The coexistence of the Trump presidency and the #MeToo movement is likely to give one whiplash. It may feel like we are careening between two mutually exclusive worldviews. The Trump presidency routinely trades in falsehoods, half-truths, bullying, a refusal to be held accountable for self-dealing, and sexual misconduct. The #MeToo movement is based on the values of disclosure, sunlight, accountability, and an end to sexual misconduct. It is a David versus Goliath moment.
A Trigger for the #MeToo Movement: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump has traumatized the United States with racist, homophobic, reckless, and self-serving diatribes. He is constantly lying and denying what has already been reported as true. His enemy is a free press, which he has dubbed “fake news,” and his one power is his ability to find an ugly nickname for just about anyone who does not pay homage to his self-serving worldview. He has been compared to Stalin and called every name you can think of that describes someone who craves power and eschews accountability. Trump has been accused by over a dozen women of sexual misconduct, was quoted on tape saying he likes to grab women by the p____, and it has now been disclosed that he paid a porn star while married to his current wife, Melania, $130,000 to keep the porn star quiet during the campaign. And that his favorite news source, Fox News, had the story but failed to disclose it. The man backed a credibly accused child molester—Roy Moore—to be a US Senator from Alabama. He has been a tool of the conservative evangelicals but no model. He has driven the image of America down, down, down in the international square. For many Americans, he is a constant source of consternation and concern.
Moreover, too many Republicans in Washington have been silent as they let their desire to use the president to obtain their policy goals get in the way of what is right. They stand mute while Trump takes down American values and culture on a daily basis. So much for the separation of powers! This may be the most morally challenged majority in congressional history. Their end, whether it’s lower taxes or reforming healthcare, is not worth the potentially permanent damage a president like Trump can impose on our freedoms, press, and international relations, not to mention LGBT, women, and children.
Sadly, Sen. John McCain was a valiant voice but his severe illness left us with no leader willing to stay on Capitol Hill and routinely push back against Trump. Trump’s critics, like Sen. Jeff Flake and Sen. Bob Corker, are not running for re-election. The Republicans have been a source of great disappointment. Of course, Democrats are critical as they should be, but the level of ugliness in this administration demands a unified front. There was and is an integrity vacuum in Washington.
The Necessary Public Education About the Prevalence of Sexual Misconduct
I am positing that the Trump era is fertile ground for the #MeToo movement to coalesce. There is a need for reaffirmation of the good that exists in the United States. It is an expression of America’s higher values. It is not just a reaction, though. The movement did not appear out of thin air: the pieces were there, ready to form a cohesive whole when the country needed a higher moral ground on which to gather.
A minimal requirement for the #MeToo movement to gain traction was that the public needed to be sensitized to the fact that sexual assault, child sex abuse, and harassment are common. There was a time when the disclosure of sexual victimization was so difficult that the victims remained silent and the culture had no way of knowing how prevalent it is. That was in part because of the unquestioned power of the oppressors. Now, the voice of one victim stands for many others. It is not just a one-off message. To the contrary, even one voice can signal the need for cultural reform. To get here, the public needed to know just how common these problems are.
First, we came to see and understand the prevalence of child sex abuse, something no one really wanted to know. Despite denial and resistance, the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandals have contributed tremendously to the public’s understanding of the prevalence of child sex abuse at least. The initial 2002 Boston Globe stories were just the beginning; the paradigm then showed itself in diocese after diocese and then institution after institution. As the scandals piled up, no one could persist in assuming that child sex abuse is an unusual occurrence. It was and is everywhere we look.
Second, we were educated on the prevalence of adult sex assault, and then harassment. The college scandals showed us that the scourge did not end at 18, but rather the problem persists. The thousands of untested rape kits established another data point proving that sex assault is not a rare occurrence. This snowballing amount of evidence has made it impossible to look away.
Enter the #MeToo Movement
The public was ready in October 2017 when the #MeToo hashtag went viral and the voices of sexual misconduct victims rose against their oppressors. That was when Harvey Weinstein was exposed to the world for his behavior, which then triggered disclosure after disclosure about other men in power engaging in sexual misconduct. That could only happen if women were valued in their own right, and not solely as the playthings of those in power. It had. Women’s rights and value had advanced to the point where the millennial generation actually believed in realizable gender equality. Enough women had entered positions of power in many corners to make their leadership and success no longer an oddity. The anti-rape movement generally and on college campuses had shone a spotlight on the pervasiveness of rape and other sexual misconduct, which meant that the women coming forward against powerful men like Weinstein could be heard and believed.
The early reports about Weinstein could have disappeared into history had the women not lined up, dozens of them. Then other women lined up about other men in virtually every walk of life, as well as the male victims, and the child victims. What they are all saying at a minimum is this: “There is right and wrong. We were wronged. America, do the right thing.” Now we need to make the legal changes these brave voices need, as I discussed here.
The #MeToo moment in history does not address all of the problems raised by the Trump presidency by a long shot, but it sure is comforting to know that, yes, there is still identifiable right and wrong, and we can still see and talk about it. That means that the lies and attacks on basic decency coming from the White House are not the last word.