Tag Archives: unsafe in any station

The right-wing, risk and safety

According to some conservatives the important thing about capitalism is not freedom or the positive benefits it brings (e.g., the incredible array of vegetarian products out there compared to when I graduated college) but that it places everyone under the Sword of Damocles: ““The great, overwhelming fact of a capitalist economy is risk. Everyone is at constant risk of the loss of his job, or of the destruction of his business by a competitor, or of the crash of his investment portfolio. Risk makes people circumspect. It disciplines them and teaches them self-control. Without a safety net, people won’t try to vault across the big top. ” — David Frum. If there was no safety net, for example, life as a single parent would be too hazardous, forcing families to stay together.

This is a common thought. David Brooks has argued that when the economy tanks, that forces employees to stay loyal to one employer instead of switching jobs for better pay; he considers this a good thing. Odious right-wing economist Walter Williams once argued that if there was no Social Security this would be great for families: kids would have to assume responsibility for caring for their aged parents, who would therefore demand their kids get serious college degrees that lead to good-paying job, not bullshit like women’s studies (as someone whose parents hated him becoming a writer I guarantee you this approach will not bring families closer together).

It’s reflected in Sen. Rick Scott’s claim that people who aren’t millionaires don’t have skin in the game so they need their taxes raised. He is aggressively sticking with this platform, though also lying that saying he wants to increase taxes is just a Democratic talking point (I sincerely hope it will be a talking point, but it’s definitely part of his plan). Or one Texas poll asserting during the 2021 snowpocalypse that only the strong survive so his constituents should stop asking for help.

All of which is bullshit. The poor pay in plenty of taxes: sales taxes eat up much more of their income than for the rich, for instance. As Echidne of the Snakes says, American business has told employees not to expect loyalty from employers; job-hopping is a logical response (for many employers the obvious solution — pay them better, treat them better — is too outlandish to even consider). And as noted at my first link, even if you live on a tight budget, stick with one employer and do good work, there’s no guarantee your job won’t be axed or outsized so that the owners can see bigger dividends. What conservatives are proposing isn’t a plan for surviving, let alone thriving, it’s demanding that the lowly working class stay suitably submissive. Don’t inconvenience your bosses by changing jobs; don’t indulge yourself by spending money on anything fun. It won’t save your job or guarantee keeping a roof over your head but you won’t inconvenience the rich and powerful which is what really counts.

This brings me back to one of my favorite quotes, from Cato’s letter: “the best defence which we can have against their being knaves, is to make it terrible to them to be knaves. As there are many men wicked in some stations, who would be innocent in others; the best way is to make wickedness unsafe in any station.” Because the right-wingers who embrace the Risk and Suffering Are Good For You bilge never think this should apply to people in higher stations: business owners, politicians, millionaires.

For all Frum’s talk about business being at risk in capitalism, the risks are much less for them. Only one banker went to jail for all the insane risks and sometimes outright fraud that caused the 2008 financial collapse. Filing Chapter Eleven bankruptcy allows many businesses to wriggle out of paying their debts, even if they have the money. Insider trading is rife on Wall Street, even when it hurts the stockbrokers’ clients. Money and power bring immunity.

A number of people have been convicted for their actions on 1/6 but nobody in the Republican Party leadership as yet.  Ginni Thomas was an active participant in the 1/6 insurrection, which should mean Clarence Thomas recuses himself on related rulings. If he decides not to, there’s no legal constraint forcing him (Rep. Jim Jordan claims Thomas was simply acting on her political beliefs as if that’s an excuse; dude, so did Pol Pot, Timothy McVeigh and Osama binLadin). And Donald Trump, of course, has devoted most of his life to avoiding consequences for his actions, whether by lying, threatening to sue people, or launching a coup to prevent the legal transfer of power.

And of course, sexual harassers time and again get a free pass. Mark Galli at Christianity Today engaged in two decades (at least) of harassment without consequences. The Southern Baptist Church turned a blind eye to predators in the pulpit and church hierarchy.

