The Indispensable Constituency

This is the season of Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, and other holidays invoking the light, all renamed from ancient festivals, all born from the scientific reality of the Solstice: Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and simultaneous Summer Solstice south of the Equator. Here in the United States, where I am, it seems fitting that after 2017 we’ll be observing the longest, darkest night of the year. But never forget, the light does return.

So let’s hold our noses and burrow through this, fast as we can.

Wildfires in California (Southern Cal, this time) rage on, as 2017’s hurricane and flood and drought survivors try to piece their lives and homes back together—the now daily normalization of intensifying climate change still not properly identified as such in news reports.

Trump’s announcement of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem (de facto declaring it the capital of Israel), alienated allies, delighted enemies, drove the Palestinians away from the peace talks and into the arms of ISIS/D’aesh, re-lit a tinderbox across the Middle East, and threw kerosene across the entire Muslim world. Even Netanyahu didn’t really welcome this incendiary gesture, but Trump’s deep-pocket donor, fanatic Zionist Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson wanted it—and after all Sheldon is the guy paying for all those TV and radio ads now smearing the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, revving up the right-wing base for attack when the law closes in on Trump.

The Supreme Court allowed the Trump travel ban to go into full effect pending further review in the lower courts. So far, the lower courts have been practicing justice, but Trump appointments and GOP consents are changing that.

All the Presidents men, however—and some of his women—are in trouble. In an act of gob-smacking stupidity and arrogance, Paul Manafort broke conditions of his bail by ghostwriting an op-ed with a Russian intelligence operative, so he’s back wearing an ankle bracelet. It turns out that Michael Flynn wasn’t paying attention during Trump’s inauguration ceremony; he was busy up there on the dais texting an operative connected to both Russia and Israel, trying to broker a dollars deal in which sanctions against Russia would be lifted and nuclear reactors would be built in Israel. (Gasp! The Middle East—brilliant! What an ideal, safe place for nuclear reactors!)

Back to the Trump women: Ivanka seems to be in hiding since her father, husband, and brother are apparently sliding toward indicted status. But we now learn that during the transition, K. T. McFarland, former advisor and later deputy security adviser to Trump, warned in an email to a colleague that Obama’s sanctions in retaliation for Russian election meddling “could make it much harder for Trump to ease tensions with Russia, which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him.” She actually wrote this in emails obtained by The New York Times. (I didn’t think women came in a model and serial number that dumb.) Additionally we learned that in the early days of Trump’s regime, former fashion model Hope Hicks, now Trump’s 29-year-old communications director, was alerted by the FBI that certain Russians she was playing patty-cake with were KGB/GRU agents, and we learned that she, well, “communicated” this to her boss. (Question for a feminist: are these women salvageable??)

Speaking of salvageable, remember how Trump demonized one particular undocumented Mexican immigrant, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, during the campaign? Zarate had been charged with murder and manslaughter in the death of Katheryn Steiny, who’d been shot while out walking, and Trump made himself Zarate’s judge and jury. Well, Zarate has now been acquitted of both murder and manslaughter by a real court. What do you know.

All this of course has been followed by Trump’s endorsement of the Alabama GOP Senate candidate, multiply accused child sexual abuser Roy Moore. To its eternal shame, the Republican National Committee and party leadership pusillanimously followed suit. (Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, had to admit they made a $300 million mistake in their tax bill.Ooops. Didn’t stop ’em, went right on.)

I wouldn’t want to be a Republican right now (or ever)—for so many reasons. Apparently Republicans feel the same way. From a year ago until now, the number of registered Republicans has declined 5 percent—and interestingly, among white women, it’s down 7 percent. Pause here for much chortling with glee. Welcome to freedom, white GOP sisters! Come on in, the water’s fine. Besides, your elected representatives are biting the dust like gunslingers at the OK Corral—in too many to name here state legislatures across the country, and in Congress.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) resigned after the House Ethics Committee announced it would be investigating accusations that he’d made unwanted advances toward female staffers in his office and retaliated against one who rebuffed him. Reportedly, Franks approached two female aides proposing that one (or both?) act as potential birth surrogate for him and his wife. The aides were concerned that Franks was asking to have sexual relations with them. It was not clear whether he was asking about impregnating them through sexual intercourse or in vitro fertilization, although in either case it’s inappropriate and totally bizarre behavior. Franks, by the way, ferociously opposes abortion rights as well as procedures that discard embryos, which he believes should be given full funeral rites. Meanwhile, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX.) had used taxpayer money, previously described here, to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by his former spokeswoman—the only for-certain known sitting member of Congress to have done so. Farenthold has so far refused to confirm or deny that his office was responsible for that $84,000 payout.

