Category Archives: American Politics

The Deal

Donald Trump, Kim Jong UnThe Spectator speculates that The Donald a) might be in line for a Nobel Peace Prize over North Korea (never happen, look at the Committee), b) might be willing to follow Bannon’s advice and pull US troops out of South Korea in exchange for denuclearization.

I suspect “b” will be on the table if only because, after 60 years, it is sort of pointless to keep troops in South Korea. The South Koreans have a perfectly good army and really, seriously, advanced weapons. The US can pull out, save money and reassure the NORKs.

But my bet is that Trump, like the Sham Wow guy before him, will say, “Wait, there’s more.”

Trump sold condos for years and part of the condo sale was the “amenities” package. The pool, the gym, the roof top party room. In North Korea’s case the amenities package is investment, economic growth and trade. Getting rid of the sanctions pulls them up to a few points below zero. But, say, 5 billion from South Korea into factories and another 5 billion from China into infrastructure begins to look like a real deal.

For sixty years the whole American approach has been about a lot of stick and very little carrot. This has not worked.

Trump sitting in a room with Kim Jong Un is making a sale. “We’ll stop kicking you if you drop the nukes.” is an opening, but it is not a close. Dropping sanctions makes the pain go away, but it is not an enticement. Trump has done a lot of deals and part of deals is giving people more than they expect.

Something Trump knows.

Trump does not need this deal. He can rachet up the sanctions and, at any moment, vaporize North Korea. To say he has bargaining power is to entirely understate the case. But Trump would benefit from a real, enforceable, deal on the nukes. So would China, so would South Korea, so would Japan.

So, instead of playing “hardball” Trump has the luxury of closing the sale. Tossing in the Wolf Stove and the marble foyer. And he won’t even have to pay for it. In fact, by pulling the US troops, he is saving billions a year.

Should be fun to watch.



Donald Trump, US politicsAt the beginning of last week, before the State of the Union and before the release of the Nunes memo, the Democrats could still hold out hope that, somehow the not very Presidential Trump would be taken out either by a rather vigorous reading of the 25th Amendment or by Special Counsel Mueller finally finding proof of Russian collusion and then proof that President Trump covered up that collusion in a manner which would attract an indictment for obstruction of justice. These were pretty implausible to begin with, but after a brilliant performance at the SOTU and the confirmation that the FBI/DOJ played silly buggers with the FISA process I think it is safe to say Trump will be serving out his term.

Which is not to say that the FBI/DOJ follies will now be buried. Quite the opposite. The Nunes memo raises more questions than it answers. And other Committees of both the House and the Senate are investigating the FBI/DOJ as well as the State Department. The behaviour of the top echelons of the FBI/DOJ revealed in the Nunes memo and factually uncontradicted suggests that there was a pattern of partisan behaviour which should never exist in a police force or a Department of State responsible for prosecuting the law. And that pattern of behaviour goes well beyond the (Trump) Russian collusion fable. In the first instance, it raises the question of the Clinton Russian collusion. After all, the DNC and the Clinton campaign financed the efforts of a foreign national to obtain information from, well, Russians to compromise an American Presidential candidate. Those Russian individuals were closely tied to the Russian state. And the Clinton campaign and DNC made it their business to push the dossier into the hands of the FBI/DOJ. How all that happened and how to prevent it from happening again is an obvious matter of national interest.

Then we have the emerging, and very queer tale, of the Clinton emails on the Weiner computer and the bizarre spectacle of FBI Director Comey announcing, ten days before the election, that the Clinton email investigation was being re-opened. It appears that now “retired” Assistant FBI Director McCabe had known about the Clinton emails for a month before it occurred to him to tell the Director that there might be a tiny problem. Comey must have been furious but realized that he had no choice but to re-open the investigation. Particularly as FBI agents in New York, as well as NYPD personnel, were aware of the emails. This might appear to be small potatoes however many political observers suggest that the re-opening of the investigation re-enforced the doubts many people had about Clinton and caused more than a few to stay home rather than vote for the likely criminal Clinton. It may not have added any votes to the Trump tally, but Comey’s announcement certainly took a few away from Mrs. Clinton. Figuring out how that happened and trying to make sure it does not happen again is another, obvious matter of national interest.

