“[H]e slammed the door and ‘lunged’ for her. He then chased her around a desk, trying to get his hands on her.” This is Senator Elizabeth Warren’s story of sexual assault. She’s alleged that some predatory creep chased her around his office, trying to feel her up as if the two of them were acting out a scene from The Benny Hill Show, minus the bouncy joyfulness of Hill’s low-brow hijinks. The lustful academic in pursuit of Ms. Warren was decidedly darker than ‘Ol Benny, cruelly pressing the now-Senator despite her pleas for mercy—“I have little children at home. Please don’t do this.”
Monstrous, if true. Lamentable, if even half-true. Irresponsible on Ms. Warren’s part, though, if her story is exaggerated at all, that is if any part of her retelling isn’t what really happened. There’s a higher standard for a parliamentarian like her to live up to.
There’s a higher standard for all of us.
All this comes into starker focus now that the scope of sex accusations is growing wider by the day. After actor Anthony Rapp alleged that Kevin Spacey tried to sexually assault him when he was fourteen years old, Netflix decided to cancel Spacey’s hit show House of Cards.
Where is the presumption of innocence in all this mess? Innocent until proven guilty. Or so I thought.
So now the world stirs with rumors of Spacey’s pedophilia, as he finally comes out of the closet. Not quite a Hollywood twist ending, by the way.
If there’s one place where you can’t be casual about casualties, it’s in lobbing sex-accusations, the sort that destroy lives and reputations. We expect a certain level of idiocy from a certain level of idiot. Say, Lena Dunham. So, when said idiot accused a well-known college Republican of raping her during the time they both attended Oberlin, even though she’d never been alone in the same room with the GOP-accusee—and it’s entirely possible that Ms. Dunham never even met the Reaganite Ravisher she so easily defamed—we shouldn’t have been surprised. Because, again, Lena Dunham is an idiot.
(On a separate note, I’ll never get over the gaga Girls groupthink that’s overtaken otherwise thoughtful writers. John Podhoretz thinks the show an “extraordinarily intelligent dissection of infuriatingly self-referential thumbsucking.” Kyle Smith at National Review claims that “Girls is a conservative work.” Nonsense. My eleven-year-old daughter’s creative output is more sophisticated than Dunham’s, and she makes comics about farting cats. I think the last one was called Methane Meow: The Story of Feline IBS.)
If a normal person must exercise restraint with respect to accusation, a senator must be ten times as cautious. Senator Warren isn’t Lena Dunham. She ought to know better.
The senator also isn’t (or, shouldn’t be) just another vapid social-mediaite leaping from the cyber-station platform onto the Narcissus Express. Excreting 140 characters into the chasm of digitized groupthink doesn’t make you Maggie Thatcher. It just means you have two working thumbs, appendages which I’ll remind the Me-Too Hash-Tag Brigade have other uses as well.
Smart people, especially someone like Senator Warren, a former law school professor who knows the procedural and societal importance of the presumption of innocence, ought not to blow hot air when it comes to so serious an allegation as attempted sexual assault. That is, if she’s fudging the truth, as it seems she may be.
Innocent Until Proven Guilty. That legal maxim isn’t advisory. It’s mandatory. And it shouldn’t be limited to the courtroom, either. Like most of our values, it’s our collective cultural belief in them that gives them force. We live out the presumption of innocence in the public forum by treating people as innocent until there’s verifiable evidence that proves their guilt, not just in the courtroom but in the court of public opinion.
It isn’t as if there aren’t enough warning signs throughout history. And all those cautionary tales of mob-mentality—conviction by opprobrium comes even before the prosecutor’s indictment—all have something in common. They attack caricatures of people, not real people. They attack a stereotype. Those people are just like that.
Jews? They’re creeps, they’re a fifth column. That Hilsner is a weird one—a damn unemployed shoemaker, he lives with his Mom! He killed that girl. Who—which other one? Dreyfus?! How can you say they’re innocent when so many people say they’re guilty? How can dozens of different people all saying the same thing be wrong?
Lacrosse players? They’re creeps, they’re all spoiled. That Evans is a predator—a damn drunk fratboy, he’s a rich white kid! He raped that girl. Who—which other one? Cosby?! How can you say they’re innocent when so many people say they’re guilty? How can dozens of different people all saying the same thing be wrong?
You can see this prejudicial thinking rearing its ugly head in the case of Kevin Spacey coming out of the closet. Will people see him as a pedophile because he’s gay?
How in the hell are people supposed to get a fair trial, in the courtroom or in the public eye, when the whole digital world is worked up into a froth? It’s a stewing mob out there.
When people stop believing in the importance of a principle, the principle turns to a ghost, a vaporous echo of something that was once important, but no longer. The most shameful example of this abandonment of principle may be in Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s reaction to the Rolling Stone-UVA Scandal, where reporter Sabrina Erdely flouted journalistic ethics norms and pedaled a mythical, libelous story about a rape cover-up culture at the University of Virginia: “I hope it’s just putting more of a spotlight on the problem.”
Really? Because, as far as I see it, a thing that didn’t happen isn’t a problem. It’s a thing that didn’t happen. That’s why we tell our children not to worry about the bogey man. You know, because he isn’t real. We don’t terrify our children based on monster horror fantasies. We don’t ruin men based on neo-Victorian anti-sex fantasies, either.
Shoot, I could claim anything and it might be true. Elizabeth Warren might have been sexually accosted while teaching at Rutgers or University of Houston. All those hash-taggers might really all be victims of sexual impropriety or assault. I might have stolen a motorcycle when I was a teenager because I’d just seen Easy Rider and it seemed like a damn good idea at the time. But the truth is, nobody knows the answer to any of these questions until we get some damn evidence. (Nobody except Elizabeth Warren, Harvey Weinstein, and Pennsylvania’s Unified Judicial System.)
It seems that the idea behind both the Me-Too movement and the Campus Rape Frenzy is that the ends justify the means. And so there occurs a transmutation of feminist politics from an ideology into a faith, replete with sacraments—the social media virtue signal—and a priesthood—the Warrens, Gillibrands, and Dunhams of the world.
The priestesses have their pieties. But they aren’t worth your worship. They can sing their hymns of forensics-free condemnation. But you should ask to see some evidence first.
Views expressed in op-eds are not the views of The Daily Caller.