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October Surprises: Notes on the Past Three Years of #MeToo, and What the Katie Hill Story Says About America Now

So a lot went down over the weekend. Seemingly lost amidst the latest impeachment news and the news surrounding the death of ISIL/ISIS/Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was a sudden departure from Congress. So who just resigned yesterday, why does it matter, and what does this vacancy say about power politics and the state of #MeToo two years after another sexual misconduct scandal launched a worldwide movement?

A Hill so steep
Photo by Kenji Thuloweit, and provided by the U.S. Air Force

Almost exactly a year ago a “Blue Wave” rushed across most of the country, and it especially hit Republicans hard in California. One such Democratic beneficiary was Rep. Katie Hill (D-Santa Clarita), who flipped a long-held Republican seat in the suburbs and exurbs north and northwest of Los Angeles. Just weeks ago, Hill was considered a “Democratic rising star” who had already begun climbing into House Democratic leadership during her first term in office.

Then, it all came crashing down. Right-wing blog RedState and long-time tabloid Daily Mail published images of Hill that she condemned as revenge porn, and they published accusations of Hill having a sexual relationship with a Congressional staffer. The accusations led to a House Ethics Committee investigation, yet Hill denies such a relationship ever occurred. She has, however, admitted to her and her now-estranged spouse’s plural relationship with a campaign staffer last year.

Hill is now accusing her soon-to-be-divorced spouse, Kenneth Heslep, of subjecting her to abuse, with the final abusive act being the release of those revenge porn photos to RedState and Daily Mail. And yet, it’s Katie Hill who’s currently facing the consequences of all these actions. While President Donald Trump was touting the death of al-Baghdadi, and while Trump was attacking the Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry relating to his abuse of power in Ukraine and in the U.S., Katie Hill announced her imminent resignation from Congress.

Once more, Ruben haunts us
Photo by Andrew Davey

Nearly two years ago, Nevada’s top Democrats were (allegedly) shocked by the multiple sexual harassment charges that suddenly emerged against then Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Las Vegas). Both he and Katie Hill have been accused of inappropriate workplace conduct in the #MeToo era. Yet while Hill has admitted to a consensual sexual relationship with a campaign staffer, multiple women have charged Kihuen with subjecting them to unwanted sexual advances.

In contrast to Hill’s abrupt departure, Kihuen successfully negotiated his retirement from Congress upon completion of his term in 2018. Even then Kihuen only agreed to leave this seat (now filled by Rep. Steven Horsford [D-North Las Vegas]) after top national and Nevada Democrats, from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) on down, essentially cut him loose as they publicly rebuked him. Katie Hill, on the other hand, appears to be leaving Congress on her own volition and against the desires of progressives who wanted her to stay and fight.

And while Hill appears to be abruptly ending her entire political career, Kihuen has kept trying to keep his going. Earlier this year, he tried (and failed) to grab a seat on the Las Vegas City Council by minimizing the harassment accusations as just him “being flirty”. Even then, it took a strong show of force by local progressives to keep Kihuen off the City Council (and ultimately, out of the June runoff).

Is she being held to a different standard?
Photo by Andrew Davey

Even now, it’s hard for many on the left not to feel conflicted over Katie Hill’s impending resignation, between the apparent revenge porn campaign against her and Democrats increasingly setting a post #MeToo higher standard for their politicians than Republicans seem to use for theirs. Two decades after Democrats and Republicans alike villainized Monica Lewinsky as “the other woman”, more recent abuse of power scandals involving the likes of Kihuen, former U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota), and entertainment industry titan Harvey Weinstein have delivered a major “gut check” moment on the left.

Yet ever since a critical mass of Republicans decided to stick with then presidential candidate Donald Trump three years ago despite facing multiple allegations of sexual assault and harassment, a pattern has developed. Brett Kavanaugh now sits on the U.S. Supreme Court despite facing several of his own allegations of misconduct. Roy Moore (R-Alabama) is running for the U.S. Senate again despite his own allegations of misconduct. And despite additional women coming forward to share their stories of Trump attacking them, women like E. Jean Carroll and Karen Johnson, their stories have largely been ignored by most media outlets as pundits instead debate whether “#MeToo has gone too far”.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Zooming out from there, we’re still struggling with double standards on politics, power, and that other “p word”. Why are the same men always “man-splaining”? Why is she some “enemy of freedom” while he continues to flourish? And closer to home, why are they running again after their publicity stunt flamed out so terribly?

Knowing all that we currently know about this affair, it’s hard for me to flat-out say Katie Hill did nothing wrong. But knowing what we now know about all the (mostly straight and white) men who have abused their power and refused to accept any consequences for it, it’s hard for me not to wonder if Hill would have fared differently had she been a man who had solicited sexual relationships with his subordinates. It might be 2019, but if Gamergate and #MeToo have taught us anything, it’s still a (mostly straight and white) man’s world.

Cover photo provided by the United States Congress.

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