Very few right-wingers who think the average American should live frugally and in fear really think the upper classes should do the same. And in practice, very few do. This is a problem because when wickedness in a given station is safe to get away with, wickedness will inevitably flourish. Just like Frum says, if bankers can see greater profits and bonuses by cheating customers, some of them will. And when people see that behavior is consequence free or worse, rewarded, it will spread.

There are ways to fix this, of course, but they all require the will to take action rather than fold. Without that will, I’m not sure there is a solution. I’ll take some small comfort from knowing that Alex Jones, at least, looks to be headed for a reckoning.

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So even Harvey Weinstein isn’t as awful as Harvey Weinstein

One of the standard complaints about the #metoo movement is that it treats ordinary men, men who may have said or done something inappropriate but clearly aren’t bad people, like they were Harvey Weinstein, destroying their careers and crushing their lives. They do not, however, offer much in the way of examples, and the examples are usually wrong: an in-depth investigation by the employer gets treated as a he said/she said situation (more here). I’m beginning to think “he’s being treated like Harvey Weinstein!” means something along the lines of “he got fired, Weinstein got fired, ergo they’re treating him like Weinstein!”

Now it turns out even Weinstein, the poster boy for absolute rock bottom, has his defenders too. Weinstein recently showed up at Actors’ Hour, an event in NYC for young performers (there’s some debate whether he was invited or just showed). Comedian Kelly Bachman cracked jokes (“I didn’t know we’d have to bring our own Mace and rape whistles.”); some audience members booed. A male comic got up and mocked her. Another woman confronted Weinstein at his table, with profanity hurled on both sides (not by Weinstein but by some of his entourage); the woman was asked to leave.

So why not ask Weinstein to leave? I’s a private space and the organizers could certainly have told Weinstein he wasn’t welcome. The organizer said she protected the women by letting them have “freedom of speech” — the comics were free to mock him — but then why ask the one woman to leave?

Partly it may just be that Weinstein wasn’t actually doing anything other than being there. Admittedly with his record that’s pretty alarming but it wouldn’t surprise me if the event organizers just didn’t want any confrontations. A lot of us (myself included) tend to be confrontation averse. Though that’s not a good reason: women have good reason to scream at a guy who preys on them.

And part of it, undoubtedly, is that we seem to have a reflex to forgive sexual harassers. They’ve suffered enough by being criticized and shunned for a while; surely we should forgive and move on. As Weinstein’s spokesperson put it, he was at Actors’ Hour “trying to find some solace in his life that has been turned upside down. This scene was uncalled for, downright rude and an example of how due process today is being squashed by the public.” Of course it ain’t an issue of due process; it’s true he hasn’t been convicted of anything, but private citizens outside the jury box are free to believe the victims. And if his life has been turned upside down — well, given the reasons, why should we feel sympathy for him? Yet somehow people do, far more than for the many women he allegedly assaulted, or whose careers he ruined for refusing him.

Similarly we have one Heather Mac Donald arguing that Placido Domingo’s alleged history of sexual assault (apparently one of those open secrets in the opera world) should be forgiven because Domingo’s that awesome. We cannot punish a singer of such caliber merely because he assaulted a bunch of nobodies! Which is not a new thought: Rebecca Traister has written about being told “That’s just Harvey being Harvey” when she heard stories about his behavior; simply being a powerful man is held up as an excuse.

Of course, we don’t know what the women whose careers Weinstein allegedly destroyed (I believe the women, but I think sticking with “alleged” covers my butt) might have accomplished without his interference. Or how good the women who left opera rather than stay around Domingo and people who supported him might have been. We’ll never know. But somehow their careers dead-ending, their lives turning upside down, isn’t as important as the suffering of powerful men.

We have a long way to go.

 

 

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Rape, predators and prey

As several bloggers and pundits have pointed out, it’s creepy that the response to Brett Kavanaugh saying he totally did not assault Christine Bresley Ford is to declare that even if he did, it wouldn’t be a big deal. Given the chance to pretend they don’t tolerate predators, that they protect human prey — something that’s part of government’s police function — the right wing picks the predator’s side. When a second accuser spoke up against Kavanaugh, the Republican response was to speed up the vote.

