Six-year-old Salem Abdullah Musabih is held by his mother in an intensive care unit in the Red Sea port of Hodaida. Photograph: Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters
Sexual predation is the tip of the abuse-of-power iceberg.
Truths are emerging from the sexual predation scandals. Put a person in a position of power and there’s an appreciable chance he or she (most of the allegations so far have been against men) will sexually impose on someone—male or female, above or below the age of consent—with less power. The scandals shine a light on the prevalence of such predation. There’s no reason to think that future revelations won’t work their way through virtually every corner of American life. Non-consensual sex and, beyond a certain point, unwanted advances are unacceptable and must lead to civil and criminal liability, especially in those situations in which the perpetrator has power over the victim.
This is as it should be, and even much of the politically driven anguish and celebration is understandable and excusable. The discomfiture of Bill Clinton’s many zero-integrity apologists as they try to reclaim at least a veneer of decency—a few even admitting that perhaps they got it wrong back in the 1990s—would be gratifying if it wasn’t so disgusting. If there were a gram of decency in any of them, they’d issue personal apologies to the women they labeled as sluts, whores, bimbos, and trailer park trash back then. Of course that won’t happen, which invalidates their opportunistic “reappraisals” of the vile ex-President.
There are two potential problems with the current scandals. You don’t have to be a full-blown conspiracy theorist to question the timing. The establishment concocted a story of Russian influence on Trump, his campaign, and members of his administration that has backfired spectacularly. It’s obvious that there’s nothing to the establishment’s story, and it has boomeranged into two very real stories about Russia, Hillary Clinton, and the Obama administration: Uranium One and Fusion GPS (see “The Rout Is On,” SLL). If you’re implicated in the crumbling concoction or either of the two new scandals, you’d like to change the subject.
In America, there’s no better way to get people’s attention than with sex. Appeal to this prurient preoccupation and you’ve got a surefire diversion. Harvey Weinstein answered Establishment prayers: a Hollywood movie mogul, powerful, and among his alleged victims are a slew of comely actresses. He looks like a piggish thug, or a thuggish pig. Talk about a figure Americans love to hate.
Next up was Kevin Spacey, whose alleged transgressions—perhaps in a bow to sexual diversity—are homosexual in nature. There might be some resentment of Spacey in Washington. His House of Cards portrayal of President Francis Underwood as a bad apple tarnishes the .000002 percent in government who aren’t. There are people who still haven’t forgiven Frank Capra for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather, two movies that portrayed politicians in an unsympathetic light.
If someone was trying to divert attention those are two blockbusters. However, there’s a much greater danger than that sexual predation will divert the masses’ attention from Russiagate, Uranium One, and Fusion GPS. Eventually Americans will lose interest in the latest accusations, the accusers, the accused, and their alleged depredations. That point may already have been reached. Investigations, lawsuits, and judicial proceedings will grind on for years, far longer than the American attention span.
Many commentators have correctly pointed out that these scandals are not about sex, they’re about power. The leitmotif of these tawdry tales is: I’m doing what I’m doing to you because I can. Horrifying as it had to been for the victims, they’re the tip of the abuse-of-power iceberg. This must be the beginning of the beginning, we’re nowhere close to the end. The powers that be have had their way with the world for decades, and for many of their victims the price has been far higher than traumatization.
Consider the Yemeni mother holding her child, who’s dying of starvation. She has no ties to those making war in her country. She knows that rich Saudi Arabia has shut her poor country off from food and medicine, and many are dying from starvation and disease. She knows that the rich United States, a country she had thought of as a good place, with good people, is helping Saudi Arabia destroy Yemen. She knows she would bear any indignity or horror, including death itself, if it would save her child.
Dead Yemenis join the millions who have died over the past few decades in America’s senseless wars. America’s deaths are always in the thousands and are well and endlessly mourned. Its victims’ deaths are often in the millions, mostly ignored, but when noticed hypocritically justified as sacrifices to some American greater good. Eventually the survivors figure out it for themselves: the dead are “less than,” and they’ve been killed because America can.
As the cynicism deepens, they realize something else. Wars aren’t just about blood and power, they’re about treasure. America manufactures endless war, weapons, mayhem, and death the same way it manufactures autos and computers, and for the same reason—profit. The rhetoric is a smokescreen: the people who profit don’t want them to end. Is there any evil more monstrous than murdering millions for money?
It’s no consolation to the people of those lands, but most Americans are victims of the same depraved cabal. They are looked upon in the same way and for the same purpose as a starlet invited to Harvey Weinstein’s hotel room: to be used and abused. The “less than” are robbed, coerced, defrauded, swindled, herded, conscripted, patronized, propagandized, lied to, and opiated. Those who question this state of affairs are mocked, scorned, deplored, harassed, marginalized, ostracized, silenced, and eliminated.
A river flows into the heart of darkness from this wellspring of evil: the belief that other people are the involuntary means to one’s own ends. It’s the predators’ view of the world, whether that view encompasses victims of their sexual violence, honest and productive people and businesses plundered, countries conquered and subjugated, or any other “less than” they’ve exploited. They will do it because they can…until they can’t, which won’t happen if exposure and retribution are confined to sexual predation.
Anyone who claims your life, your body, your mind, your work, or your property without your consent is a predator. The predators among us must be brought to justice. “Because we can” must become an inviolate: “No, you cannot.” No one is a “less than.” Only when that becomes the consistent reality will humanity staunch the evil from which all others flow.