Then again, Michigan Democratic Congressman John Conyers II, also previously mentioned here, having faced multiple claims of sexual harassment and one possible assault claim, announced he will not run for office again. It’s as yet unclear whether Conyers also used taxpayer funds to settle some harassment claims. What is clear is that this 88-year-old distinguished civil-rights campaigner, this longest-serving “Dean of the House,” should be retiring anyway. Why? Well, how about this? Although it was assumed his grand-nephew, a hard-working Michigan state legislator, would announce a run for the seat (and did), Conyers shocked everyone and initiated a family feud by endorsing his own son, John Conyers III, who’s never run for office and who is involved in venture capital funding. Moreover, John III has a protective restraining order currently on him, launched by a former girlfriend who has testified that he attacked her with a knife and left knife wounds during an argument. He was arrested, but the charges were dropped by the Michigan justice system (hmmmm), yet the restraining order stands. John III acknowledges the argument and the knife but claims it was a misunderstanding and accident. His daddy wants him in Congress.

Taxpayer funded hush money. Surrogate pregnancies for Hill staffers. Knifing girlfriends. Protective restraining orders. Sexually assaulting 14-year-old girls in a string of behaviors so well known in your community that you’re banned from a local mall. These are men holding office and running for it. What planet are these guys from?

Which brings us unavoidably to the announced resignation of Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken. Since I was among those who reluctantly, heart-brokenly, furiously, was driven to the conclusion that he should step down once the accusations became multiple and the Senate women stepped forth, I want to add a note about this. In last week’s blog post, “#MeToo: #RemoveReplaceRepair,” I stated that for me, gradations of sexual offense should be responded to with gradations of justice. For instance, I disagree with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY.), on her position that it’s time to stop parsing differences between sexual harassment and sexual assault. That’s really wrong, and I think she was just flexing newbie feminist muscles. Although the entire spectrum of sexual misconduct is flatly unacceptable, the effects of sexual assault and sexual harassment are seriously different, and women certainly are capable of calibrating those differences. It’s intellectually and politically lazy to ignore such distinctions, and it blurs the unique sufferings of specific victims and survivors.

I do agree with Franken about the bitter irony that he is stepping aside while admitted sexual predator Trump sits in the Oval Office and while accused child molester Roy Moore runs for the Senate with the full support of the GOP. I also know–don’t we all?—that cynical politics played its part, that the chance to gain the “moral high ground” in displaying how differently Democrats deal with offenders was made lots easier for Democratic party leadership since a Democratic governor in Minnesota will name a replacement that keeps the seat safely in the party. Had it been otherwise, I’d bet my money the Dems would have insisted on censure instead of urging Franken out. I also understand and sympathize with the anguish of Minnesota women in losing a good senator who seems to have screwed up. Sure, I wish in his resignation announcement he had not only expressed praise (as he did) for his own guts in stepping aside but had mentioned the courage of women who have come forward; in other words, I wish his tone had been more that of a brother than of a “women’s champion” or a victim himself—whereas earlier he had more gracefully acknowledged culpability. Nevertheless, I still found his remarks moving. But this too will pass. Franken might turn out to be of even more value as a voice for progressive causes once free from Senate restrictions. In time, he should take comfort that painful as this moment is, he took a stand on the right side of history. He might even learn that for all progressive causes, women are in fact the indispensable constituency.

Years ago, when then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright debuted her phrase “America is the indispensable nation,” I winced. Still wince. But I do think half the human species is an indispensable constituency, ignored for millennia to the peril of the entire species and of the planet.

Ignored no more.

Looking through this brightening-side-of-history lens gives me the audacity to close this blog post—my last of 2017—with stating that I actually feel validated on a number of fronts. If you check back over these posts you’ll glimpse why I’m doing my little dance and obnoxiously humming I told you so.

Last April, in my post, “The Don,” I wrote, “Many of us lived through Watergate. We know damned well that the future eventually holds photos of each Trump ‘made man’ being led away in handcuffs, a raincoat over his head to hide his face from the flashbulbs.” Well, give or take the detail of the raincoat, so far: Manafort, Flynn, Papadopoulos, and stay tuned.