We are looking forward to the Inspector General’s Report on the Department of Justice which is likely to focus on the overall behaviour of the department with respect to the Clinton emails and, perhaps, with the decisions surrounding the investigation of the IRS targeting of conservative groups. While the Nunes memo has been attacked as “partisan”, the IG’s report will not be vulnerable to such attack. It should be very interesting and should open up many avenues for Congressional Investigation.

My own view is that the “original sin” of the FBI/DOJ was the decision to ignore the clear wording of the law and find that there was a requirement for “intent” in the law regarding the handling of classified materials. This novel interpretation – apparently worked out by the FBI before it had actually done interviews with the principals involved in the Clinton email disaster – of the law allowed Mrs. Clinton and her people to avoid prosecution. In hindsight that corrupted the FBI in a profound way. The FBI should not interpret the law in any case, that is the DOJ’s responsibility. (The recusal of Mrs. Lynch after her tete a tete with Hilly’s husband needs to be looked into as well.) But if the FBI is stuck interpreting the law it needs to stick to the letter of the law rather than inventing requirements which the law does not contain. While it might have been shocking to see Mrs. Clinton charged it would have been less shocking than seeing the Director of the FBI contort the plain words of a law he is pledged to uphold. (I note that had Clinton and her aides been charged the matter would likely have been pled down to a misdemeanor level and life would carry on. Even with a guilty plea to a minor charge, Hilly would have been in better shape to explain her conduct to an electorate which would likely have forgiven it.)

Digging down to that “original sin” and the circumstances which surrounded will take some time. Time which will only be available if the Republicans can manage to hold at least the Senate and, ideally, the House. In the fevered imaginations of Democratic partisans, the Democratic party will win the House in November and begin impeachment proceedings as soon as a new House of Representatives has been seated. Which is why the SOTU speech and Trump’s overall performance is so important.

To get to the bottom of the Obama administration’s corruption of the justice system in the United States there needs to be a Republican House and Senate. Otherwise, the committees will be chaired by Democrats and all this will be swept thoroughly under the carpet. And for the Republicans to win they need a leader for their party. For better or worse, Trump is that leader and how he does and how he perceived to be doing is critically important. While Trump will never be treated fairly by the American mainstream media, he seems willing to end-run that media. Events like the SOTU give Trump the opportunity to be the President for all Americans. It also gives him the opportunity to underline what a partisan, sour and rather nasty bunch the Democrats actually are. He has nine months to close the sale with the American people. The Democratic Party is broke and in a state of civil war as the “woke” shoot up the “business Democrats” and Mrs. Clinton remains like a bad smell. The Trump tax cuts are about to kick in and the Atlanta Federal Reserve is forecasting 5.5% growth in Q1. American companies are bringing home their offshore billions and showing willing to hire Americans. The Democrats have locked their ankle to the DACA anchor and are seen as putting America last when it comes to immigration. And so on.

To win, Trump and the Republicans do not have to be brilliant, they simply have to be less stupid than the Democrats. Fortunately for Trump this is not difficult.

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Memo II

Pretty much as expected the Nunes memo exposed the fact that the FBI/DOJ sought FISA warrants on the basis of a dossier which they knew was the product of people retained by the Clinton campaign. And, apparently, they failed to disclose the dossier’s origins to the FISA Court.

There is a lot of partisan back and forth about the appropriateness of the memo and whether it is factually correct and if it discloses all the facts; but none of that matters. The simple, non-partisan and non-disputed pith of the thing is that the FBI/DOJ used unvetted evidence from a questionable source to obtain the Court’s permission to spy on an American citizen.

