Guest opinion: A national moment of reckoning for abusers and creeps

The Chicago Tribune
Guest Editorial


Movie producer Harvey Weinstein and comedian Louis C.K. are pariahs. Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama is under fire, and so is Democratic Sen. Al Franken. What a righteous moment of accountability for creepy men in power.

We don’t know if this is the dawn of a new era when American society repudiates sexism and embraces equality and respect. Certainly it feels like new rules of conduct are pinned to the national bulletin board: Behave or be toast.

History may show that the catalyst was the release last year of a vulgar conversation, taped in 2005, in which Donald Trump bragged about groping women. Trump denied committing assaults, brushed off his repulsive language as “locker room banter” and won the presidency.

Trump may have gotten a pass from voters, but his crassness feels unintentionally responsible for the remarkable transformation now in progress. The revolt against sexism is a rejection of the president’s ugly, thoughtless outbursts and attacks on opponents. Many Americans, us included, are appalled by his unseemly side. Perhaps that’s what encouraged victims of Weinstein and others to speak up. Thankfully, this is happening. Without an opposing force, Trump’s nasty edge could be legitimized.

There is as much suspense as wonder over whether this sudden examination of standards will yield lasting results. The country can’t flip a switch to end predatory and disrespectful behavior. Obviously, sexual abuse and degradation are wrong. Yet in a free, diverse nation, there is no social engineering app to transform behavior automatically. Cultural shifts happen according to their own timelines. Big changes take decades to take root. Some trends fade out.

The Hollywood side of the equation has momentum. The producer and the comedian have been excoriated and at least temporarily banished by their industry for abusive, repugnant behavior toward women. They may never work again, or in time rehabilitate themselves. Others, including actor Kevin Spacey, also are being held to account. It’s good to see. The paying public will have a say in the fates of transgressors. It will be up to the entertainment industry to commit to banishing the casting couch.

The political side faces an imminent test in Alabama, where Moore is competing for a U.S. Senate seat and is suddenly behind in the polls. He has a detestable record as a public figure, having twice been elected and removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for acting as if he were above the law. Numerous women have come forward to say Moore pursued them as teenagers when he was in his 30s. The most serious allegation is that he engaged in sexual touching with a 14-year-old girl. While the statute of limitations has long passed, this behavior would have violated Alabama law.

On-the-record accounts of Moore’s behavior are credible. Moore denies wrongdoing and says he’ll stay in the race, which is driving uneasy Republican leaders to threaten to not seat him if elected. The best result is for Moore to lose. If he gets two votes — his wife supports him — that would be a just result.

Franken is not up for re-election, but a lot of people want to throw him out anyway. Confronted with allegations he forcibly kissed and later groped a fellow participant during a 2006 USO show, he apologized. There is a photo of him leering over the woman and reaching for her breasts as she slept. He acknowledged wrongdoing but sidestepped whether he aggressively kissed her.

What Franken did was shameful. It doesn’t rise to the level of what Moore is accused of, but it’s still rude and inappropriate. The victim accepted his apology. We don’t know if there are other incidents. Franken said he would cooperate with a Senate ethics committee investigation of his behavior. That’s the right next step.

Trump has gleefully lambasted Franken, but he hasn’t demanded Moore step aside. Given his own track record, the president has zero credibility on the issue of respect and support for women’s rights, anyway. The good thing is no one is waiting for him to lead the way. The country appears ready to move forward, starting with taking actions to hold miscreants responsible. That’s what makes this such a positive moment.

— Chicago Tribune, Nov. 17