Over the past few months, several high-profile men in positions of power have been brought down by allegations of sexual harassment, assault or misconduct. Claims about Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes at Fox News, Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K. and Kevin Spacey in Hollywood, Roy Moore in politics and Mark Halperin in the media have focused renewed attention on the fact that over a dozen women have also publicly accused President Donald J. Trump of sexual misconduct or assault. The president denies that he has sexually assaulted anyone and has accused the women of lying. However, the Hollywood Access tape in which Donald Trump bragged about his own sexual infidelity and assault of women makes some people question whether he is telling the truth. Trump and his allies, meanwhile, claim the tape was nothing more than insincere "locker-room" bravado.
In response to this information about the president, many Trump supporters say, “well, what about Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct?” This type of whataboutism in response to more than a dozen women publicly accusing Donald Trump of sexual assault or inappropriate sexual behavior is a problem for this reason: it suggests that the president’s defenders are more concerned with protecting their preferred political party rather than reducing sexual assault and rape.
Just so there is no question about it, I don’t know if Donald Trump or Bill Clinton sexually assaulted anyone. But my position is that if Bill Clinton, or any former or current elected Democratic official sexually assaulted someone, it should be brought to light and the perpetrator should be held accountable. And if a high-profile movie producer with a history of supporting Democrats has engaged in serial sexual assault over decades, that should all come out, we should get at the truth, and that individual should go to jail if the allegations are proven. Democrats and supporters of Democrats are not immune from sexually assaulting others. Regardless of the tribe to which the harasser, assaulter or abuser belongs, we can’t tolerate that behavior.
However, I hope the recent allegations of sexual assault by O’Reilly, Weinstein, Louis C.K., Spacey, Ailes, Moore and Halperin end up making clearer that in the future society will operate with less tolerance toward sexual misconduct of any kind. And, as part of this increased awareness and desire to hold people in positions of influence, mostly men, accountable, we need to work hard to avoid being split along tribal political lines.
We have as president right now an individual who women have publicly accused of sexual assault. Mr. Trump has also has bragged in private conversation about grabbing a woman’s genitals because, “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
What are we, as a society, going to do about that? Perhaps some of these accusers are not honest or have inaccurate recollections. But it is a real stretch to believe they are all dishonest. And perhaps Donald Trump was just lying in his Hollywood Access boasts. But, regardless, it highlights the need to discuss how often people in power used their position to inappropriately gratify their own sexual desires and how we should respond to that.
My hope is that backers of the president do something other than say, “well, what about Clinton?” Because that response moves us backward on the bigger, more important, issue of sexual assault in our society. I don’t want to believe that Trump supporters will overlook just about any alleged bad behavior by him. But, honestly, we all know most of them will and do. Whataboutism reveals that they generally will and do. Whataboutism shows that Trump supporters usually view political tribal allegiance as more important than potentially reducing sexual misconduct. And that has been extraordinarily disheartening to see, especially when the people improperly being shielded from accountability are in significant positions of influence and power.
Can’t we move past party loyalty and agree, in the name of reducing harassment and assault, that when multiple accusations exist, there should be some consequences? In short, the things President Clinton is accused of doing, both before and while president, should be investigated. Will supporters of Donald Trump say the same thing about the allegations against him? They need to. Reducing sexual misconduct depends on it.
Brian King is the minority leader in the Utah House of Representatives and represents District 28.