grasp on moral su­pe­ri­or­ity is ten­u­ous. Be­fore #Metoo, it rou­tinely dis­missed Bill Clin­ton’s ac­cusers as po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated, and its re­cent reck­on­ing within its own ranks—first with Michi­gan Rep­re­sen­ta­tive John Cony­ers, then Min­nesota Se­na­tor Al Franken—was clumsy and cringe­wor­thy. Now, party lead­ers are again hedg­ing on whether to take away power from one of their own: Cal­i­for­nia Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Tony Car­de­nas, a Democrat ac­cused of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing a 16-year-old girl in 2007. The con­gress­man, who de­nies the al­le­ga­tions, holds a recently cre­ated lead­er­ship position un­der Nancy Pelosi and chairs Bold PAC, the pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee of the Con­gres­sional His­panic Cau­cus. Most Democrats say they’re avoid­ing a rush to judg­ment, ex­cept Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jim Costa, Car­de­nas’s Cal­i­for­nia col­league, who dis­missed the al­le­ga­tions. “I think he’s be­ing framed,” Costa told CNN, with very lit­tle ex­pla­na­tion of how or why some­one would do that. Sound fa­mil­iar?

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