Looking back, you’ll notice a consistent theme here: when women come forth supporting each other in numbers, the society simply cannot ignore us. (That’s called, ahem, “sisterhood is powerful.”) This sure ain’t the moment to announce triumph, but TIME Magazine’s choice of “The Silence Breakers” for their Person of the Year 2017 cover felt real good. What feels even better is that these past two weekends have seen #MeToo rallies in major cities across this country. In other words, we’re just getting started.

Women in state legislatures seem to be adopting “The Triple R” strategy proposed here last week: #RemoveReplaceRepair, which you may remember goes like this:

Every man forced to resign his post due to these behaviors, whether in business, academia, politics, or anywhere else, should as a matter of course be replaced by a woman qualified for the job. In politics, this would mean a special election, with only women candidates running; political parties could commit to this, and they would damned well find the political will to do so under sufficient public pressure. In other jobs and professions, it would mean facilitated entry for all those qualified women the boys always claim they’d gladly hire “if only” they could find them, plus all those women the boys dismiss as over-qualified. I leave it to the many (qualified) feminist legal minds to work out details of how this could be mandated, but surely Affirmative Action is one model.
This much I know:
1) The United States has been deprived of the full talents, skills, vision, and drive of slightly more than half its citizens;
2) Scientific psychological studies have shown that perpetrators—who apparently form a critical mass of men every day acting out variations of this warped “normal” behavior—do not change through therapy but respond best to confrontation and to ‘corrective loss’ [job, reputation, public embarrassment]; and
3) Ultimately, the situation won’t change until women in a critical mass are in positions of real power. So an out-with-him and in-with-her campaign could solve a lot of problems in one simultaneous sweep.

And oh, poetic justice! My long-standing enraged wail that sexual harasser Clarence Thomas has all this time sat on the Supreme Court was just unwittingly joined by Jay Kaganof, a conservative columnist writing in The Washington Post, calling for Thomas’s resignation in retrospect. Naturally, Thomas won’t step down, nor, tragically, will law professor Anita Hill take his place on the Supreme Court. But it’s pleasant not to be the voice in the wilderness alone remembering this work yet to be done. (Little dance.)

That above-mentioned 7 percent of Republican white women seeing the light fits with my relentless optimism that women do know feminist truths in their deepest hearts, and it’s only a matter of time and depth of insult before they can admit it. (Told ya so.)

In fact, women are upping the ante even more: intensifying both speed and numbers with which they have been throwing their hats in the ring for elected office, with 354 female House candidates (291 Democrats and 63 Republicans) and 38 female Senate candidates (25 Democrats and 13 Republicans) registered so far, and the number growing daily. Again, note the context: There are four times as many women challenging House incumbents this time compared to the same period in 2015, and 10 times the number of women challenging Senators compared to 2012 and 2014. Yesssss!

I’d list more reasons why, even during these dark days and nights, I’m doing my little song and dance. But so many validations and I-told-you-so’s make me realize how utterly fried, zonked, and wiped out I am—we all are–from the having-told and having-done and still-doing and will-do.

So as we head into the holiday break, grab every mille-second of rest you can, because 2018 is going to be a one helluva lively year. Hopefully, not a year of constitutional crisis or nuclear war. Hopefully, one where Trump gets to go back to his by then destroyed business empire, perhaps by way of the penitentiary. Hopefully, one where The Indispensable Constituency of women takes back not only the night and the streets but the office, the factory floor, the classroom and boardroom and courtroom, the firehouse and House of Representatives, and yeah, the Senate. And damned right, the White House. And the Earth.

We can do this.

I’ll be back in January, and those of you who subscribe to the blog know that if something breaks so major I can’t resist it, I’ll mount my broom and take off, trailing a blog post like a sky-banner. Whatever name you call the Solstice and whether it’s winter or summer where you live, may yours be a time of peace, laughter, and love—the fierce love that deserves and demands transformative change.

In the meantime, please know that your flood of supportive letters and emails and social media posts go straight to my heart; for those of you who write that my words help keep you going, please know that yours do the same for me. We will get through this.

The miracle is a true first: this time, followed by intelligent men who comprehend history’s imperatives, this time it is women who are saving the Republic.

And wonder of wonders, you and I get to be among them.