As I said in my earlier post, this memo is the beginning of a process. It opens the door for further and deeper investigation. While it should lead to the appointment of special counsel to look at actual crimes – fraud upon the Court is an actual crime – I doubt the memo, in itself, will be enough. The Democrats and the mainstream media are going to fight every step of the way because they know that once a special counsel is appointed it is only a matter of time before the misconduct of the FBI/DOJ with respect to the Clinton email server and the Clinton Foundation comes to light. And they also know that the behaviour of the Obama White House with respect to the unmasking of American persons (for no good national security reason) will be scrutinized. And the behavior of the DOJ with respect to the Clinton server and the IRS investigations. And so on. The term “can of worms” barely begins to cover what will occupy much of political Washington over the next couple of years.

It is too early to tell if the assertions in the Nunes memo as to the misconduct of the FBI/DOJ before the FISA Court will affect the Mueller investigation. I have no doubt that lawyers for Flynn, Manafort and Gates will be suggesting that the evidence against their clients is tainted by this misconduct; but that is a long bow to draw on today’s disclosures. A position which may change as more information surfaces.

As usual, the big winner in today’s revelations is Donald Trump. He said he’d been wire tapped and was laughed at. The memo does not say Trump was wiretapped, but it does suggest that the FBI/DOJ was not above using phoney documents to surveil a minor member of Trump’s campaign team. Which, in its turn, suggests that Trump claiming to have been wiretapped is not such a crazy, outlandish thing to say.

Tick tock.

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While we await the next sock to drop – and where is Sophie – the American political world is fixated on a 4 page memo which summarizes nefarious deeds by the FBI, DOJ and Lord knows who else. Who will be named? What did they do? Apparently, Trump is cool with releasing the memo with few, if any, redactions. The Democrats are calling for Chairman Nunes head because…well, stuff. The FBI is saying it leaves stuff out. The DOJ is claiming release would be reckless.

To be honest I am not expecting much. A bit of confirmation that the “dirty dossier” figured in FISA applications. Possibly a little more information on how the fix was put in to prevent Hilly from being charged. But that will be about it factually.

Which is not really the point. The point is that the Obama administration politicized the DOJ and the FBI. Once that is out with a bit of evidence to back it up, the wheels begin falling off both the Obama administration and the Hillary campaign. Which would not matter much in a normal transition; but the Trump transition was being undermined from the get go. How it was done and who did it matters a lot.

The memo is the first piece of a multi-piece operation. It will, I suspect, give grounds for the appointment of a special counsel to examine the conduct of the FBI and the DOJ vis a vis the Trump transition and the Hillary email decisions. It may not be enough. Enough will likely come with the report of the DOJ Inspector General who is looking into the behavior and the adherence to standards and norms of the DOJ and the FBI in these matters. The memo is a partisan document, the Inspector General’s report is deeply non-partisan.

My argument for voting for Trump – who I did not like going into the election and remain skeptical about now – was always that Hillary was a criminal surrounded by people who were either criminals or indifferent to the law. Trump, foolishly in my view, said he would not charge Hillary. However, as the facts emerge, I suspect it will be out of his hands.

The memo is going to bare certain facts. In themselves, they will be damning but they will also provide the base for further investigation. Those investigations will, gradually, reveal the full extent of the corruption which permeated the Obama White House and the Clintons in all their guises.

For the moment, the memo is knocking down FBI people like nine pins; but they are just the froth on the sewage. The bigger players, Lynch, Powers, Rice, Huma and a host of others need to be exposed, criminally charged and either pled out or sent to jail. The pleas will be interesting. Huma is a dead woman walking because she absolutely knew about the email traffic to Hilly’s “unauthorized” (and, hence, illegal) server. The other ladies unmasked or had quiet chats with Hilly’s husband when her plane happened to meet his.