And we’re not talking incels and other creeps venting online, we’re talking the Republican mainstream. Of course, they’re not always pro-predator: if the predation is black-on-white, or hispanic on white, then they want the hammer dropped. Even after the Central Park Five were cleared, Trump kept insisting they were guilty. But white man praying on woman? No big!

This isn’t unique. Communities shit on rape victims. The religious defends in-church predators just like the Catholic Church. Paige Patterson, the former Southern Baptist leader who told women to stay with their abusers, is preaching again; some supporters say firing him for not reporting a students’ rape wasn’t Biblical. At this point, part of Kavanaugh’s appeal is that appointing him is a triumph for sexism: ” It has to be this guy, now, because he has been accused, credibly, of attempting to rape a 15-year-old girl in 1982—moreover because people believe this should be considered a disqualifying blight on his record. The thing that must happen is that those people must be defeated.” It’s a nastier version of owning the liberals, but it’s also about reinforcing male supremacy: men can do whatever they damn well please to women without consequences.

As I’ve said before, that’s the nature of patriarchy. I suspect it’s one reason court evangelicals are comfortable supporting Trump (or Roy Moore). Men are free to do what they want with women, it’s up to the women to find a way to restrain them. If not, the men are entitled to prey. Those who aren’t comfortable saying that aloud just lie: Bible-thumper Franklin Graham’s response to the allegations has been to lie that Kavanaugh stopped as soon as Ford said no. The stuff about him covering her mouth, turning the music up loud? Look, crickets!

Dennis Prager explains it’s taking the charges seriously that will damage “America’s moral compass” and the proper way to deal with sexual assault at work is to hide: “When my wife was a waitress in her mid teens, the manager of her restaurant grabbed her breasts and squeezed them on numerous occasions. She told him to buzz off, figured out how to avoid being in places where they were alone, and continued going about her job. That’s empowerment.” No, it’s survival. I’m sorry your wife is married to you, dude.

A White House lawyer says that if Kavanaugh can be brought down by these accusations — “brought down” meaning going back to his current job as a lifetime-appointed federal judge — “every man should certainly be worried.” Well, no, only men who’ve held a woman down and covered her mouth to prevent her screaming. As Lili Loufbourow says, the underlying message is that boys do evil things and we should just accept that’s the way of the world (not a new right-wing insight).

An alternative theory is that it happened but Ford misidentified the attacker. Right-wing think-tanker Ed Whelan actually accused another man by name; Kathleen Parker tried the same tack without naming anyone. This seems like a split-the-difference tactic (nobody’s lying, someone’s just wrong!) but as noted at the first link, it’s not getting any traction. And possibly Whelan came up with it after talking with Kavanaugh.

Law professor Amy Chua, who knows and supports Kavanaugh’s nomination, also told female students who wanted to clerk for him that “it was no accident” his female clerks look like models.

By the time you read this, I may already be a couple of developments behind. So to end on something a little more upbeat, here’s advice on consent: don’t make people drink tea.

 

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Unsafe in any station, Part Two of infinity

Back when the “me too” movement kicked off, I posted on FB that line from Cato’s letter that “The only security which we can have that men will be honest, is to make it their interest to be honest; and the best defence which we can have against their being knaves, is to make it terrible to them to be knaves. As there are many men wicked in some stations, who would be innocent in others; the best way is to make wickedness unsafe in any station.” A friend of mine replied that this is exactly what was happening: predators were finally finding their position unsafe.

The story of Louis CK returning to stand-up for an impromptu set despite sexual harassment charges he admits were true makes me wonder how unsafe these stations really are. Fans gave his appearance on stage a standing ovation. Some pundits are arguing being off-stage a few months is more than enough suffering; Michael Ian Black, for instance, argues Louis has “served his time” — he’s trying to find redemption, aren’t we obligated to give it to him? If there’s no redemption, why should he (or any man) even try to be better (a line of thinking beautifully mocked here)?

