About the time that the #MeToo movement really started to get traction in 2017, I compared it to the Salem witch trials. I wasn’t the only one, and it was hardly an original idea, but the parallels between what happened in Massachusetts centuries ago and what was happening in real time on cable TV, in print media, and most especially in Congress were undeniable. People started launching accusations with demands that we should #Believeher even absent any real proof. At least from my perspective, there was a sense that these accusations were being used to hurt perceived enemies instead of helping legitimate victims.
But in the wake of what’s been happening to Joe Biden in the last week, I realise that the appropriate analogy is not the Salem trials but the French Revolution. When I lived in Paris in college, one of my favourite places to visit was the Place de la Concorde. It was very hard to believe that this beautiful part of the city was once the site of a horrific bloodbath: the guillotine deaths of both Queen Marie Antoinette and the head of the anti-royal Jacobins, Maximilien Robespierre. The irony is that the doomed queen and her adversary were executed in the same spot.
We cannot ignore the moral of this story: Those who start revolutions risk being destroyed by the very furies they unleash. And that goes for overzealous leaders of the #MeToo movement as well.
Biden is the most recent example of the phenomenon. Recently, a former state assemblywoman named Lucy Flores wrote a column on the Cut about how she felt uncomfortable when Biden, who appeared at a campaign rally on her behalf, put his hands on her shoulders, sniffed her hair, and then kissed her head. While she said it wasn’t assault, she suggested it should cast doubt on his presidential bid. And many, including Democrats afraid of angering the #MeToo crowd as well as conservatives engaging in unbecoming schaudenfraude, agreed.
That’s troubling. What was originally described as an attempt to give women back their voices and expose stories of violence and abuse quickly has become a way for some jaundiced and opportunistic activists to gain traction. As I said in an earlier piece, #MeToo started to become a form of street justice where victimisation became weaponised. That’s what’s happening with Biden. He may be touchy-feely, and he may have a problem with respecting “personal space,” but the suggestion that this behaviour makes him unfit for public office is laughable.
Biden’s support for abortion rights is antithetical to everything I believe in, but he shepherded the Violence Against Women’s Act through Congress (which should be reauthorized) and, Anita Hill notwithstanding, he was always in the forefront of initiatives that sought to improve the lives of women.
But this isn’t really about Biden. He’s just a catalyst for the realisation that a new group of fanatics are preparing the guillotine for another bloodbath. Flores wrote: “I’m not suggesting that Biden broke any laws, but the transgressions that society deems minor (or doesn’t even see as transgressions) often feel considerable to the person on the receiving end.”
That’s the whole problem. Just because you subjectively feel victimised doesn’t mean society needs to agree with you. And, by the way, the violation of “personal space” pales in comparison to real physical abuse, like the kind Biden tried to combat as a senator.
Since Flores made her claims, another woman has lodged a similar accusation. And it looks like a lot of Democrats are begging Joe to not run, hoping that a woman, or at least a young person, can be the party standard bearer. But Biden may still well have the best chance to beat Trump.
A word of caution for today’s Jacobins: History teaches that if revolutionaries aren’t careful, they may end up with their own heads on the electoral block.