This will all take a while but if Trump #freesthememo the first step will have been taken.


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Bannon Eruption

The internet is going a bit nuts today over purported quotes from Steve Bannon vis a vis Trump and Trump’s reaction to them. (“lost his job and lost his mind”)

A few points. The author of the book from which the quotes are taken, Michael Wolff, is a fairly notorious inventor of quotes and takes which bear only a glancing contact with reality. (See here for example.) And the quote from Bannon which is making the most waves is as follows (Guardian version):

“The meeting was revealed by the New York Times in July last year, prompting Trump Jr to say no consequential material was produced. Soon after, Wolff writes, Bannon remarked mockingly: “The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers.

“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”

Bannon went on, Wolff writes, to say that if any such meeting had to take place, it should have been set up “in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people”. Any information, he said, could then be “dump[ed] … down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication”.

Bannon added: “You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to … But that’s the brain trust that they had.””

I fear that Steve Bannon thought that Don Jr. and the other people involved were dummies. Which, frankly, they were.

If there were some political professionals in the White House the response to all of this would be a) Steve is entitled to his opinion, b) looks like the book has more than a few errors, c) the President has more important things to do than respond to six-month-old gossip.

As there are no political professionals in the White House – generals and ex-Ralph Lauren models are not political pros by definition – Trump took it upon himself to respond early.

The term clusterfuck does not even begin to describe Trump’s statement:

Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party.

Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans.

Steve doesn’t represent my base—he’s only in it for himself….”

And so on.

There are many things wrong with Trump and one of the biggest is his inability to simply absorb a few shots while getting on with the job. The Wolff book is no threat to the Trump Presidency and would have been discredited in due course. It would have been in the rearview mirror in a matter of days as more and more of its assertions were proven incorrect or exaggerations. However, by jumping on it before it was even published, Trump has ensured that it will sell, be discussed and, potentially, be damaging.

By doing that Trump is confirming the kernel of Bannon’s thesis, Trump and his White House are not very smart.

When Bannon left the White House my interest in defending Trump dropped to nearly zero.

I still want to see the US do well. I still think that Trump is making many of the right moves – largely by instinct – both domestically and internationally. And I still think it is vitally important to the interests of the United States that the corruption of the Obama Justice Department, FBI and White House be exposed and that the gunsels of Clinton Inc. face their day in Court. But that does not mean I don’t think that Trump is a vindictive, short sighted little man whose only claim to fame was the sheer good luck of being nominated to run against the worst Presidential candidate since WWII. Just when he seemed to be getting a handle on the job along comes a minor issue and he loses sight of the job he was elected to do.


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Finding His Sealegs

The American Presidency is not a job you can train for. Even if you have been VP or Secretary of State or a State Governor, the fact is to be President is an entirely different role.

A little less than a year ago Donald Trump, perhaps the least likely of all the US Presidents, was sworn into office. The Democrats, many Republicans and virtually the entire American and world media were convinced that he was unfit, insane, delusional and generally a very tacky person who was most certainly “unPresidential”. And, for the first few months of his Presidency, Trump flailed. He could not get things done, his Executive Orders were found (almost certainly incorrectly) to be unconstitutional, he was Putin’s stooge and the proof of “collusion” would lead to impeachment…and so on.

Years ago I used to teach kids sailing. The first few times you would put an experienced kid in with someone who had never sailed and hope for the best. There would be a few on the dock lectures, a fair bit of safety talk and then, one day, you let the kid who had never helmed a boat helm a boat. Which was usually an exercise in frustration because to sail you have to “use” the wind not fight it. There would be surprise gibes and occasionally the boat would tip over; but, gradually, the kid would work out in practice what she had heard about in theory. All of a sudden the boat would make way in the direction the kid wanted it to (more or less). And once that happened the kid was transformed into a sailor.

