There will be some people going to the polls next month who were not even born when these events happened. Yet the print and broadcast media are a swirl with tales of powerful men, the women they interacted with and, of course, sex.
The trouble is that most of what is being said is wrong. Take Anita Hill. Twenty-five years ago she appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and in dramatic testimony, televised to a national viewing audience, accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexually harassing her while she was his employee. Some writers are now comparing Donald Trump to Clarence Thomas.
Here is the problem with that. Had the case actually gone to court, Hill almost certainly would have lost. The reason? There was no sexual harassment. My explanation is below and it contains very important lessons for how we should view similar accusations against Trump.
Bill Clinton, by contrast, really was guilty of sexual misconduct. While in the White House, he had oral sex with a 21-year-old intern, less than half his age. Under other circumstances, NOW and other feminist organizations would have declared this sexual harassment per se (even though consensual) because of the age and power differences between the two parties. But the feminist organizations (now so loudly condemning Trump) gave Bill Clinton a pass on the Monica Lewinsky affair, just as they gave him a pass on all the rest of his long history of sexual predation. This includes an accusation of rape by Juanita Broaddrick. And according to the late Christopher Hitchens (No One Left To lie To), there were several other women who have yet to come forward who had experiences similar to Broaddrick’s.
For leftist women’s groups, charges of sexual harassment, sexual assault and even rape appear to be weapons to be used against political enemies. You don’t have to worry if you are a friend. Paula Jones’ lawsuit (alleging that Bill Clinton exposed himself) was the most famous sexual harassment suit ever filed. It led to Clinton’s impeachment and his disbarment in the state of Arkansas. Yet, even today it is not unusual for columnists writing about sexual harassment to dredge up the Thomas/Hill affair without ever once mentioning Bill Clinton.
Still there is an important lesson in the Clinton lawsuit, discussed below.
What does this have to do with Hillary? Four things: (1) In every case in which Bill Clinton’s sexual activity became public, she blamed the woman, not the man (e.g., she called Monica Lewinsky a “narcissistic loony tune”); (2) she supervised a “bimbo control” effort to threaten and/or publicly trash every woman who complained about, or even described, her husband’s behavior; (3) her close associates, including Sidney Blumenthal and James Carville, actively engaged in smear campaigns to trash the reputation of Lewinsky and others in the national news media; and (4) when Bill Clinton first ran for the presidency they boasted that theirs would be a co-presidency: “you get two for the price of one.” At one point she even announced that Bill would be in charge of her economic program, if she were elected president.
In other words, Hillary is not a sympathetic enabler. She is part of a whole team that has abused women for years.
We may never know what really happened between Hill and Thomas. But here is the interesting thing about the law. It doesn’t really matter what actually happened. Sexual harassment is said to exist if one person’s behavior “creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment” for another. The victim doesn’t even have to object or complain. (EEOC Fact Sheet) In many cases sexual harassment hinges on a state of mind, not on objective facts.
As the nation watched in rapt amazement, Hill told the Senate Judiciary Committee about a series of incidents, including a moment when Thomas jokingly said that a hair on a can of coke looked like a pubic hair. She was offended, she claimed.
Yet, after the riveting testimony of Thomas (who declared the hearing a “high tech lynching”) and Hill (who claimed to be “speaking truth to power”) and after most Americans had turned off their TV sets and gone to bed, the Committee heard from panel after panel of witnesses who had worked with Thomas and Hill and who had socialized with them.
To a man and to a woman these witnesses testified that Hill found all of Thomas’ jokes funny (whether on-color or off-color), that she enjoyed his company at work and away from work, that she followed him from one job to the next and that she continued her friendship with him long after they had ceased working together.
In judging sexual harassment claims there are two common sense rules I believe should be followed, and if they are not followed the courts will be clogged with frivolous lawsuits.
Rule 1: You can’t have your cake and eat it too. This means you can’t pretend to enjoy the relationship and take advantage of all its benefits and then later claim you were a victim. If you are pretending a relationship is okay, you are thereby encouraging the very behavior you later claim you don’t like. That makes you an accomplice, not a victim. In Hill’s case there were lots of benefits. Thomas opened doors for her, wrote recommendation letters, made important connections, etc. If she really did find Thomas’s behavior “hostile” and “offensive” at the time, she clearly pretended she did not. In my book, that gets her case thrown out of court.
At a time when almost any statement can turn out to be a micro aggression, you can’t expect people to be mind readers. There are a hundred non-offensive ways to communicate you are uncomfortable with language or behavior. Women have managed to restrain male behavior without chasing them away for eons. Although the government says the victim doesn’t have to object, for me that would create doubt. And if the victim pretends to enjoy the objectionable behavior, other things equal, I would tend to say she has no case.
Rule 2: You can’t expose the accused to ex post facto violations. Here is something that happens more than you might think and it may describe what happened to Anita Hill. A woman interacts with a man – physically, verbally, emotionally – but later (maybe several years later), she decides that the whole relationship was disgusting. Can a woman be just fine with a relationship at the time of its occurrence, but years later decide that the whole affair was hostile and offensive? Of course. Everyone has the right to change her mind. But can she, by changing her mind, turn a perfectly legal relationship into an illegal one after the fact? That would seem to violate the spirit of our federal Constitution.
I don’t know the circumstances surrounding Donald Trump and his accusers, but a fair evaluation must take into account both of my two rules. I am especially bothered by a woman who breaks down in tears recounting her interaction with Trump years ago when a witness reports she was “thrilled” at the time the event occurred.
One more thought about Bill Clinton, as promised, and this is a point I haven’t seen any other commentator make.
What happened to him in the Paula Jones lawsuit should never be allowed to happen to any other human being. Yet, ironically, Clinton helped codify legislation that increases the likelihood that it will happen to others in the future.
Paula Jones, on no basis other than her own sworn statement, was able to use her lawyers to depose Bill Clinton and probe into the most intimate details of his sex life. That’s how the world learned about Monica Lewinsky and her semen stained blue dress – matters that had nothing whatever to do with Paula Jones. That’s how Clinton got caught committing perjury, when the lies he told were only about sex – sex that had no relevance at all to Paula Jones or her lawsuit.
Think about that. We have no idea whether Jones was telling the truth. She never had to prove she was telling the truth. If I’m not mistaken, outsiders (enemies of Bill) helped fund her lawsuit. All she had to do was file some papers at the court house and the whole world got to vicariously pry into the most embarrassing details of Bill Clinton’s private life.
The same thing could happen to Hillary. It could happen to Trump. It could happen to members of the Supreme Court. It could happen to anyone in public life. Or in private life.
And that’s wrong.