Many of America’s leaders in politics and other fields have forced themselves on women, their deeds often masked by a sanctimonious decorum. To Donald J. Trump goes the distinction of having been caught in verbal flagrante—bragging about his attacks on women as he bantered off-camera—so he thought—with an accommodating interviewer. Despite the chorus of victims who confirmed his boasts, Americans elected him president.
Males have lorded it over females for millennia. Men of every race, religion, and party have abused women. Now we like to think that moral standards have been raised. We take it for granted that gender exploitation is a violation of basic human rights. Accordingly, Democrats have pressed Senators John Conyers and Al Franken to leave the Senate under the shadow of gender-abuse scandals.
In sharp contrast, the Republican responses to scandal leave us uncertain who we really are.. Despite Roy Moore’s reputation as a pedophile, his Senate candidacy was backed by Trump and the Republican National Committee. Moore’s ambiguous denial of the charges (“I don’t remember… dating any girl without the permission of her mother.”) was supposed to exonerate him. Most Republicans in Congress (as well as the White House) demonstrated their readiness to jettison their vaunted principles to get one more yes vote (for a bill that, along with other cruelties, hurts women.)
As with Moore, so Trump: most Republicans appear deaf, dumb, and blind to the president’s predatory past, his use of office for his own profit-making, his peculiar links to Putin’s Russia, his attacks on the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, and his various trespasses against the Constitution.
What explains Republican apathy to amoral or, rather, immoral behavior in high places? Is age a factor? Trump is 71; Moore, 70; The average age in the House is now 58 and the Senate 62. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is 75; senior Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, 67. (Speaker of House Paul Ryan is a spring chicken at 47.). Have older men abandoned their ideals—or has hypocrisy always ruled the day?
On the other hand, the distaff side of Congress is not resigned to male bullying. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (herself age 77) and many of the 89 women in the House and 21 in the Senate do care. Pelosi is one of many women who pressured Conyers and Franken to resign.
Republican attitudes toward gender abuse is part of a larger indifference to basic morality and to patriotic love of country. Here is their version of the Ten Commandments (quite different from the one Judge Moore claimed to revere): Greed more than age would explain this syndrome.
+ Jigger the tax system to reward donors to our party regardless the impact on national debt and collateral damage to health, welfare, and education. Subvert comprehensive medicine by removing any obligation to buy health insurance. Remove tax exemptions for graduate student tuition grants and university endowments, because most educated people oppose our policies. We don’t need experts to guide policy but Trump loyalists
+ Gut any restrictions on oil, coal, gas, and chemical industries. Tear down environmental protection rules that favor alternative energy or protect public lands and water (How many votes can Navajos, Sioux, Eskimos, and polar bears muster?) Ignore and throttle science that warns about global warming, pollution, or perils of nuclear war..
+ Knowledge: Denounce mainstream media as “fake news” because they often question our policies and the motives behind them. Tear down net neutrality and let the biggest companies rule the air waves. Remove Obama-era efforts to protect learners from for-profit colleges like the erstwhile Trump University. Support charter schools including the many that teach creationism and say nothing about pollution and global warming.
+ Raise walls against immigration—especially by Muslims, blacks, and Latinos. Get rid of DACA protections. Many of migrants, especially those with education, will support our political foes.
+ Back white supremacists and weaken “black lives matter” and other forms of protest by non-whites. Do not punish racist police actions or alt-right demonstrators.
+ Question the patriotism and honesty of any courts that rule against us. Appoint judges who share our “values.”
+ Tear down consumer, investor, and work-place protections; let free enterprise and the market do their thing.
+ “America First!”—material interests above “values.” Downplay our traditional alliances with democracies and work with strong, if authoritarian, partners such as Saudi Arabia and Russia, Downsize the State Department. Diplomats are superfluous: it’s the president who makes policy.
+ Degrade arms control restraints and transfer at least one trillion dollars to industry to modernize our strategic and other arms. Fight any restraint on gun sales at Legislate to permit carrying loaded weapons in every state.
+ Our all-encompassing rule is this: Never mind what might be good for the country and most of its people. Do whatever helps us retain and use power in Washington and across the country.
Walter C. Clemens is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Boston University and Associate, Harvard University Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. He wrote Complexity Science and World Affairs (SUNY Press, 2013) and North Korea and the World (University Press of Kentucky, 2016).
Stephen H. Advocate is a social psychologist in New Haven, CT.