To stretch the metaphor, the American ship of state spent a few months fighting the wind, being surprised, nearly being capsized as Trump learned the ropes, picked a crew and figured out a course. In fact, he had known the course all along but the day he was sworn in he had almost know idea how to sail to that course. Now he does.

The Democrats and the Rinos and the media and the “nice” people in America and the world had a window of only a few months to sink Trump. They failed. This year, 2018, will see Trump in full. He has found his sealegs and taken command of the bridge. He has his judges, his tax reform, his deregulation; more importantly, he has routed his detractors. The Russia story lies in shambles, ISIS is destroyed, the world community clear on the fact that Trump really does not care what it thinks on issues, like Jerusalem, where Trump thinks it matters.

It will be an interesting year.

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What the US needs right now

Beverly McLaughlin, the swamp, Mueller, Comely, Donald Trump, Mark Steyn is soooooo mean. He is pointing out that the “independent counsel” and his minions are not independent at all.

“My sweetly naïve understanding of an “independent counsel” is that he should be “independent”. For example, even in the presently desiccated condition of the Commonwealth, it’s generally understood that, when you’ve got a problem and you want someone independent to investigate it, “independent” means outsider.” mark steyn (go read the whole thing, tons of fun)

The Daily Caller is just one of the outlets bringing out the fact that the Mueller investigation is very deep in the swamp:

“A series of new revelations about the FBI under James Comey has provided more evidence that partisan agents may have abused their agency positions for political purposes during the Hillary Clinton email investigation and 2016 presidential campaign.

Top FBI agent Peter Strzok, the public now knows, was removed from the Mueller investigation after a Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (IG) investigation revealed damning text messages between Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page.” daily caller

The American mess is deep and sordid and, frankly, needs to be cleaned up. But by who?

The fact is that virtually any special counsel appointed by the DOJ will be tainted one way or another. And so, apparently, will investigators drawn from the FBI. It is a mess but it also needs to be resolved.

So, a friendly suggestion from Canada.

Our deeply respected, longest serving, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada is retiring at the end of the year. Beverly McLaughlin, while I disagree with some of her opinions, is tough, fair-minded and very, very, smart. By the nature of her position, she is “read in” on intelligence and security cleared.  She’ll be bombarded with job offers but, if asked nicely, might be willing to lead an investigation into the whole ball of wax which the 2016 American election created. Russians, Hilly’s server and how it was dealt with by the FBI, Lynch on the tarmac with Bill, Mueller, Comely: the whole thing.

But Bev is not enough. Sending a small detachment of the RCMP – white collar and intelligence – with her, with really serious investigative powers, would get the whole mess cleared up in six months. (The scarlet tunics would be optional but would make great tv as they raided offices and homes of the swamp creatures.) McLaughlin would not proffer charges, rather she would write a report and recommend such charges as arise.

Better still, the Chief Justice and the Horsemen would be paid for – independently – by the Canadian government with a bill to be presented to our American cousins at the end of the investigation.

Sometimes the mess is so big you need an independent professional to clean it up. This is one of those times.


























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Moore’s the Pity

Roy Moore lost. But a tiny margin and there may be a recount but I suspect the result will stick. It was a nasty campaign but enough of the mud stuck that Republican voters stayed home. Turnout was low all round but the Democrats managed to get the black vote out in huge numbers and they were having none of Judge Moore (and really, who can blame them?). I suspect that had I been an Alabama voter I might well have stayed home simply because I find Moore’s socon message deeply unappealing.

Of course we will never hear from any of Moore’s teen dates again. They’ve served their purpose, why run the risk of exposure? And, with a little luck, we have heard the last of Roy Moore.

What we have not heard the last of is the Bannon insurgency. Bannon is a bright guy and he’ll learn from the Moore defeat. I am hoping he learns that to defeat a determined Democratic Party enemy you have to have a candidate with a few less negatives than Roy Moore. And you need a candidate entirely prepared to respond well to whatever dirty tricks the Democrats (or GOPe) come up with. Poor Moore was simply overwhelmed by the deeply deceitful attacks on his behaviour forty years ago.

