It felt — and continues to feel — awful that so many brave women stepped forward to share their accounts of how President Trump treated them over the years, risking backlash and calumny, and that voters elected him president anyway. Every possible response to their allegations was profoundly depressing: the idea that they were lying opportunists; that they invited Trump’s mistreatment; that sexual harassment and assault are inevitable, and the only reasonable response is to grit through it; that Trump’s treatment of women proves his swagger and vitality; that who cares if Trump did it, as long as this, and everything else about him, makes liberal elites angry.
These women’s stories and the Access Hollywood tape widened the gulf between people who seemed to find Trump incomprehensible, and those who had been waiting for someone like him all along. In my more despairing moments, I wondered if it had been worth it for them to come forward, stepping into the maelstrom of 2016 only to find out that people cared, but not enough of them, and not passionately enough to change the course of a presidential election.
What a difference a year makes.
Now, it seems that even if the women who spoke out against Trump couldn’t end his candidacy, they at least landed the punch that sent a whole culture of entitlement and intimidation reeling, setting powerful, abusive men everywhere up for knockout.
Harvey Weinstein is disgraced and exiled, and the revelations about his behavior published in the New York Times and the New Yorker helped bring new attention to the #MeToo hashtag, which became the rallying cry for a national conversation about sexual harassment and sexual assault. Plenty of other men in entertainment, media and the restaurant business, to name just a few sectors, have lost or been suspended from their jobs following similar allegations. Senate Democrats stood up and made clear that Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) had to resign after he was accused of a series of groping. Franken went grudgingly, but he went.
And now, most powerfully, disgust against the allegations against former judge Roy Moore turned out to be powerful enough for Alabama to elect its first Democratic Senator in decades. After The Washington Post reported that Leigh Corfman said Moore had tried to initiate sexual contact with her when she was just fourteen, and that Moore had pursued a number of other teenage girls as well, Democrat Doug Jones was able to eke out a narrow win in Alabama’s special election.
Moore’s defeat is not exactly a sign that the battle is over. If allegations of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual assault were truly the political career-enders they ought to be, Moore wouldn’t have pulled in 649,240 votes — 48.4 percent of the total. If #MeToo had truly penetrated and changed the consciousness of the entire population, 72 percent of white men and 63 percent of white women wouldn’t have voted for Moore. If we actually had a society-wide consensus on this sort of behavior, and if we truly trusted women more, Moore would have been run out of the race and polite society on a rail by a bipartisan committee of decent humans. The only disagreement would have been who got to share in the honor of hoisting the rail on their shoulders.
And of course, Trump is still president. There are no signs that he is suddenly about to develop the self-awareness or capability for remorse that might lead him to resign the presidency and apologize for ever presenting himself as fit to hold office in the first place. The invertebrate leadership of the Republican party is not about to change species and expel him from office; they’re too busy pushing through a manifestly unpopular tax plan instead. After all, condemning the president over allegations of sexual harassment might invite charges of hypocrisy unless Congress unmasks the harassers in its own ranks who have been protected by secret settlements. And the women who spoke out against Trump haven’t stopped telling their stories, despite everything they’ve faced.
If there’s one upside to this grotesque moral spectacle, perhaps it’s this. Though we’re going to be spared Moore’s theatrics in the Senate, maybe Trump’s presidency can be a sign that the work is not done. As long as the man presiding over the country during this moral awakening is precisely the sort of person who ought to be taken down by it, we can’t be complacent.