How the Sex Scandals Might Accomplish What Donald Trump and Brexit Couldn’t
Brexit and Trump won, but the swamp hasn’t been drained, and the establishment hasn’t been toppled. Their time may yet be coming, though.
For at least two years now, Western politics has been rocked by attempt after attempt to bring down the establishment and put outsiders of diverse and frequently conflicting political philosophies in charge of government.
Those movements have largely failed. The Bernie Bros couldn’t beat the Clinton Machine. The Trump Train did succeed, but only for the Trump administration to fill up with ex-lobbyists and Trump cronies installed prized positions, exerting much influence.
It’s the same across the pond: Brexiteers managed to force David Cameron from office, only to get the more moderate Theresa May as prime minister. Old Labourite Jeremy Corbyn managed to perform better against May than many expected, but ultimately, the man who makes Bernie Sanders look like Alan Greenspan is still not prime minister.
The establishment still reigns, even if the names and faces have been shuffled a bit.
But it may well be wiped out thanks to sexually harassing, threatening, assaulting, and predatory behavior it has too long tolerated, and which is now being exposed, ending careers, threatening some members with potential criminal records, and more.
You can call it Old Boys Gone Wild, Pestminster, or anything else, but the upshot is, a bunch of (male) members of the establishment are losing their jobs and their reputations. And those most guilty of mistreatment of women around them may even end up losing their fortunes and their freedom.
In London, major names and figures in both parties have been taken down. There was the (now former) defense minister, Michael Fallon, and Jared O’Hara, the Labour MP busted for using the phrase “sexy little slags.” The first secretary of State has been the subject of allegations, as have a bunch of other Tory party figures. Walk around Westminster and there’s a palpable sensation that the carnage is not over.
Meanwhile, in D.C., it’s just beginning.
About 1,500 former Hill staffers signed a letter to congressional leaders focused on the problem of sexual harassment. At least four current or former female members of Congress have gone on the record to detail sexual harassment by male members of Congress. Rep. Barbara Comstock made news Tuesday alleging a sitting male member of Congress exposed himself to a female staffer. Al Franken is now in big trouble for apparently assaulting Leeann Tweeden.
And it’s not just D.C. In state capitols in Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, California, Washington, and elsewhere, allegations are being made, and heads—prominent heads—are starting to roll. Perhaps the most notable of these is Florida Sen. Jack Latvala, who is facing a sexual harassment probe and lost his chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee thanks to claims including of groping.
And of course, in Alabama, Senate candidate Roy Moore looks to be in deep trouble due to reports about alleged, eyebrow-raising behavior involving teenage girls. Moore, and Republicans, may well lose what should have been a lay-up of a race, installing a Democrat—hard to describe as a dominant part of the political “establishment” in Alabama—in office.
And what’s going on in D.C. and London (and Hollywood, of course) is part of a global phenomenon also being seen in Israel, South Africa, and elsewhere. Change is indeed afoot.
Of course, politicians in the U.S. and U.K. losing office as a result of sexual scandals—theirs, or their party’s—is nothing new. But in the Tory party, the stereotype is more that you lose because one of your own was discovered to be into autoerotic asphyxiation, or carrying on affairs with alleged soft-porn actresses. Meanwhile, in the U.S., we’ve had plenty of men alleged to have engaged in predatory behavior—including, frankly, our own president—survive and thrive politically. But the tolerance for this kind of behavior suddenly seems to be waning, perhaps because the electorate has rightly realized that many of the purveyors of it are the same idiots they’ve wanted to boot out of office for a long time anyway, and this provides a useful tool for accomplishing that.
Of course, that raises the question: Will key figures in the current establishment who find themselves kicked to the curb for having propositioned (or worse) female colleagues or subordinates just be replaced by non-establishmentarians who will do the same thing, but get away with it because they’re not (yet) seen as part of the ruling elite? Or will the booting of key members of the establishment that seems to be underway thanks to their own misdeeds against the other half of the species result in real change?
The probability is some mixture of the two.
On the one hand, it’s easy to see voters, donors, and political parties starting to prefer women more than they have historically because hey, while some women do sexually harass or grope, we just seem to do it far, far less than men. Since women don’t participate in politics to nearly the same degree as men (except insofar as voting itself is concerned), that would automatically mean a shift away from the establishment, in the term’s truest meaning.
On the other, men seem more drawn to politics than women, and once someone has been in power for a while anyway, they tend to morph into the establishment. So we’re probably still going to see a fair number of sexist, predatory, and generally disgusting pigs elected to office and kept there, along with a number of ladies not of the political culture who gradually become acclimated to it.
But we can keep on firing people—and given the shift in opinion and optics that seems to have been ushered in thanks to Harvey Weinstein, we probably will. That’s a good thing.