The second thing Bannon needs to get right is the need to actually nominate candidates for whom the black vote is a locked box. There is a Trumpian message of jobs, jobs, jobs which will resonate in black communities if Bannonite candidates are willing to do the legwork to ensure it is heard.  The Democrats tend to see that vote as locked up with only the need to get the black voters to the polls. Bannon needs to hone a message which can reach black voters and break a few of them away from the Democratic plantation.

The third thing Bannon needs to do is understand that the media is the enemy and act accordingly. This is not about yelling “fake news” every ten minutes – the Donald has that covered – it is about providing a counter-narrative to the Democratic talking points so routinely parroted by MSM. But that counter-narrative cannot be the whole socon check list of guns and fetal rights (there is room for that but that is preaching to choir); instead the counter narrative needs to be about working Americans having a hard time because of the swamp creatures in Washington. Teddy Roosevelt got great mileage out of “the Square Deal” and his rather weak attempts to “trust bust”.

The Bannonites can put flesh on the Trumpian bones by taking a serious run at the Googles/Amazons/Apples as essentially monopolists of the internet. And they can take a solid run at illegal immigration as taking the jobs which ordinary Americans, and black and Hispanic Americans, need to get on the economic ladder.

Bannon sees his mission as economic nationalism. There was not a hint of this in Roy Moore’s campaign because, I suspect, it flew right over Moore’s head.

Right now Trump is presiding over a remarkable American recovery. He is winning on any number of fronts and this is likely to continue for some time. Surfing that wave Bannon needs to talk about ensuring that Americans gain the benefits they deserve from America’s economic resurgence.

Finally, Bannon needs to develop a deployable ground game. It does not need to be huge; but it needs to be effective and easy to roll out. Having a couple of hundred activists for each state Bannon wants to contest is an achievable goal and one which is a matter of networking and training. Putting together a mobile campaign school and hitting the key states where Bannon wants to target GOPe incumbents or candidates is a matter of a few million dollars and a bunch of organization.

Alabama was a closely fought battle narrowly lost by a man who, if elected, would have likely been more trouble than he was worth. The Bannonites likely learned a lot. And one of the things they learned is that the GOPe and the Democratic establishment will not let the swamp be drained without a fight. A nasty, street by street, fight.

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The Mighty Flynn

Ex-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is pleading guilty to a single count of misleading the FBI about conversations which he legally had with the Russian Ambassador to the US.

As various people have pointed out, the take away from this is never to talk to the FBI. Ever. No matter what.

Andy McCarthy and David French have excellent analysis over at the National Review.

There is much speculation about what Flynn will testify to and why all he was charged with is a rather bogus process crime. The more you hate Trump the more you are inclined to see this guilty plea as the modern equivalent of jailing Al Capone for tax evasion. But there was a reason Capone went to the Big House for tax; the prosecutors could not get him for anything else.

As French and McCarthy point out, there is nothing illegal about the National Security Director-designate having discussions with Russians nor is there anything illegal about directing him to have such discussions. It is, in fact, what reasonable people expect National Security Director designates to do as the new Administration is formed.

What it is not is any evidence of collusion with the Russians with respect to the actual election – which is what Mueller is supposed to be investigating.

Added to today’s excitement was the very real possibility that Jared Kushner asked/told Flynn to make the call to the Russians to try and postpone a vote on an Israeli matter. Oh Dear. The horror. The Trump son ion law asks/tells the National Security Adviser designate to reach out to the Russians on a matter of policy. To make a perfectly legal call with a perfectly legal request. Yikes.

Let’s hope Jared either a) didn’t speak to the FBI, b) was smart enough, to tell the truth if he did.

This is all pretty low-level stuff. And if it is the best Mueller can come up with it is well past time for him to wrap up his investigation because it is increasingly obvious that there has been no actual crime committed.

