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October Surprises: Notes on the Past Two Years of #MeToo, and What Kavanaugh’s Confirmation Might Mean for America Now

Two years ago, we were shocked by the revelation of a major party’s presidential nominee boasting of sexual assault on audiotape. One year ago, the revelation of the predatory nature of a key Hollywood power player sparked a new worldwide movement and led to a shocking special election upset in Alabama. And now, the U.S. Senate’s partisan rush to confirm a Supreme Court Justice who’s been accused of similarly predatory behavior has left the national media wondering… Who will get a bump in the polls.

What’s wrong with this picture, and how can we make it right?

October 2016: The Access Hollywood “October Surprise” that didn’t seem to change anything

In 2005, then reality TV star Donald Trump was caught on a “hot mic” with Access Hollywood co-host Billy Bush as their conversation turned very graphic. As they were talking about women, Trump began to describe how he tried to pick up a married woman, then they noticed actor Arianne Zucker on the Days of Our Lives set and Trump began boasting of his making moves on “beautiful women” regardless of whether or not they consent.“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump gloated. He then uttered the now infamous clause, “Grab them by the pussy.”

After languishing in a deep, dark corner of Hollywood folklore for over a decade, The Washington Post somehow obtained the tape, then broke the story on October 7, 2016. At first, the tape seemed to destroy Trump’s chances of winning the presidency, especially once it prompted other women to come forward and share their own stories of Trump sexually harassing and/or assaulting them. And for a moment, the Access Hollywood tape seemed to spark a national conversation on the pervasive misogyny that still infects our politics and our pop culture.

However, that conversation didn’t last long. By the end of October, then FBI Director James Comey’s decision to publicly tie the criminal case of Former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-New York) to the seemingly never ending probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails caused another “game change” moment that allowed Trump to take advantage of the Clinton Campaign’s soft underbelly of a weak field operation (and assistance from the Russian government’s propaganda machine) and ultimately win the presidency a few days later.

October 2017: The fall of Harvey Weinstein, the rise of #MeToo, and the beginning of the end for Roy Moore’s political ambitions
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Harvey_Weinstein_2011_Shankbone.JPG
Photo by David Shankbone, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia

Fast forward a year later, and there were suddenly a new bumper crop of powerful men being accused of sexual misconduct. It all began with the one-two punch of The New York Times and The New Yorker running stories on Harvey Weinstein’s long history of using and abusing women, as well as his long record of utilizing his juice in the media and entertainment industry to silence his victims. The Times ran its first story on October 6, 2017. The New Yorker then allowed investigative journalist Ronan Farrow to run his story four days later… And nearly a year after Farrow began investigating Weinstein at NBC News, only for NBC to keep the story under wraps.

The Weinstein scandal didn’t just rock Hollywood, but it also empowered other survivors of sexual violence to come forward and share their respective stories. Out of this collective pain and sorrow, the #MeToo movement was born. And though it got its start in the entertainment industry, #MeToo soon forced the nation to reassess its politics of sexual violence when another brash, populist appearing, far-right politician was confronted by his own past.

After President Donald Trump selected Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General early in 2017, Alabama law required a special election to fill the seat for the remainder of the term. Yet after appointed Senator Luther Strange (R-Alabama) lost the Republican primary to controversial far-right judge Roy Moore in September, some Republicans started to get nervous. And when The Washington Post began to report on Moore forcing himself on 14 year-old Leigh Corfman in 1979, national Republicans began to worry about what should have been a very safe seat.

When Debbie Wesson Gibson then shared her own story of Moore pursuing her when she was a teenager, and then as more Alabamians came forward to talk about why Roy Moore was banned from the Gadsden Mall in Etowah County, that GOP worry turned into panic. And yet when Trump came to Moore’s defense and Moore retook the lead in the polling average, it appeared that Moore could yet make it to Congress. But when Moore ultimately lost to Doug Jones (D-Alabama) last December, it was chalked up as not just a positive sign for Democratic hopes of a “Blue Wave” in 2018, but also a successful first test of the #MeToo movement’s demand that sexual predators face consequences for their actions.

October 2018: Kavanaugh confirmed to Supreme Court despite multiple allegations of sexual assault. Is this the end of #MeToo, or just the beginning?
Photo provided by the Office of U.S. Senator David Perdue

Nearly a year after Senator Doug Jones’ special election victory, a year after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, and a full two years after The Post broke the story of the Access Hollywood tape, the U.S. Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on a near party-line 51-49 vote. Not only are Trump and his allies celebrating their second successful Supreme Court appointment (after Neil Gorsuch in 2017), but they’re also insisting that “Kava-mentum” is real and the “#MeToo backlash” will help Republicans save their Congressional majorities.

Closer to home, Senator Dean Heller (R) now seems to be doubling down on “Hiccup-gate” by gushing over Kavanaugh on Twitter and attacking Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) for opposing Kavanaugh’s appointment. While Heller and most other candidates have been careful not to sound too much like “men’s rights activists”, they haven’t been discouraging Trump and a few other Republicans for weaving the language of the “men’s rights movement” (as in, loud and proud misogynists) into their campaign platform.

Photo by Andrew Davey

While pundits and political insiders are now debating whether or not “Kava-mentum” will give Republicans a lasting boost in the home stretch of this midterm campaign, it’s important for us to remember what this is truly about. Several women came forward to share their stories of a man violently asserting power over them, though only one of them (Dr. Christine Blasey Ford) was ultimately allowed to testify in the Senate. Yet instead of believing them, or even requesting more time for a proper and more thorough investigation, 50 Republican Senators (and one Democrat) confirmed the man to the nation’s highest court, where it’s yet to be seen whether he will show the kind of mercy to criminal defendants that the U.S. Senate just afforded him.

While Kavanaugh’s confirmation will undoubtedly shift the balance of power on the Supreme Court, it doesn’t have to be the end of #MeToo movement in America. Rather, it must be only the beginning. Regardless of the political games being played with this sordid affair, sexual violence remains a serious problem here in Nevada and throughout the nation. And as last year’s election results in Alabama suggested, if we truly can’t accept politicians playing games with people’s lives, there’s something we as voters can do about it.

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