The endless cavalcade of predators continued its parade into disgraced exile on Wednesday morning with NBC’s abrupt defenestration of Matt Lauer, knocking him from his perch as the anchor of “Today,” a post he held for almost 20 years. Amid a national outpouring of courage by allegedly victimized women, Lauer joins an ignoble cast of high-profile men in media who have been relegated to the shadows following shameful allegations of sexual misconduct. In business, media, and entertainment, the lecherous and powerful are learning that they had not gotten away with the abuses they’d committed all those years ago. There is, though, one institution that has resisted this moment of catharsis and justice: Congress.
Lauer joins a growing cast of formerly elite men in media who are now disgraced as a result of their conduct. Roger Ailes, Glenn Thrush, Bill O’Reilly, Charlie Rose, Michael Oreskes, David Sweeney, Mark Halperin, Leon Wieseltier, Lockhart Steele, Hamilton Fish, and so on. From Fox News to the New York Times, from broadcast television to print—the great national purge of abusive men in positions of authority knows no ideological or occupational limits.
To a lesser but important degree, Hollywood and business have engaged in a purge of their own. Big fish and relatively small alike have endured their long overdue comeuppance in recent weeks. What’s more, this tectonic cultural shift shows no signs of abating. The fear and caution that once led victims to keep their experiences to themselves have dissipated, ensuring that so many “open secrets” are finally being corroborated and substantiated on the record.
This movement has not spared the world of politics, but political figures at the national level have not experienced the same justice as have their counterparts in media, entertainment, and business. Neither their voters nor their colleagues seem particularly inclined to meet the demands of this moment in history.
For liberals who honestly thought elected Democrats really meant it when they said that women who alleged abuse had “the right to be believed,” Nancy Pelosi’s statement on Sunday must have come as a shock. By describing Rep. John Conyers as an “icon” who was a champion for women and deserved the benefit of the doubt, she was sacrificing her party’s brand and drawing fire for her members. She has apparently given her members the courage to dismiss these accusations with similar flippancy. When asked why Conyers should be spirited off the public stage at the speed with which men in other industries were ousted, Rep. Jim Clyburn contemptuously replied, “who elected them?”
Conyers is accused by multiple women, including two former staffers, of making inappropriate advances and putting them in compromising positions. One of those accusers secured a $27,000 settlement from Conyers’ office budget, but the accusations against him exposed the existence of what appears to be a taxpayer-backed slush fund designed to keep scandals like his from going public. This fund has settled more than 260 claims and doled out $17 million in its 20 years of existence, but what was settled and who was involved in those disputes remain closely-guarded secrets. Judging only by the last few months of bombshell revelations, these will not be secrets for long.
Al Franken is credibly also accused of behaving inappropriately toward women not just in his past life as a performing comedian but as a sitting U.S. Senator. Franken took some time off from the Senate only to return appearing theatrically chastened, but that is likely the extent of the consequences he will face for his actions. Democrats in and out of Congress are busy crafting elaborate rationalizations to explain why this particular abuser deserves special treatment. After all, his vote is too important and his political utility is not entirely spent.
Republicans, too, have shown their willingness to allow this moment to pass them by. The titular head of the GOP and the president of the United States stands accused of improper conduct or sexual assault by more than a dozen women. Some of these women have confessed to feeling as though their stories have been dismissed. Who can blame them? Many Republicans appear to have convinced themselves that these allegations were effectively litigated in 2016 and satisfactorily resolved when voters narrowly backed Trump last November. That conclusion is both deluded and tone-deaf.
In the GOP’s defense, there wasn’t much that Republicans could do about Donald Trump after he declined to exit the race following the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in October 2016 and subsequently won the race to lead an independent branch of government. Fate then handed the GOP a chance to restore some karmic justice to Washington in the form of Roy Moore. And yet, Republicans seem set on missing this opportunity, too.
The U.S. Senate candidate from Alabama has been convincingly accused of abusing females as young as 14-years-old when he was in his 30s and serving in government. Senate Republicans have been trying to convince Moore to drop out, but why would he when he believes with good reason that he will win his election? That belief could be stamped out today if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republican Conference communicated clearly that, win or lose, Moore will never sit in the upper chamber of Congress.
Republicans will not commit to refusing to certify Moore’s victory for a variety of reasons. Foremost among them has to be the fact that they would only anger the GOP base by rejecting the will of the voters. That isn’t leadership. It’s cowardice. If refusing to seat an accused child molester in the United States Senate angers Republicans, then Republicans deserve to be angered. Unfortunately, in Washington, moral fortitude is in woefully short supply.
Some of America’s most visible institutions are belatedly embracing transparency and forthrightness as they come to terms with the consequences of having given cover to the valuable abusers in their midst. Washington D.C. is, as ever, failing to treat this moment with the seriousness it deserves.