Today, Representative John Conyers, the longest serving congressperson, announced he will be stepping down following multiple accusations of sexual harassment. Assuming the accusations are true, justice should be served for the victims. In my view, elected officials that harass or otherwise sexualize their relationship with subordinates are unfit to serve.
This does create an tricky situation for those who believe strongly in democracy. The criteria for serving was intentionally set up to be very minimal with the idea that the people themselves can select their representatives. Applying a set of values onto an elected official that the voters themselves don’t apply can be problematic in a representative form of government. This is especially true where there is not a single nationwide standard of morals or ethics when it comes to sexual behavior. That being said, assault is assault and those in positions of power should be stopped from using that power over subordinates in sexual ways.
That being said, we face a big dilemma. The driver for equality, feminism and the end of patriarchal structures is a value of the left. But that is not shared by the right. This is evident in the 53% of white women who cast their vote for Trump following his caught-on-tape bragging about sexually assaulting women.
That is not to suggest that the right is in favor of harassment. Rather, the polemic division between the right and left has become so great that the personal “values” of elected officials takes a back seat to retaining power. For example with candidate Roy Moore, there has been a parade of GOP an conservative commentators who have plainly said they would rather of someone of Moore’s character in office than any Democrat, no matter how principled.
For the left, this is a central issue that cuts to their identity. For the right, that is not so. So the left is forced to play their hand out and turn their backs on the leaders who are accused of harassment or even “unwanted” sexual overtures. But the right is unconstrained.
What is then likely to happen, is that progressives who fight for the causes of women are likely to be drummed out, while accusations against those on the right will have no effect. The unintended consequence is that this movement might inadvertently cede more power to those who really don’t care about these women’s issues.
History is littered with acts by those in power that ultimately have the exact opposite effect–Chamberlin’s “Peace in out time” comes to mind. Given that, it might be good to slow down a bit. Those who use their power in these ways need to be moved out of the way. But following due process may be worth the price in time and frustration.