The debauchery arc of the universe is long, and it bends toward boys.
At least in our dreams. Even Jimmy Carter said he lusted in his heart, but the only surprise there is that Fox News never found out with whom.
Wicked temptation is particularly rife in adolescence when hormones blaze like bonfires and fantasies of sex recycle every five minutes like Liberty Insurance commercials. But the embers of lust never dim and most of us boys learn early that it’s important to keep our carnal urges under control. My mother’s social code, imparted early to my three brothers and me, was be nice and keep your hands to yourself. As we grew older and left the confines of the United Church of Morrisville, N.Y., we wrote our own codicils to the code. I like the way New York Times columnist Charles Blow puts it: “Consenting adults should feel free to express their attractions as they please without shame or guilt. Just play safe.”
Blow wrote those words less than a month ago amid a deluge of news stories about men who never learned to keep their hands and penises to themselves. In his November 19 column, “This is a Man Problem,” Blow added his own codicil: “But, there is no ‘sex’ without consent. To believe that is a twisting of terminology . . . Rape is not sex; it’s rape. Unwanted touching is not sexy; it’s assault. Sexual advances in a professional environment, particularly from a position of power, are highly inappropriate and could be illegal.”
For weeks following reports that film mogul Harvey Weinstein is an abuser and rapist, thousands of courageous women have decided they have had enough. Inspired in part by the #MeToo social media movement, women no longer hesitate to confront their abuser(s) for fear of losing their jobs or not being believed.
To be sure, the movement has led men to examine their own past to count the number of times their rushing hands and roaming fingers crossed consensual lines. In a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, comedian Patton Oswalt spoke for a lot of us guys:
I’ve had to sit down these last few weeks and I’m going through my head – and I hope every other guy is doing this, of not even, like, physical acts — but, “Was there a remark that I made? Was there a way that I put things?” You’re just constantly now thinking of that. I see a lot of people saying, “Oh what, men are now supposed to triple-, quadruple-, quintuple-think everything that they say and do?” And you go, “Well, clearly women have had to double-, triple-, quintuple- think and say everything that they do, and look at all that they can achieve and do with that load on them! Can we maybe take a little bit of the slack? Will that be OK, Mr. Alpha Male?
Brother Patton makes a good point because confession is good for the soul, not because God is unaware of our bad behavior but because it makes ourselves aware of how far we have strayed. The Psalmist explains it this way: (Psalm 119:26-29)
When I told of my ways, you answered me;
teach me your statutes.
Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
Put false ways far from me;
and graciously teach me your law.
Indeed many of the men accused of predatory behavior have confessed their sins and apologized to their victims.
But there are notable exceptions. The nation’s most visible predators have flatly denied their behavior, despite the word of numerous very credible accusers. Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) resigned without apologizing to a former staff woman after dismissing her claims of abuse as lies.
And the nation’s president continues to dismiss his several accusers as liars. How long he can do this remains to be seen because he may have to face at least one of them, Summer Zervos, in New York State court where he would be deposed under oath.
Yet Mr. Trump blithely denies a long string of abuse accusations by different women and so far the issue of his moral turpitude has not dismayed his small but loyal Republican base. Mr. Trump’s confidence in his dwindling base has led him to support Alabama Judge Roy Moore, an accused serial pedophile, for a U.S. Senate seat. When supporters of Trump and Moore are asked why they continue to support the two accused malefactors, the common reply is, “What about Bill Clinton?” President Clinton, who has confessed and begged forgiveness for his sins, was impeached for lying under oath but not removed from office.
Most logicians will dismiss as nonsense the idea that it’s okay for Trump to be a sexual predator because Clinton was one, too.
But perhaps it’s understandable that Trump supporters in the deploratude think like that because the history of presidential sexual misconduct goes way back.
According to historian James Thomas Flexner, it began with the youthful flings of our first president.
“Although (George Washington) drank and gambled and (we gather) wenched as did his officers, he was known as a stern disciplinarian in military matters,” Flexner wrote in 1965 in the first of his six volume biography.
The use of “wenched” as an intransitive verb is an effort to shift the onus from the great wencher to the irrelevant woman with whom he went wenching.
If we accept the second dictionary definition of “wench” as “prostitute,” it’s a case of boys being boys.
If, however, we accept the dictionary’s first definition of “wench” as “servant girl,” to use her as a means of wenching sounds more like boys raping.
No one knows whether young George’s women were willing partners, but it doesn’t really matter. Even as a young officer, he was a white aristocrat who probably considered farm and pub girls as his inferiors. He knew he had power over them whether they liked it or not.
George Washington, as Flexner points out, created many precedents as the nation’s first president. Some of those precedents paved the way for powerful men to seek sex from powerless women anytime they got an itch. Jefferson impregnated at least one of his slave women. Cleveland conceived a child out of wedlock. Harding explored hidden spaces in the White House to have sex with a young woman. FDR and Ike were unfaithful to their wives and LBJ had several mistresses. John Kennedy’s sexual appetite was breathtaking; he once told British Prime Minister Harold McMillan that if he didn’t have a different woman every three days he got terrible head aches.
Because bedrooms of yore were private places, we will never really know how many other presidents took advantage of powerless women. No doubt most of the men who occupied the White House were upright men who were faithful to their wives and treated women with respect. I’m sure that list includes Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
But the aggressive disrespect Mr. Trump has shown for women is migraine inducing. His current support for an Alabama pedophile makes it obvious that he has no plans to change his attitude toward sex and women. Clearly he is not going to sit down and reassess his life and the harm he has done to his fellow human beings, as Patton Oswalt urges all us guys to do.
That’s too bad. Because as thousands of women are letting it be known that they will no longer tolerate crude and abusive behavior by men, we could use a little male moral leadership to speak on behalf of us guys: sisters, you are right, and we have been deplorable. We vow hereinafter to show you the respect you deserve.
But Mr. Trump will remain smugly quiet. And to be sure, there is little he can say at this point to erase the words that will be carved in granite on the walls of his presidential library:
“Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.”