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They’re all at it

My friend Phil wrote to ask what I thought of the current groping scandal engulfing his home state Senator Al Franken. Truth to tell, I don’t think much of any of the current groping/molestation/sexual assault/rape charges flying around. I would love to say that I was shocked and appalled, but I’m not. Not because non-consensual sexual activity is ever acceptable. It isn’t. Rather because, short of going full Mike Pence and never being alone with a woman who is not your wife, every man is open to the accusations and in the current climate of “I believe the woman” has no possible comeback. Worse, the “crime” has been defined down to such a degree that the British Minister of Defence felt compelled to resign over a “knee grazing” incident which a) happened inadvertently, b) did not outrage the owner of the knee in question, c) occurred fifteen years ago and went unremarked ever since.

Lots of pixels have been spilt making fine distinctions between assorted levels of groping, outright assault, feelings of discomfort and so on. Even more have died in trying to discern what level of historic evidence should be required before a man loses his career, is shunned by his colleagues and is replaced by Christopher Plummer.

Frankly, I think it is all a huge waste of time in almost every case. Sen. Franken was idiotic enough to have a picture snapped of his grope (which was not, by the way, the worst allegation made against him). In most of the other cases, the evidence is ten or twenty or even forty-year-old memories of encounters where drugs and drink were ubiquitous and modern standards of “sober, enthusiastic consent” were unknown. Of course, there were power imbalances; Monica did not arrive in the Oval with a penchant for cigars. And Bill was simply following in the footsteps of JFK and LBJ. Was he wrong? Of course, he was, so was Jack Kennedy getting blowjobs from 19-year-old interns. Harvey Weinstein, pig that he is, was in the tradition of Hollywood producers stretching back to silent films. (Kennedy’s father among them.) No one could possibly be surprised.

As to the furor surrounding Judge Moore, there is only one accusation which I consider disqualifying if true and that is the outlying charge that Moore took a 14-year-old girl back to his home and tried to become intimate with her. I say outlying because all the other initial instances were with girls old enough to consent and whose testimony suggested that Moore was pretty much a gent throughout. (And yes, there is lots creepy about a 32-year-old guy taking a 16-year-old girl out. But that, to my mind is not disqualifying if the behaviour has not continued.) [The woman with the yearbook – and Gloria Allred as her lawyer – is not plausible until she turns the yearbook over for handwriting analysis. Right now I suspect she is Moore’s best chance to discredit all the stories.] But the Moore matters all turn on evidence which is 30 or 40 years old and which has only come to light a month before a hotly contested election. He has a perfect right to push back.

And so it goes. Right this instant, as at the height of the Salem witch trials, a denunciation becomes a conviction in the flick of a tweet. Plausibility is now a matter of sheer numbers with 5 apparently being the magic number.  There is no defence and heartfelt contrition, as Sen.Franken is discovering, is not enough. The Salem witch trials burnt themselves out but not until 19 people had been hung and one “pressed” to death with heavy rocks. They ended for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons was that “spectral evidence”, essentially dreams and hallucinations, was no longer accepted at face value.

At a certain point, and I suspect we are getting close to that point, the rush to accuse men of sexually inappropriate (and what an awful word that is) behaviour on the basis of shaky, historical, evidence will collide with the entirely devastating consequences for the men so accused. Sheep will be sorted from goats. Rapists like Clinton or Weinstein will, finally, be flung into outer darkness. So, I am afraid, will goofs like Al Franken who are dumb enough to have incriminating photos floating around. But the evidentiary standard is going to tighten as well. Dim chanting of “I believe the woman.” will be replaced with, “No ruin without evidence.”

But there are a few things we can learn from the current hysteria. First, very powerful men take advantage of that power. This is a reminder, not news. A nodding acquaintance with Roman history, or British or French monarchs, or the biography of Lloyd George or Asquith for that matter, not to mention Kissinger’s aphorism that “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac” will serve to confirm this fact. Reading Keith Richard’s wonderful autobiography, Life, will serve to confirm this in another sphere.