I agree there needs to be a path for redemption, but this ain’t redemption. It’s the comic’s fans not giving a crap about what he’s done, or what he might do in the future. Will we see the same if Matt Lauer successfully works on a comeback (or for that matter Trump’s racist ally Steve Bannon almost getting a platform again)  As Rebecca Traister puts it “these men can return to their industries, with the expectation that their reentry might be near the top.” The women who backed away from projects because Louis CK or Lauer were involved? Had their careers wrecked by Harvey Weinstein? Had to deal with the alleged climate of harassment and Who Cares Who Grabbed You under Les Moonves at CBS? The men’s defenders don’t seem worried these women might not be able to find a path back, or concerned about fairness for Janet Jackson (at the link it details how Moonves allegedly trashed her career). As Abigail Nussbaum says, Louis CK returning unrepentant and unredeemed is a workplace safety issue.Harassment’s not just about sex, it’s about women (in some cases, men) becoming unable to work in their profession, do their job, earn a living because of the risk.

CK taking a few months time out is not redemption: “Louis CK” says Nussbaum, “has done absolutely nothing to indicate that he is seeking redemption. He clearly wants his career back, but there has been absolutely no indication that he regrets his past behavior (except inasmuch as he regrets what it eventually cost him), much less any attempt to make restitution to his victims, or work on himself to try to become a better, less toxic person. But because he is a famous, rich white man, Black automatically assumes the existence of his regret.”

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg points out the difference between forgiveness (given, voluntarily, by the victim, if they so choose), atonement for sin (granted by God) and redemption, which requires actual work: Acknowledge the wrong you’ve done, preferably publicly. Become a person who won’t do it again. Make restitution. Apologize “in whatever way will make it as right as possible with the victim.” And when the opportunity arises to do it again, don’t. Samantha Field discusses the same process from a Christian perspective (her point that restoring someone to their old position does not redeem them seems relevant to the CK mess). John Scalzi suggests, though I don’t have the link handy, that ten years away from the limelight/political office should be a minimum.

We have a long way to go yet before unsafety for the wicked is the norm.

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Unsafe in any station

The only security which we can have that men will be honest, is to make it their interest to be honest; and the best defence which we can have against their being knaves, is to make it terrible to them to be knaves. As there are many men wicked in some stations, who would be innocent in others; the best way is to make wickedness unsafe in any station.”—Cato’s letter

This is one of the great challenges of imposing the rule of law: holding powerful people accountable. As a Vox article pointed out this week, it’s possible Trump won’t pay any penalty for colluding with Russia to rig the election. President Ford pardoned Nixon’s crimes. Obama refused to prosecute American torturers. Like the song says, if you’re rich you can buy immunity, if you’re poor better write your eulogy.

It’s not just the government of course. Fox News spent millions ensuring Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly were safe in their station. Churches cover up for religious leaders. Michigan University covered up allegations against gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. The most anyone usually suffers is to lose their job; massive falls such as Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein are rare.

And it’s not just sex. The GOP has denounced a lot of the neo-Nazis crawling out of the woodwork to run on their ticket, but it’s staying mum about veteran legislator Steve King’s white supremacist tweeting.

This isn’t new. In the Skinner case that ended the eugenics movement (though lots of states continued sterilizing people they didn’t want reproducing), what led the Supreme Court to rule against Oklahoma was that the mandatory sterilization of criminals exempted the kind of white-collar crime the state legislature or its poker buddies might be found doing (bribery, corruption). It was for the lower classes, not them.

It’s one reason why law is important: it doesn’t completely stop people breaking it, but it does draw a line in the sand they have to cross. Alan Greenspan actively pushed for loosening controls on banks, which contributed to the disastrous financial meltdown of a decade ago. In the aftermath, Greenspan said it had never occurred to him that the banks would make such terrible decisions if they weren’t constrained.

But of course, if people don’t prosecute those who break the law, the law has its limits. And there’s lots of reasons not to go after powerful people: they have money, influence, voters won’t like it.

What do we do to make them more accountable? And to make breaking the law something that will actually cost them? Trump is an extreme example, but he’s not unique.

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