The Washington Post ran an article poignantly titled, “‘My Pain is Everyday’: After Weinstein’s Fall, Trump Accusers Wonder: Why Not Him?” It begins with a quote from Jessica Leeds, “‘It is hard to reconcile that Harvey Weinstein could be brought down with this, and [President] Trump just continues to be the Teflon Don,’ said Leeds, who claims she was groped 30 years ago on a plane by the man whose presence she cannot escape now that he sits in the Oval Office.”
This raises a fundamental question: why was Harvey Weinstein universally condemned and ostracized, while Donald Trump got elected president? The answer tells us something powerful about America today.
I believe there are two reasons for this differing treatment, one based on rational political analysis, the other on morality.
In crucial ways, there is a gigantic difference between what the two men offered the public in return for their transgressions, and hence how their audiences responded. Trump may be a misogynist and a bigot, but he also had potential to offer a great deal to his voters. Many commentators, including Hugh Hewitt, opined that the reason fundamentalist Christian voters chose Trump was because he promised a safe Supreme Court choice (which was delivered). That, above all else, was what influenced their vote, according to this analysis. I do not believe this factor explains all, or possibly even a majority of these voters’ choice, but it was definitely significant. Trump was giving them something.
And for many Americans Trump provided a voice and an identity. If you are worried about losing your majority status, he spoke for you, railing against the groups that are up-and-coming in American society, in tirades that captured your own anger. Religious Americans feel sidelined by mainstream culture as the country becomes more secular; note the victory of Ray Moore, an extremist on religious matters, in deeply observant Alabama. If you are being marginalized—at least in your own mind or in the news sources you look at, Trump spoke loudly on your behalf. Voting for him was a balance; one may not like all his habits or tweets, but he gave so much more.
Harvey, on the other hand, there was no such balance. Weinstein is a monster, abusing women; but he offered movies, nothing else. For all the so-called power of Hollywood, it’s still just entertainment. Giving too little back, he could not be redeemed.
But there is another factor, far more troubling in what it tells about America. Take a look at the differing responses to these two abusers of women. In Weinstein’s case, his community and peers—the entertainment industry—universally and unanimously condemned him and cast him out. Even one of the sole individuals to speak in nuanced terms, Woody Allen, still indirectly condemned Weinstein (stating the situation was “tragic for the poor women”), never defending the producer but simply warning of a more generalized “witch hunt”. And was then so roundly condemned he had to issue a clarification. As an institution, Hollywood and its decision-makers responded to Weinstein.
Hollywood’s reaction, of course, was complex, and not entirely altruistic. Some of the response was undoubtedly sincere; this industry likely has no more—or less—individuals legitimately outraged by Weinstein’s conduct than any other. Yet, there were also fiscal concerns; they worried that the movie-going public would turn from the box office if Weinstein was not dealt with. Their audience did not approve, and would reject them if action was not taken.
Now compare this to Donald Trump and the response of both the Republican Party and Republican voters. While many in the Party did denounce Trump, often quite vigorously, it was far from a unanimous condemnation, as in the case of Weinstein and Hollywood. Even more important, there was no institutional response; numerous bodies suspended Weinstein’s membership because of his actions, but at no point did the Party pass a defining resolution condemning Trump’s pussy-grabbing, or even more comparable, throw him out of the Republican Party and force him to run as an independent.
And compare the two audiences. Filmmakers calculated, probably correctly, that their audience would be repelled by Weinstein, and turn away from their product. The Republican Party, also probably on target, calculated that their followers would not be as deeply affected, and would accept Trump’s behavior.
This episode should strike concern in the heart of any patriot. Looking at the two responses, it seems fair to claim that the Republican Party, one of our most significant institutions, both in terms of its leadership and membership, has foresworn a fundamental issue of morality. Peter Wehner, a long-time Republican decried how, “it is particularly disappointing that the Republican leaders we know who have deep disagreements with Mr. Trump…are for the most part unwilling to make the counter-case in a forceful and comprehensive fashion. Nor are his private critics rushing to go public with their often mordant analyses of Mr. Trump’s movement.” He continued, “Republicans who do not want their party to be defined by [Trump] need to understand they can’t avoid this fight. They have to decide how they want to wage it and how they are going to win it. I’m not sure if it’s a winning one, but I’m certain it’s an ennobling one. And that should be enough. Any takers?”
For now, the answer is “not many”, both in the Party leadership and in their electorate. That frightens me, and should every American.