Should Bill Clinton have resigned?

The Thinker by Rodin

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said last week that because Bill Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinski, he should have resigned.

Gillibrand appears to be applying the new emerging conduct standards some twenty years after Clinton’s tawdry oral affair with the then White House intern. Her complaint does not appear to be that there was sexual harassment involved, but that the relationship was inappropriate. By that standard though Donald Trump should have never taken the oath of office, although as best we can tell so far Trump has not overtly sexually harassed any women since assuming office. Given his track record though, I’d not be taking bets he makes it through his term unscathed in this area.

Bill Clinton was impeached by the Republican-controlled House not for having an affair but for lying about it under oath. In truth, Republicans wholly loathed Clinton as would have impeached him for pretty much anything they figured they could get away with however spurious and minor. The Senate refused to convict him. That Clinton had the affair was not in doubt and was confirmed by the infamous blue dress that Lewinski kept with his semen stains on it.

Clinton tried to use legal semantics to dodge an allegation of perjury, claiming that in his mind “sex” meant intercourse. It was a dodge worthy of the weasel that many saw him to be. Ultimately it was an unsuccessful defense. Clinton was only the second president in history to be impeached, so in some sense he will always carry that mark of shame. Apparently that would be insufficient for Gillibrand now. (In any event Clinton left office at the end of his term with record high approval ratings, so it doesn’t appear the American people saw him as an ineffective president or were particularly upset with the consensual conduct.)

It’s highly debatable whether Clinton’s affair with Lewinski constituted sexual harassment. Exactly what sexual harassment was in the mid 1990s was very murky. I should know because I was a federal employee at the time and we were still trying to puzzle it out. The standard was quite murky and subjective. Much of the murkiness had to do with how the conduct was perceived. Basically you were sexually harassed if you felt you were sexually harassed. There was a clear rule that someone who had power of you should never harass you: a boss or someone in your chain of command. Coworkers were also not supposed to harass each other, and harassment could be in three forms: physical, sexual or emotional. Penalties were not criminal but civil. Most involved discipline like letters of reprimand but in extreme cases could have resulted in being fired. What I took away from the training was that I should be professional at work and if I were to have an affair I should do it with someone outside the office.

Part of the standard (and what made it so murky) was that the conduct had to be unwelcome. I don’t think that standard ever applied in the Clinton-Lewinski affair. It’s hard to know for sure but what we do know about it appears to show that Lewinski initiated the affair, so it was not conduct that she spurned. So while Clinton may have dropped his pants from time to time for various women, it does not appear that the conduct was unwelcome when it got that far.

This can be readily contrasted with more than a dozen women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual assault. Even Trump seems to have qualified his conquests, looking for women in his social circles as opposed to within his organization. So it’s not clear based on what we know that Trump has engaged in any sexual harassment as it is legally defined. His conduct might still be illegal, because sexual assault is a different crime than sexual harassment and one with much harsher penalties. There is no evidence that Bill Clinton ever sexually assaulted anyone. There are women (like Paula Jones) who say that his advances were unwelcome but because there was not a power relationship involved it was not sexual harassment.

Clinton was in a power relationship with Lewinski, but with some caveats. Lewinski was a White House intern that received no salary. Implicit in being an intern is the ephemeral nature of the work. She could have been dismissed at any time for any reason and there was no real damage in doing so. Lewinski was there to learn about the mechanics of governing and likely to make connections to further a political career. It’s unsurprising that given the opportunity to be closer to Clinton that she would take it. Lewinski was also not a minor and was at least 23 when the affair began. The same cannot be said about many of the women accusing Roy Moore of sexual assault and pedophilia.

