When it comes to sexual misconduct allegations in politics and government, party affiliations mean very little

Multiple sexual misconduct allegations against New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have shocked a lot of people, including me. After all, Schneiderman had honed a public image as a supporter of the MeToo movement. Nevertheless, his fall has been brutally sudden and fast. An investigative piece by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow appeared in the New Yorker late yesterday. By early evening, Schneiderman had announced his resignation.

The New Yorker piece details allegations of physical abuse associated with sex and threats of retaliation experienced by four women who were either in relationships with Schneiderman or his potential romantic interests. The accounts sound very credible to me. They suggest the behavioral patterns of a serial abuser. (In fairness, I should note that Schneiderman has denied the allegations and stated that he has never committed sexual assault.)

The shock has been at two levels. First, as noted above, Schneiderman has built a reputation as a crusader against the very types of interpersonal abuse that he is now accused of committing. For many people, especially women who saw Schneiderman as being one of the “good guys” against sexual harassment and assault, this has been profoundly unsettling and destabilizing. As so many of have said in online comments and social media posts, if you can’t trust him, then who can you trust?

I’m afraid that I don’t have a response to that question. In terms of categorizing the good guys and the bad guys, I considered Schneiderman to be among the former. I can only imagine what a victim of sexual harassment or assault who believed in him must be feeling right now.

Secondly, Schneiderman is considered a liberal Democrat, and for those of us who generally identify with that label, this also shakes our foundation.

On that point, however, I want to say, get a clue. As I see it, when it comes to sexual misconduct allegations made against public officials, party affiliation means nothing. I’ve kept no running tally of allegations against Democrats versus Republicans, or liberals versus conservatives, but suffice it to say that these revelations seem to apply to both sides of the aisle. (Indeed, while Schneiderman has seized the headlines for today, in Missouri, Republican governor Eric Greitens faces a pending criminal trial and possible impeachment proceedings arising out of sexual misconduct charges.) 

I believe that a lot of these behaviors stem from the corrupting and intersecting influences of power and misogyny. Those on the left, center, and right may claim to be on the better side of arguments on policy issues, and we can debate those points endlessly. But when it comes to how we treat one another as human beings, well, I submit that this quality transcends political labels.

2 responses

  1. Many bullied targets are not shocked or surprised at the brutality and career-ending impact of allegations against them…but it would a refreshing change if the allegations are accurate.

    To us, it’s not at all surprising (but endlessly soul-crushing) that people in positions of power that we have trust and confidence in completely betray expectations. They make it very difficult for everyone to believe targets. The shocker is that this time, it doesn’t seem to have worked.

    It is profoundly troubling to ponder the balance between cynicism and trust we have in each other. When personal experience justifies profound cynicism, we find ourselves in a very uncomfortable place to interact with the world from.

  2. I’m a fan of the expose tradition, and of the New Yorker’s editorial discretion. That said, however, may I point out that one of the surest ways to wound an honest person is to lodge a false accusation in the public sphere? It’s also hard to measure or grasp the depths to which some in this nation’s power structure will go to nullify an opponent: trolls are everywhere, and blackmail, libel, extortion and intimidation — of loved ones as well as of the target — prolferate apace. Let’s cut Schneiderman some slack while we see who else may voice objections to his alleged conduct — and how credible their claims may prove to be. Smear campaigns are everywhere, and they routinely dupe us “trusting fools”.

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