On Friday, Joe Biden went on Morning Joe to answer questions posed by co-host Mika Brzezinski. I didn’t watch the interview because the very fact there was one demonstrated that nothing has changed since 2016.
Before we go any further, I’m not about to pronounce guilt or innocence of Trump, Biden or anyone else. This is about how we politicize the way we treat survivors.
If you have the misfortune of surviving a sex crime committed by a Republican, his spouse will defend him and his party will attack you. After the Access Hollywood video came out in 2016 and the original public scolding by some prominent Republican politicians, Melania Trump explained the complicated concept of boy talk to Anderson Cooper. Voila, Donald Trump survived what would have, at one time, been a campaign-ending scandal. The rest, we know, is the nightmare we continue to live.
We saw it again as Brett Kavanagh went through the confirmation process. Christine Blasey Ford braved the thug mentality that is a feature of Trump defenders to tell her story to the Senate Judiciary Committee. She was so credible that even in his smarmy way, Trump had to make that concession before sending Kavanaugh to do his best Trump imitation before that committee. Lindsey Graham displayed temper unlike anything we’ve seen from him before – in defense of Kavanaugh.
There was no meaningful investigation into the stories of several women who alleged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them during his drunken frat boy days. Donald Trump’s DOJ made sure of that.
On the other hand, if the alleged perpetrator is a Democrat, presidential candidates face a different process. You don’t even have to be the person who allegedly committed the crime. Even without investigation, let alone charges and a guilty verdict, If you were married to the accused, that means you enabled him. Or if you are the person accused, then suddenly Republicans care about believing the women.
In America, everyone who is accused of a crime has the right to be presumed innocent. It’s also true that accusations of criminal behavior are investigated. That should be done with every case of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault, or rape. Every single one. It starts with believing the survivor, but does not end there. To suggest that believing them means convicting the accused overlooks legal protections beginning with the presumption of innocence and going on to the right to confront your accuser and evidence offered and so on.
Me Too became a thing because mostly privileged men pretty much had immunity from prosecution for rape and other sex crimes. Then we saw some high profile convictions, such as those of Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. Jeffrey Epstein was awaiting trial he died in prison. The survivors in all these cases had to fight decades just to get their day in court.
And yet, as Christine Pelosi pointed out in a thread on Twitter, the process for investigating alleged sexual misconduct by members of the Senate or the House is broken.
I still wish there was a confidential independent investigation for charges like these, with counseling due process and transparent results – in that absence, I look forward to seeing the National Archives response and hope we can stop weaponizing trauma and promote healing.
— Christine Pelosi (@sfpelosi) May 1, 2020
The political class still treats sexual misconduct as a weapon against political opponents instead of as a crime that brings with it real and permanent harm to survivors.
We saw Roger Stone coach the first women to accuse now-former Senator Al Franken. There was no investigation, just a few days of media attention and pressure behind the scenes by Franken’s colleagues.
Because of these political games, accusations often arise during elections and are treated as suspect because of the political overtones. Given that reality, considering what role if any politics played in women coming forward has become an unfortunate necessity.
This is about blurring the lines. It leads us not so gently to the Trump Republicans’ ultimate position on sexual misconduct. Simply put, they’d rather erase any legal protections against sexual misconduct.
The Trump DOJ redefined the definitions of domestic violence and sexual assault back in 2019.
We saw hints of it as Betsy De Voss removed any legal protections girls had from sexual misconduct at school.
And we saw it again when Donald Trump’s comments about Tara Reade gave him the momentary appearance of being Joe Biden’s ally. He isn’t, not by a long shot.
While incremental, this is definitely a consistent effort to roll back the legal protections for survivors of sexual and other forms of violence that mostly affect women.
Trump and Biden are as different as night and day when it comes to their attitudes toward women and about violence against us, including sexual violence.
While we can criticize him for his handling of Anita Hill, Biden also took the lead with the Violence Against Women Act. It’s one thing to vote for a bill that protects women from sexual misconduct and other acts of violence; it’s another to be out there fighting to make it law.
Donald Trump never believed the women. Even when he presented Bill Clinton’s accusers as a back drop during the last presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, it was more about how it would benefit him than about believing them.
Donald Trump didn’t even act as cheer leader when the House reauthorized VAWA in 2019. He did nothing when the self-identified Grim Reaper, Mitch McConnell, smothered reauthorization by the Senate.
While Trump sort of said he doesn’t believe Reade because he knows all about being falsely accused, his surrogates made it clear that because it is politically advantageous, they choose to believe her.
I’m all for believing Tara Reade and investigating her story, because as Biden pointed out during his interview, the truth matters. Believing her means investigating her story and, if it stands up, holding Biden accountable.
It’s far more than what Donald Trump’s accusers ever got and are likely to get as long as he is in office. Republicans have not and do not believe women. They make it increasingly more difficult for women to protect ourselves from the sexual misconduct and violence that mostly women encounter and most experience.
We saw it with the way they treated women when they accused Republicans and the way they behaved when the alleged perpetrator was a Democrat. We saw it in the disregard they had for the Violence Against Women Act and separately, their attitude toward women’s right to choose (including when they are impregnated by their rapists.)
In short, Republicans politicized and weaponized matters of whether we believe women and when.