There is also the problem of trying to hold someone to a standard that was murky at best two decades ago. As a lawyer Clinton was well aware of what conduct was legal, murky and illegal and was careful not to engage in conduct that went beyond the murky stage. Sexual harassment at the time definitely fit into the murky category. Lewinski herself never reported sexual harassment. Her heart was broken when the affair proved ephemeral and Clinton would not move into a closer relationship, which is understandable given his marital status. It took Lewinski’s friend Linda Tripp who secretly (and illegally) recorded her conversations with Lewinski in which she disclosed the affair for it to see the light of day. So Lewinski was disappointed and probably heartbroken but never felt sexually harassed. Since much of the definition of sexual harassment depends on how it is perceived by the victim this standard simply doesn’t apply.

Obviously it was stupid conduct, both by Clinton and Lewinski, and that’s basically Gillibrand’s complaint. Stupid conduct like this in her mind is not excusable or could be remedied by a president except apparently through resignation. In short, in Gillibrand’s mind if the conduct makes you feel ashamed or should make you feel ashamed you should resign.

By that standard Trump would never resign. He is clearly unrepentant for his past sexual misconduct. This misconduct was well known to voters, who voted him into office anyhow. It does not appear to bother Republicans enough to initiate impeachment proceedings against him and in any event it occurred before he took office. It’s well within the purview of Congress to impeach and remove a president for such conduct, as impeachment is a political act. Impeachment and removal implies no illegal conduct. Such conduct may be prosecutable, which happened to Clinton, but only for incidents outside of his presidency. In his case he was sued for his conduct and settled out of court. He also lost his law license, not a matter of breaking the law but one of privilege and which had no effect on his standard of living.

Gillibrand’s look backward about what Clinton should have done is aspirational at best. Perhaps someday this sort of conduct will rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Even with this Year of the Woman though it looks like we are quite far from reaching that standard.

It’s time for men to evolve into real men

The Thinker by Rodin

In case you hadn’t noticed there are a whole lot of women complaining about sexual harassment all of a sudden. Those accused of harassment, including lots of politicians and celebrities, are feeling more than a little like someone dragged in front of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation chaired by Senator Joseph McCarthy. In some cases before they have a chance to offer a rebuttal their careers appear to be over; movie contracts pulled and gigs canceled.

In the past women who squawked usually found out why it was a good idea to shut up. In Hollywood their contracts and bookings tended to dry up. A lot has changed in the last year or two, but things have really picked up in the last couple of months. Lots of powerful men have been brought down starting with a number of people at Fox News including Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. Men with Democratic Party inclinations have been no less immune. There is Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, of course, with decades of harassing women who sought his favor. Weinstein also gave heavily to liberal causes but seemed incapable of demonstrating these principles where it mattered: in the workplace. Scores of women and likely many more scores we don’t know about have come forward to complain about Weinstein’s harassment, which included crude and obscene behavior that wholly appalls me.

It sure feels like the tables have turned at last. I can’t blame women for not having the courage to come forward but the penalties for doing so seem to have lessened. Women (and in some cases men; last night a man reported being harassed by George Takei of all people in 1981) are fed up. Rules for explicit and implicit workplace and social conduct are being rewritten.

Speaking as a man though it does feel kind of dangerous simply because it becomes a matter of she said vs. he said. It feels like once accused the man is guilty until proven innocent, which is usually impossible. In some cases like Harvey Weinstein his guilt is beyond reasonable doubt. Yesterday the Washington Post reported that Alabama Senate candidate and egregious Bible-thumper Roy Moore back in 1979 initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl. He was age 32 at the time and an assistant district attorney in Alabama, probably a position of some status in the community. Three other women also came forward indicating they were minors when Moore initiated romantic relationships with them too.

To me this is beyond reasonable doubt too, as none of these women knew each other, but all came forward to Washington Post reporters when they were tracked down. Having said that I would not be surprised if Alabamans elect Roy Moore anyhow. It didn’t stop them from voting for Donald Trump, whose own extremely checkered past in this area is also beyond reasonable dispute. It sure appears that tribalism these days can excuse pretty much anything, including pedophilia. In any event where there are other witnesses that can report these women told them about these incidents at the time, that’s pretty damning.

