I knew this would come up at some point. I’m pretty sure that, on Right-Wing media, it’s been non-stop and getting louder all the time. Suddenly, it’s making noise in main-stream media. A woman named Tara Reade has come forward and claimed that Joe Biden put his hand in her underwear some years ago now. What that means to the entire American political system is open to question. What it means to women is open to question. What it means to men is open to question. What it means to the morality of regular American citizens is open to question. In short, this event hypothetically puts so much on the table that we should probably deal with it. I doubt that this essay will come to any conclusions that will satisfy anyone, but it is important that we start the conversation, and start to consider the issues. I hope to do that much anyway.
Let’s start with practical issues: First off, this whole thing is based on a hypothetical situation. As near as I can tell, there are only 2 humans and 1 God that knows if anything happened. This is the same situation between Brett Kavansugh and Christine Blasey-Ford, between Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, between Al Franken and his accusers, between any accuser and any person accused. I have my beliefs regarding each of those cases, but I — and you — have no actual knowledge of the events (or lack thereof) if we weren’t there. Without a recording of some kind during the events (again, hypothetically, if they happened), you and I will never know the facts of these cases. The people involved, do, however, know what happened or didn’t. Finally, if you believe in God or some other being that knows everything that happens morally in the universe, they know as well. Those 3 parties know and have to cope with the events. If the humans have any sort of conscience, they will have to deal with what they have done.
This brings us to the next point: Since it is all hypothetical, we aren’t arguing about facts. We are arguing about meaning. What does it mean if the facts are that the accused did do what the accuser says they did? If it’s true, what then? What do we do? What are we supposed to infer from these facts? What is the moral of the story? The final question is this: “Is the moral universal?”. I think we have stopped asking that final question as a society to our own peril. We will deal with it here.
The third thing that I think is we should start with are facts. Her are facts as I know them that might relate to all of the cases. Like them or not, they are still true. 1) Rape and varieties of sexual assault happen. They happen a lot in our society; 2) Rape or assault has lasting negative impacts on the victim. These impacts can last a lifetime or a few months, but they are serious because their impact far outweighs the time that it took them to happen. 3) Women and men, girls and boys, and transgender folks all are victimized by sexual assault. 4) Women and men, girls and boys, and transgender folks can be perpetrators of sexual assault. I don’t want to get into details on how I know but I can assure you that it is true. Statistically, I would say that likelihood of it happening in those categories is :Women and girls, then boys and men. Trans folks? I don’t know enough to say, but there’s plenty of hatred of them out there, and murder against them is frequent, so I will assume sexual assault is frequent as well. In short, rape and sexual assault are egregious acts. We need to prevent them from happening.
On to meaning and experience: People in power — men, in particular — have often used their position of power to get others to have sex with them. In older days, men believed it was their right to do so. In fact, many men in leadership thought of it as a perk of the job. From the guy who picked up a guitar “to meet chicks” to the politician who thought his secretary came with the package of perks for the job, this is a long-standing tradition. Now, of course, there are groupies for band members and people who want to “sleep their way to top” via a powerful boss. None of these things are necessarily right, but they are the way things used to be. Regarding groupies of any sort, I don’t know what to make of them. I have not seen any social theories about them or why they do what they do, but they do exist. I believe that this is an area of inquiry for another time. We know why people choose to force others into sex — power. Why do people choose to have sex with the powerful (and only sex here, not long-lasting relationships)? I don’t know.
Further experience: Republican politicians and Democratic politicians respond differently to hypothetical exercise of sexual power. If a Democrat is seen as possibly having sex with someone below them, the belief is that they should leave office. Al Franken was told to leave his position. He did. A newly elected woman representative was told to give up her seat. She did. Republicans/ conservatives don’t seem to have the same response. Brett Kavanaugh didn’t back off of his prospective judgeship. Clarence Thomas didn’t. Most recently, Roy Moore didn’t. In the ultimate example of this, Donald Trump, with more accusers than any of the others, didn’t stop seeking the Presidency.
Here is where it gets interesting. We have the same facts or lack of facts. We have far different meanings and far different understandings of what to do with a supposed perpetrator. To my knowledge, none of these cases has ever gone to trial. Why is that? If, generally, another citizen accused of anything has to go to court to defend themself, and sexual assault charges are serious things, why don’t the accused politicians go to court, serve jail time, or generally deal with the criminal justice system?
