As We Rethink Old Harassers, Let’s Talk About Clarence Thomas
The old men of the Senate lectured Anita Hill from the dais, scowling as she recounted in humiliating detail how Thomas taunted her with graphic tales of pubic hair and Coke cans.
Long suppressed talk about the sexual predation of men, in Hollywood, politics, business, the news industry, professional sports and life in general has swept across the country, exposing decades of dirty laundry and putting an entire nation of men on notice and on edge.
“The discussion” in which the nation is engaged almost daily at this point, has exposed the rank hypocrisy of a right-wing “Christianity” that would sooner see a child molester stalking the well of the United States Senate than free its captive base to support a Democrat, and which still stands foursquare behind braggadocious predator-in-chief Donald Trump.
It has put on display the Republican Party’s radical lack of moral conviction as its leaders rush to condemn the gross, decade-old antics of now Sen. Al Franken, who has at least apologized for his past misbehavior, while they smirk from behind the cameras at Fox News where they are surrounded by anchor women in the required uniform of tight sweaters, mini-skirts, and four-inch heels. Among the Republicans ripping Franken for kissing a woman without her consent and snapping a juvenile “groping” picture in 2006: the great hypocrite Trump himself, of the “I just kiss beautiful women and grab ’em by the pussy” un-humble brag of 2005.
The national moment of self-reflection on the culture that produces such entitled men has compelled the left to indulge in its favorite ritual: curling into the fetal position as it self-flagellates over the eternal sins of the Clintons. It’s as if they’ve forgotten that the former president who left office 17 years ago indeed paid a price, including years of forensic investigation culminating in impeachment for his illicit affair with a 24-year-old White House intern.
Well if we are getting about the business of re-examining the past indecency of powerful men, we’d be remiss not to include the moment in 1991 when a woman was not believed and her alleged abuser was elevated to the highest court in the land, where he remains 26 years later.
The late Andrew Breitbart, who took down Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner by having his minions troll Weiner’s Twitter account in search of his vices, and having found them, waved the lurid visual evidence before the world, once said he was inspired to become a conservative because of Clarence Thomas, whom he viewed as a persecuted man. Breitbart cloaked his savage politics in alleged concern for a beleaguered black man, saying of Thomas’ critics: “[t]hese white, privileged men knew that by taking this conservative, religious man and asking him if he rented pornography, the mere exposure of that would hurt… I was so pissed off. You guys are just trying to ruin him. You don’t have anything.”
Not anything, that is, except the word of Anita Hill, an African-American woman who risked national humiliation and ruin to publicly tell her story of repeated sexual harassment at the hands of Thomas, her onetime boss at the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.
It’s hard to see Thomas, who wrote off his Yale degree as worthless because of affirmative action yet retreated to the language of “lynching” to disparage his accuser and her supporters, as much of a victim. Particularly when most Americans, and most African Americans, took his side against Anita Hill and against prominent civil rights and women’s rights organizations who were unanimous in their opposition to his elevation to the seat once occupied by the great Thurgood Marshall. Democrats including then-Sen. Joe Biden, took Thomas’ side against Hill, too—even refusing to allow witnesses who could corroborate her account to testify at Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
Instead, we were treated to a bipartisan spectacle of the old men of the United States Senate lecturing Professor Hill from the dais; scowling at her as she was forced to recount in mortifying detail how Thomas pushed her to date him and taunted her with disgusting jokes and insinuations at work that included graphic tales of pubic hair and Coke cans.
Again, most Americans chose not to believe Hill, who was castigated as a liar, a temptress, and a race-traitor trying to keep a black man off the Supreme Court. Never mind that the American Bar Association had delivered a mixed verdict on whether he was even qualified for a lifetime appointment of such grandeur. I can personally recall knock-down, drag out arguments with black colleagues and relatives who were defending Thomas, and demanding a West Indian gypsy cab driver in the Bronx pull over and let me out of his car after he called Hill a whore.
Having been placed on the court anyway, Thomas became the silent justice; voting in lockstep with the late Antonin Scalia and authoring precious little worth remembering for posterity save for his serial attacks on labor rights, women’s rights and the voting rights of fellow African Americans. Needless to say, many black men and women who sided with Thomas against Anita Hill soon came to bitterly regret it.
When Weiner’s political career went up in flames, he was in the midst of exposing Justice Thomas with regular rants on the House floor for his ostentatious habit of consorting with major Republican donors who might have business before his court, often with Scalia at his side.
Thomas’ chummy ways with the rich and well-heeled, and his wife’s clear conflicts of interest as a paid crusader against Obamacare despite it coming imminently before the court, presaged the age of corruption we find ourselves in today, with Donald Trump and his extended family of kakistocrats blundering their way around Washington and the world’s capitols in search of grubby gain. In many ways, the banality with which Americans dismissed Thomas’ alleged sexual misconduct, his disparagement of his victim, and his ethical flexibility were a portent of the Trump era to come.
And like Trump, and unlike Bill Clinton, Thomas sits in power still; with the authority to make life and death decisions over the fate of those facing capital punishment, those needing health care, and most ironically, over the rights and liberties of women.
As happened with Trump, Thomas’ elevation despite the shocking allegations against him ignited women to action. In 1992, a record number of women ran for federal office, increasing the number of female United States senators from just two to six, prompting the media to declare it “the year of the woman.” Among those newly elected senators was Barbara Boxer, who as a House member had helped lead a march with six of her female colleagues to the Senate to demand that Hill’s allegations against Thomas be taken seriously and that his confirmation be delayed.
Ironically, the wave of elected women, including the first black woman senator, Carole Mosely Braun, in 1992 helped carry Bill Clinton, himself accused of sexual indiscretions and misconduct as governor of Arkansas, into the White House. When Bill Bennett and the self-righteous, self-appointed “moral majority” in the conservative movement announced the “death of outrage” after Clinton failed to be taken down by his affair with Monica Lewinsky, they perhaps forgot that outrage died first with the shaming and dismissal of Anita Hill.
Or maybe they didn’t forget because they never really cared. Who, after all, was Anita Hill to them but some black woman trying to keep a “good, conservative Christian” off the high court. It’s an echo of today’s advent of rank hypocrisy, when Roy Moore’s accusers are accused of trying to keep a “good, conservative Christian” out of the Senate. Or when the right wing furrows its collective brow at the predatory men of Hollywood—discarded by Democrats without a second thought—while they vow to die on the desiccated moral hill of Donald J. Trump.
Indeed, we need to continue to talk about predacious men. That needs to include the sexual raptors armed with immense power right now—beginning with the president of the United States and the high court’s scandalized associate justice, Clarence Thomas.