Far more men have power over women than the other way around. That’s just the way it is at the moment but perhaps not how things will remain. Having not walked in a woman’s shoes, I can’t empathize. I do have an idea how it feels. I have a gay cousin that either has a crush on me or is pulling an elaborate prank. It makes our relationship uncomfortable, but there is no power relationship to deal with and there’s zero chance that I would sleep with him. So I have just one quasi-relatable experience in my lifetime and certainly nothing I have to deal with on a daily basis. Women don’t pursue me most likely because I have the wedding ring on my finger. But even if I didn’t I’m confident they still would not pursue me. I have been fortunate enough to have a couple of female bosses in my life. They were all positive experiences. I grew to prefer women as my bosses.

Women though can’t help being female. They can’t hide the fact that they have breasts or that their ass is perceived as cute. But really men aren’t that particular. Heterosexual men would put out for pretty much any woman who put the move on them, at least if they worked at them long enough. We do sense though that women don’t want to be harassed in general and so almost instinctively we stay away.

But of course there are plenty of men like Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore and Louis C.K. who don’t have these constraints on their behavior. There must be something about having power that eggs them on to cross the line. Or perhaps they were boors all along but power makes them believe they will get away with it. Men do like to win, which is why sports appeal to most men. Power distinguishes you from other seemingly lesser men. It generally brings perks and privileges. And it does attract some women. Perhaps they think that since it attracts some women, all women that knock on their door to some measure must want them too.

I mostly speculate because I don’t understand these men. To act like them I would first have to see women as objects instead of people, or at least give myself permission to treat women’s feelings as if they didn’t matter. Even if I could get past these feelings, I still don’t understand why these men would harass women, especially with obscene behavior. I assume I am like normal men in that when women are attracted to me because of whom I authentically am, that’s a big turn on. It’s hard for me to think of a bigger turn off than to force myself on a woman that doesn’t want me. I would want women to think highly of me, not the worst of me. What woman really wants to see you masturbate into a plant?

The shrinks tell us that for these men the real aphrodisiac is not sex, but power. Forcing people to do things they don’t want to do — particularly something as intimate as having sex with you — is a violation not to mention in many cases a criminal offense. If you get sex, it’s likely to be bad because it’s not really consensual. It certainly won’t feel healthy. Perhaps it’s like being an opioid addict and that for many men if you try it once, you can’t quit.

Should we shed a tear for men? In the past this sort of behavior, reprehensible as most saw it, still had some legal or societal sanction. It wasn’t that long ago that women couldn’t vote and husbands couldn’t legally rape their wives. The rules of conduct are both explicitly and implicitly changing. Meanwhile, many men feel at some sort of genetic level they are programmed to be this way. They are supposed to strive to be top dog, and being top dog means privileges the other dogs don’t get. To me, this certainly seems to explain our president. I’m speculating that for these men these new rules are all unnatural. Never mind that there are all sorts of laws that seems unnatural but is nonetheless necessary.

Men need to grow up. I’m glad that women are speaking out against those who harass them, and though it still brings some danger to them personally I hope they will continue to do so. We need to evolve, especially those in positions of power. Such men (and women) don’t deserve the privileges of power if they can’t also handle its responsibilities.

Trump: pointlessly denying the obvious

The Thinker by Rodin

I recently rewatched Titanic, the 1997 film about the doomed ship of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. My timing was curiously ironic, given Trump’s rapidly sinking campaign for president. Unlike the Titanic, the Trump campaign has struck many icebergs these last few months. It hit the fatal one eight days ago with the release of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” recording.

At least the Titanic grazed its iceberg. The crew did see it coming, just too late to avoid scraping it. Captain Smith’s error was strategic: traveling too far north for the season. The Trump campaign can’t claim their radars weren’t on. Its collisions were all easily avoidable. Then again Trump is an anomaly: a candidate who thinks running a campaign for president is like playing a game of bumper cars and the candidate that hits the most cars wins.