Second, power is situational. The VP marketing for a tiny company may be in a position of relative power vis a vis his staff and the vendors who want to sell to that company. It is a pretty sure thing that if you looked at the conduct of 100 such VPs you’d find a few, perhaps more than a few, who after a few drinks got very handsy indeed.

Third, none of this is a secret. We all knew. We all know. And “we” in this case includes women as well as men. Which is why I am not shocked nor, realistically, should anyone be who has spent time in the business, entertainment or political worlds. In fact, just day to day life will throw up instances of men using position to “get at” women. It is wrong and disgusting but it is also the way of the world and knowing that is part of growing up.

Optimistically, it is possible that the current generation of men, as they enter adulthood will have absorbed more egalitarian principles. But I doubt it. Against all the schoolmarm indoctrination about “appropriate” behaviour and “sober, enthusiastic, consent”, are ranged the full impacts of internet porn, hip-hop culture and a thoroughly sexualized media and advertising industry. Worse, the feminist doctrines of female sexual emancipation have created a Tinder culture where women are just as likely as men to swipe right and hook up. Obviously not every woman is on the hunt, but enough are to complicate things.

Even more complicating is the fact women have been known to use their beauty to get ahead.  The wonderful, and very beautiful, Nancy Huston writes,

“My beauty has gotten me many places, to some of which I very badly wanted to go, and to some of which I did not want to go at all. Over the years, I’ve watched it attack and corrode borders, then take me with it into foreign territories. Borders are ideas erected between age groups, social classes, all sorts of hierarchical entities, in order that society may function as predictably and as decently as possible. They are not solid brick walls. Beauty eats them away. This is the truth; we’ve all seen it happen, though it happens differently in different places” Dealing with What’s Dealt (excerpt)

While I am quite certain the current mania will pass, the underlying issues of sexuality, consent and power are not being addressed. Nor do I think they will be. Like a lot of other human behaviour, it is pretty much impossible to come up with top down rules governing sexually charged behaviour between adults. I suppose a company might make it a firing offence to be alone with a member of the opposite (or same, because, gay) sex. But I can’t see that working very well and, fairly quickly, it would be routinely ignored. And would a rule against older men dating younger women get off the ground? Should we go back to the days of chaperones? (Which, in the current climate, maybe an emerging Hollywood profession.)  I don’t think any set of rules dealing with sexuality will work.

A more promising avenue is an ethical philosophical commitment to treating all people as ends in themselves. Whether it is sex or business or school gate acquaintanceship,  it makes sense to treat people with kindness and respect rather than as mere instruments. This sort of approach would take a long time to gain traction but, in the long run, solves a lot more problems than just sexual misbehaviour. It is more than a little utopian but it is something you can teach your children right now. It is also something which HR departments, schools and universities,  can use in place of the brain dead “zero tolerance” dogma which gets in the way of a healthy business or learning environment. Best of all, it provides a framework for conduct and a scaffold for dealing with misconduct. It recognizes that “all or nothing” is an entirely inhuman way of understanding human behaviour.

A commitment to treating people as ends in themselves would also provide a means for individuals to redeem behaviour which fell beneath that standard. Instead of mouthing platitudes, Sen. Franken, possibly with the help of an applied ethicist, could set about making amends to the woman (well, women, it appears) he groped and, in the process, actually set his sights higher. Even criminal acts, such as Clinton’s or Weinstein’s rapes, while attracting criminal sanction, could also involve making amends.

I am deeply skeptical about the efficacy of any top down “rules” for behaviour; but I am deeply optimistic that men and women can learn simple, universally applicable, ethical principles and apply them in day to day life. We may not always meet those ethical goals, but having them at all is a good first step.


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