Back before that, why do most people deal with the criminal justice system personally, and others have their lawyers appear instead? This inequity is a big issue. The answer seems to be that the wealthy are above the law in some way. If you are wealthy, you can afford a lawyer. If you cannot, it would have to be a really special court-appointed to go instead of their client. I have never heard of this happening. Again, why is this?
In each case, if the court system handled the case, we would have answers. In some cases, the answer would be “there’s not enough evidence to convict” and voters would know that. In some cases, and there were enough evidence, the person would go to jail. The voters would know that as well. In some cases, the statute of limitations will have run out. If the justice system thinks that there’s a reason for a statute of limitations, then *that* should apply to people in government as well. In each case, the case would be settled, and justice would be served as best as possible, on a more equitable footing. Then, voters could decide among non-criminal candidates.
What about the final “surprise” appearance of questionable conduct? This is the situation with Biden. We are being asked as voters to decide, without all of the information, to choose between two potentially horrible choices. Either she’s telling the truth and he’s a criminal or he’s telling the truth, and people believe he’s a criminal. In a world where we are supposed to always believe the woman, we’re electing one criminal over another. Surely there’s a better way to deal with this. These cannot be our only choices. A double bind simply won’t cut it. It will, as we have already seen, make a nation crazy.
I believe it is France, or perhaps Europe more widely, that puts a gag order on the press and social media regarding political candidates a week before the election. Perhaps we should do some form of this. Let’s say an election is in November of a certain year. The candidate must announce their candidacy and, from that date, accusers have 3 months to file charges. The case goes to trial or it doesn’t. If no charges are filed by then, there can be no presumption of guilt by the population and candidates are free to run for election. It is what it is.
Now, I note that the “Access Hollywood” would not have come out under this system. Still, no one would be able to say that their release was for political reasons. Perhaps victims would have come out of the woodwork sooner. In any case, we would not be a nation divided by politics in such a situation. The President would not be able to deny it as “political abuse” and the other candidate or party couldn’t use it that way.
All of this, is, of course, theory for now. We are stuck with this conundrum: if Biden did hurt this woman, we have to choose between two criminals. One of the candidates is believed to have done it once. The other is believed to have done it 20+ times. Biden is the best choice. Congress or the Justice Department can deal with it later — and should.
In the meantime, until Democratic candidates are on the same footing that Republicans are regarding allegations, then Biden only has to live with himself, and look at himself in the mirror. We have to guess. Ms. Reade either gets justice or she doesn’t. I wish for justice from both of them, whatever that justice is, at it relates to the facts.
At the very least, there must be some kind of process applied to all political candidates, regardless of party. I never want to lose an apparently good, intelligent man like Al Franken to political leadership without due process, while an apparently horrible man like Donald Trump destroys the whole rule of law. Killing the good while in search of the perfect is never a good idea. America, I think, has to get over the idea of perfect humans as the only acceptable candidate, because there are no perfect humans. There are only one relatively good candidates and relatively bad candidates.
If Biden is innocent, he’s a much better candidate than Trump regarding this and — in my opinion — on so many other issues. Furthermore, if Biden selects, as he said he would, a female vice-President and then gets thrown out due to the scandal, then Ms. Reade gets justice and women’s rights are protected in general. Trump has no such backup, nor would he want one. Trump wants to abuse women, in general and in specific. She would be abused and he would deserve to be thrown out.
On a final note is the moral of the story: If Ms. Reade becomes a campaign issue and Trump wins, it will be because of his misogyny. The moral for Trump men is that abusive men win, and the more abusive, the more likely they are to win. I don’t know what Biden did in the past. Given who he is now, I do believe he would be sorry now if what Ms. Reade said is true then. No one I know believes that Biden is a predator. Many believe he never was. If Biden wins, it would not necessarily be a win for the “abusers deserve to abuse” category. In fact, I suspect that he would process his guilt through policy that prevents such acts from happening again.
Would I prefer a woman candidate to Biden? Yes, I would. I would vote for Elizabeth Warren, with no such scandals, in a heartbeat. I don’t think that Bernie Sanders has the delegate totals to get the nomination, and Republicans seem to think he’s easy to beat anyway. Is he a better human being than Trump? Of course. Is he a visionary? Absolutely. Is he a leader? I can’t quite tell yet.
That leaves a good, if imperfect, man against a monster. While I want Ms. Reade to get justice, I think she’s far more likely to get it, in all the ways I have outlined above, if Joe Biden become President. Does that sound right? It is ironic at the least, and horrible if what she says is true. And there’s a 50% chance that it’ll only be ironic.
Resisting in Peace,