It took less than two hours to sink the Titanic. It will take November 8 to make this sinking official but of course the water is now well above the bow and only the smokestacks are still above the sea. While passengers tried to get into the few lifeboats on the Titanic, the fiddlers (a string quartet) literally played on and on. It didn’t do much to calm the nerve of the passengers, but it did perhaps help these musicians calmly meet their demise. So unsurprisingly there has been a lot of fiddling these last few days on the deck of the S. S. Trump.

More women came forward this week alleging that Trump sexually assaulted them. These reports are coming so quickly it’s hard to keep up with them all. Any campaign would deny them of course, but an astute campaign might make some general statement that these charges are baseless while attacking Clinton instead. It’s not like there aren’t stories out there they could use, such as some more scattered WikiLeaks emails from Clinton campaign officials. Of course with Captain Trump in charge, there was no such possibility. He had to bite back at these women: they are all without merit, they are out for publicity and some of them are really ugly so why would I even try? It’s his last point that took already furious women and made them even more so. In Trump’s mind women are objects for his pleasure, not human beings.

Trump probably understands he is destined to lose. This explains why he is already expressing bogus concerns about a “rigged” election and is asking his supporters to watch polling places. He also seems to be sanctioning violence if he loses; after all if it’s all “rigged” then civil unrest is justified. (Inciting violence is a crime, BTW.) It’s wholly unsurprising that Trump would stoop to such depths because he has a history of it. He is incapable of admitting that he is at fault for his sinking campaign.

Similarly, he can’t admit his own problems with the sexual harassment, sexual assault and the possible rape of a 13-year-old girl. Naturally, it’s all “locker room talk” (although I never heard any locker room talk like this, and he was on a bus when he made his remarks to Billy Bush.) His sexual harassment lawsuit was settled without an admission of liability. Women claiming he assaulted them are lying and even the friends they told the story to at the time are part of a great conspiracy against him.

Bill Clinton too was known to have played the field, although his field was much smaller and those that occurred fell more into the field of infidelity than sexual harassment. Like Trump, Bill Clinton did settle one lawsuit out of court. At the time Republicans went apoplectic at these murky allegations. Lying under oath about a consensual affair with Monica Lewinski was enough to get him impeached, but not convicted. The silence from today’s Republicans about what looks like a much larger problem with their chosen candidate is pretty deafening. Unlike Clinton, who could be discreet and cover his tracks, there is plenty of evidence that Trump’s mindset was that because he was rich and well known he was entitled to use a woman any way he wanted. After all, how could they deny his charismatic personality? He said pretty much this to Billy Bush: “I don’t even wait,” he told him.

His claims then that he never engaged in any of this behavior strains credulity at best and sounds wholly ludicrous at worst. Unfortunately for Trump these sexual assaults sound consistent with his character. It certainly is possible that a few of these women are lying but they can’t be all lying. There is too much corroborating evidence to seriously think none of these incidents ever happened. Moreover, Trump’s own “locker room talk” and his recording with Howard Stern say otherwise, not to mentioned documented incidents like his venturing into the Miss Teen USA dressing room while contestants were undressing.

We’ll see the magnitude of his loss on November 8. I feel a tsunami approaching. I think it will come mostly from women out to make a statement: we’re not going to take his kind of crap from any candidate anymore. It may turn Congress blue.

Trump’s defeat should be an accountability wake up call for the man, which would be a first. But it’s quite clear that when his ship is going down he wants the crew to be the ones that drown. Trump gets a lifeboat of course and it will be gold-plated.

Now Trump is really toast

The Thinker by Rodin

This was supposed to be the October Surprise month when we learn something new and nefarious about Hillary Clinton that makes us pull the lever for Donald Trump instead. Julian Assange (founder of WikiLeaks) though failed to deliver on Tuesday. I wasn’t surprised. Hillary’s political sins were always of the venial variety and to the extent they happen you kind of know where they will fall.

