‘Because Trump’: Voting for Biden in the Age of #MeToo

The difference between the way Democrats and their allies in the mainstream media treat conservatives accused of sexual misconduct and leftists accused of the same is too obvious to justify further commentary. The realpolitik that explains these differences is too obvious to justify further commentary. The selective application of inanities like #BelieveAllWomen and #MeToo is too obvious to justify further commentary.

Nevertheless, if Democrats are wondering why conservatives and Republicans will keep dunking on them when it comes to the glaring contrast between the claims against Brett Kavanaugh and those against Joe Biden, between the affairs Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, it is because we know that pointing out these hypocrisies will not lead to any reform in their vindictive, politically motivated crusades against targets of convenience. There will be no serious reconsideration of the subjective, shifting standards for “credible” accusations.

As a key architect of the Obama-era politicization of Title IX (which deprived accused college students and faculty of their due process rights), Biden helped implement the draconian, puritanical standards by which all kinds of sexual interactions must now be evaluated. I have personally experienced the Orwellian turns of a Title IX investigation, which you can read about here.  But Biden will not be subjected to those standards. When it came to the accusations against him, he readily invoked the rights he had suspended for so many others.

A New Course on Title IX

Last week, Betsy DeVos inched closer to implementing new standards for universities investigating Title IX violations. In a paradoxical turn that was as shocking as it was entirely predictable, Biden called for a return to the preponderance of evidence standard that he rejected for himself only days ago.

Responding to the publication of DeVos’s new guidelines, Biden said the reforms “will be put to a quick end in January 2021, because as president, I’ll be right where I always have been throughout my career—on the side of survivors, who deserve to have their voices heard, their claims taken seriously and investigated, and their rights upheld.”

The hypocrisy is too obvious to justify further elucidation.

As there will be no end to the hypocrisy, we need to keep the public memory of these incoherent responses alive, so that when the standard changes again, normal people will not be convinced by the media that there was no change at all.

The New York Times will continue to gaslight Americans by pretending the standards don’t change depending on the identity of the accused. The usual cheerleaders for #MeToo will conveniently find the denials of the accused parties to be “credible and convincing” when it is advantageous to their political aspirations. And the next time a figure on the Right meets these kinds of charges, we’ll be right back to “yes, all women” without so much as a blush. This is what passes as accountability for Democrats and progressives accused of sexual misconduct.

Shameless Double Standards

Still, the Left’s newly adopted rationale for voting for Biden in the aftermath of Tara Reade does call for some commentary. This gambit was best summed up by Andrew Sullivan last week. In an article explaining how grievous and hideous Reade’s accusations against Biden are, he writes:

I’ll vote for him anyway, because Trump. If you’re using sexual assault as a way to judge a candidacy, Trump’s open record of boasting about it, and the long, long list of women he’s abused and assaulted is surely dispositive. But supporting Biden does mean I’ll be voting for a hypocrite who wants to ruin others’ young lives for what he has routinely and with impunity done. I can live with that, I suppose.

Similarly, in the New York Times, Linda Hirshman (author of Reckoning: The Epic Battle Against Sexual Abuse and Harassment) explains that she believes Tara Reade. Then, in exasperation at pouncing conservatives, she writes:

So stop playing gotcha with the female supporters of Mr. Biden or the #MeToo movement, making them lie to the camera—or perhaps to themselves—about doubting her to justify their votes. I’ll take one for the team. I believe Ms. Reade, and I’ll vote for Mr. Biden this fall.

Hirshman, too, explains away this seeming inconsistency by appealing to the alleged “worseness” of Trump:

Today, the Trump-Pence ticket looks even worse. Mr. Trump, [is] credibly accused of rape and a confessed grabber of women’s genitalia, and Mr. Pence […] will not dine alone with a woman other than his wife (whom he calls “Mother”) […] Mr. Biden, that relic of the good-old-boy Senate years, seems positively benign by comparison.

The maneuver, then, is apparent: we do believe all women, and former Vice-President Joe Biden did sexually assault Tara Reade, but Trump is worse when it comes to mistreatment of women, so we will vote for Joe Biden. There are three problems with this justification.

The first problem is that the “Trump is worse” justification pretends that elections are determined by a comparison of who has a better record on the treatment of women. But in reality, that comparison plays no real role. Does anyone believe that if Biden’s opponent was Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Andrew Sullivan would be voting Republican? How about Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)? Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley? Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)? Any GOP nominee without accusations of sexual misconduct? Of course not.

So no, Sullivan won’t be voting for Biden “because Trump.” He would be voting for Biden under any circumstances in 2020, for predictably ideological reasons. What this sleight of hand reveals is that even for those who maintain that accusations of sexual misconduct are a disqualifier for holding public office, that isn’t really the case.

Relativism Triumphant

The second problem with the “Trump is worse” justification is that it assumes that the number of sexual misconduct accusations against a person is a reliable metric of how badly or how frequently they mistreat women. This line of reasoning is an extension of the “believe all women” rhetoric that assumes the existence of an accusation is proof of misconduct.

There are other reasons that a simple numeric comparison of the allegations against Biden and Trump is unfeasible. First, while both men are very wealthy, Trump is significantly more so. There is no question that powerful men often take more liberties in their interactions with women, but it is also true that the prospect of financial gain incentivizes some in going public with allegations (even true ones).

Further, given that the media works to amplify and reward allegations against conservatives and Republicans, and works to inhibit, mute, and disincentivize allegations against Democrats, any comparison of the number of allegations is apples and oranges.

The third problem with the claim that “Trump is worse” when it comes to mistreatment of women is that it presumes that “mistreatment” is sexual by definition. There are any number of ways that men can mistreat women—many of them are not related to sexual behavior, and many of them are not measurable or publicly visible.

That the Left understands “mistreatment” simply as “sexual misconduct” is only one more example of the way they fetishize sex as a central concern of culture, public policy, public discourse, and politics. I don’t know Donald Trump and I don’t know Joe Biden. And given that the number of sexual misconduct accusations is an unreliable indicator of misconduct, and that misconduct (taken seriously) is much broader than unethical sexual behavior, I have no idea who “mistreats” women more.

Again, the question of who mistreats women more isn’t actually a primary concern for voters. JFK was and is beloved. The same with his brothers. Clinton won a second term. Hell, Clinton won a first term. Trump was elected despite wall-to-wall media coverage of his sexual indiscretions.

Biden is the nominee, and Andrew Sullivan and Linda Hirshman are going to vote for him. To be clear, I don’t mean to minimize the seriousness of sexual assault, and I don’t mean to minimize the pain and trauma that extends from it. It may be that accusations of sexual assault should be disqualifying when it comes to holding public office. But at this moment in American politics, they simply aren’t.

People like Sullivan and Hirshman, who are trying to pretend that charges of sexual misconduct are actually treated as disqualifying, all while protecting their ideological interests and justifying their hypocrisy through some arcane allegation-calculus, should be recognized not as “allies” to the #MeToo cause, but as enemies of it. Their newfound relativism shows that their support only extends as far as their political designs.

About Adam Ellwanger

Adam Ellwanger is an associate professor of English at the University of Houston – Downtown where he directs the M.A. program in rhetoric and composition. His new book, Metanoia: Rhetoric, Authenticity, and the Transformation of the Self, will be released from Penn State University Press in 2020. You can follow him on Twitter at @DoctorEllwanger

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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