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Damian Dovarganes, AP
Participants march against sexual assault and harassment at the #MeToo March in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017.

Politics may be on its way to derailing the MeToo train, or at least throwing a herd of bison in front of it.

New polling suggests something of the sort. But before I go there, let’s review what’s at stake.

The past year has been marked with hundreds of thousands of victims of sexual assault or harassment speaking up and finding strength in numbers. More than 500,000 Twitter users piped up within 24 hours of Alyssa Milano’s tweet (inspired by activists) asking people to respond with “me too” if they had ever experienced sexual harassment or assault. Twelve months later, the resultant hashtag and the weight it bears has spilled into most countries and lodged itself in the daily vernacular. Manipulating another sexually for a sense of power is a gross crime, and that the world is starting to see the magnitude of a problem perpetuated through centuries is arguably the greatest achievement of these efforts.

Yet don’t expect politics to help much. In fact, don’t expect politics to do anything but stymie what progress has been made, as politics does with most things. I’m not talking about lawmakers in Washington. I mean politics — the divisive, tribal, winner-loser kind of game that floats through most people’s social media feeds and airs on cable news networks during prime time.

Mary Archbold

With that, consider to what degree you nod your head to these three statements: 1) False accusations of sexual assault are a bigger problem than unreported assaults. 2) Women who complain about sexual harassment cause more problems than they solve. 3) Men who harassed women 20 years ago should not lose their jobs today.

America responded in November of 2017 with moderately low agreement for all three statements, not one question drawing more than 30 percent. The same poll conducted at the end of this September shows new developments.

Mind you, the end of this September was a gallant show of politics — remember, the winner-loser kind — parading under its triumphal arch. Brett Kavanaugh’s initial round of hearings had finished, during which members of the Senate had raised campaign funds and sent out petitions to stop his nomination. A manufactured Spartacus moment failed to shut down operations. Then sexual assault allegations broke loose, sending Christine Blasey Ford before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify. Both sides treated her more like a pawn than the survivor she is. For days, the internet was rife with smears and debates about the merits of #MeToo.

In this environment, Americans were polled, making this survey something of an experiment exploring how the politics variable changes the progress of social movements.

The results find both men and women are more likely to agree with all three statements than they were in 2017. Interestingly, the change in women answering in the affirmative outweighs the change in men.

Add political persuasions to the mix and one sees clearly the effect of politics. The gap between Clinton voters and Trump voters is at least six times greater than the one between genders, according to the Economist. Although more Clinton voters agreed with statements 1 and 2 than last year, Trump voters blew away their 2017 percentages. The most notable increase is those who believe a man should not lose his job if he sexually harassed someone 20 years ago. That’s not surprising given how fresh the Kavanaugh scenario was in Trump voters' minds.

Not much can explain what looks like backward progress other than the caterwauling of partisans across the country. Even Hollywood stars — Milano among them — who were the earlier adopters of the movement risk hurting its momentum by using their influence to stump for Democrats as the only moral option for the country’s future. It doesn’t take much for the other side to conflate “the enemy” with what should be a positive effort to purge society of sexual abuse.

32 comments on this story

If righting a collective wrong is indeed the goal, the country should figure out a way to kick politics out the door. As I’ve written before, I wish to elevate sexual intimacy to its sacramental standard. But as long as 60 percent of society believes sex outside the covenants of marriage is “not wrong at all” and a greater majority peddles sensuality in the streets, intermediary steps need to happen.

Somehow, “me too” needs to become “we’re all working together with no regard for fundraising or political party to help everyone show respect and stamp out power trips and salacious behavior.” Alas, that doesn’t make for a good hashtag. Maybe that’s the problem.