October’s real surprise turned out to be the spectacular way that Donald Trump’s campaign has imploded over his own missteps, hubris and past. Trump’s first debate against Clinton was a disaster and he spent the rest of that week making it more of a disaster. By calling a former Miss Universe fat, he pissed off all fat Americans (which are most of us) for his body shaming and most women as well. Since the debate we also learned that he probably hasn’t paid federal taxes in twenty years. This is because Trump took a nearly billion dollar write off on his 1995 taxes, which were mostly paper losses related to his various failing casino projects in Atlantic City. Wonks like me also learned that Trump spent years petitioning and then ultimately getting Congress to allow him to deduct his kind of losses.

Trump is rarely truthful but he was when he claimed to be the “King of Debt”. We now know that Trump’s success is due mainly to shifting his business failings on his partners while paying himself handsome salaries and bonuses as these businesses failed. Ultimately his success as a businessman comes not from acumen but from brand. He convinces his investors that his gold-plated towers and resorts will be profitable but they only discover much later that it’s all fools gold, and they are the fools. Like his father, he mines every possible government subsidy to allow his projects to “succeed”, mainly by foisting off much of its costs on taxpayers.

Trump’s campaign though totally collapsed yesterday when the Washington Post posted a surreptitious audio conversation from 2005 with “Access Hollywood” host Brian Bush (ironically, a cousin to former President George W. Bush). It was full of lewd comments by Trump bragging about actions he took that would constitute sexual assault if true. These included remarks that he felt he had license to kiss women uninvited and “grab them by pussy”. He also admitted to going after a married woman (and not succeeding in this case). Ironically, it was Post reporter David Fahrenthold (whose investigative journalism earlier untangled his financial dealings for the world to see) who posted the recording. He may win a Pulitzer Prize next year for his reporting.

When I read this report, I knew at once that it would be fatal to his campaign. In June I proclaimed that Trump was toast but at the time it seemed pretty far-fetched. Even I was a nervous Nellie during the first debate until it got going. Seriously: put a fork in his campaign. It’s done. His campaign immediately went into damage control mode but even Republicans who had supported him decried the recording. Speaker Paul Ryan decided he couldn’t be seen with Trump today at a rally in Wisconsin; vice presidential candidate Mike Pence will appear instead. Some Republicans are now calling for Trump to withdraw from the race, but it’s too late to substitute another name as ballots are already printed and early voting has started in many states.

To me the only curious aspect is why it was this story that did him in, as if all those other stories don’t count. It’s probably because many whites give pass to things he says about the others. This recording though shows that he not only objectifies women but that he is okay with it and (in his own words) has likely repeatedly committed sexual assault. Given his history of infidelity, an admission he repeatedly went after a married woman that spurned his advances was not surprising, but certainly reinforced the narrative about him.

Virtually every woman knows feeling like an object in men’s eyes. Now it is clear that’s how Trump perceives women, at least the beautiful ones. It’s also clear that he feels entitled to behave this way because of his status and either doesn’t know or care that doing so is sexual assault. Add this to the various sexual harassment lawsuits he has already settled and the recent reports that his charity may be running illegally and it presents a complete portrait of a man wholly unfit to be president of the United States.

In short, yesterday a cluster bomb hit his campaign effectively ending it. It’s unclear if Trump understands this but watch actions in the coming days. I give nearly 100% odds that he skips the last debate. He may throw in the towel but it’s unclear if he is self-aware enough to do so, but regardless he will remain on the ballot. Any woman that still votes for him must do so against their instinctively revolting feelings for men who behave this way. Any men that still vote for him do so while tacitly sanctioning this sort of behavior.

What’s unclear though is whether this straw that has broken Trump’s back will also break the backs of Republican candidates nationwide. That depends on turnout but things look very good for Democrats. This should demoralize Republicans from showing up and further enthuse Democrats to vote. In short this may well turn into a wave election, not just electing Hillary Clinton but also ushering in a Democratic House and Senate. If so it will demonstrate how catastrophically bad a choice Trump was as their candidate. By choosing him Republicans have likely tarnished their brand forever.

Here’s hoping. This remnant of the proud party of Lincoln deserves to die and Trump is the ideal candidate to extinguish it.