So many things would be different if the world were just and good: your high school bully would end up in jail, dogs would evolve to outlive humans, and one of America’s most famous sexual predators would be destitute and alone, eating chilli out of a can in sweat-stained pyjamas.
Instead, he is set to travel North America with his wife on an upcoming speaking tour, which could cost attendees up to $750 US a pop. With two scheduled stops in Canada, the tour will see Bill and Hillary Clinton share “stories and inspiring anecdotes that shaped their historic careers in public service, while also discussing issues of the day and looking toward the future.”
It is to be expected, then, that the former president who lied about having a sexual relationship with a 21-year-old intern in the White House will be asked to weigh in on the current #MeToo movement. Which also means that somewhere now in Camp Clinton, expert communicators are curling the ribbons on the package of manure that Bill Clinton will offer as a prepared response.
Clinton has somehow become a curious figure of both levity and adulation.
It is both utterly baffling and genuinely impressive how, over the course of just a few decades, Clinton has freed himself from the crippling embarrassment of impeachment, the infernal shame of his lies and the moral repugnance of such a demonstrable abuse of power to become this curious figure of both levity and adulation.
But if there is one person in North America who is massively overdue for a #MeToo reckoning, it is him. He is the practical embodiment of everything the movement was designed to reject: abuse of power, privilege, double standards, harassment, sexual abuse and trauma.
Clinton’s story involves all of that and more, wrapped up in an allegation of a violent rape, of sexual assault, of harassment, and of course, a sexual relationship with an intern in his office while he held the most powerful job in the country.
“Through the lens of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/MeToo?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#MeToo</a> now, do you think differently or feel more responsibility?… Did you ever apologize to her [Lewinsky]?” <a href=”https://twitter.com/craigmelvin?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@craigmelvin</a> to Bill Clinton <a href=”https://t.co/rXcixhDHER”>pic.twitter.com/rXcixhDHER</a>
To this day, Clinton maintains a rather unrepentant air. When he was pushed about his affair with Monica Lewinsky during a television interview back in June, Clinton lashed out at the interviewer and accused him of ignoring supposed “gaping facts” about the saga. Clinton also noted that he was a victim, too, in that he left the White House $16 million in debt. Let’s pause here a moment to appreciate the trauma of the Clintons’ fleeting financial insecurity.
Lewinsky, during that time, was made the nation’s punchline, villain and slut. Decades before the term “gaslighting” would enter the mainstream lexicon, the president of the United States went on national television and told the world that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Clinton’s allies painted Lewinsky as a stalker and a manipulator, and even feminist icon Gloria Steinem suggested in a column for the New York Times that Lewinsky was equally at fault for the illicit affair.
Monica Lewinsky will always be ‘that woman’ first, no matter what else she does in her life.(Reuters)
It would take Lewinsky nearly 20 years to realize that the power imbalance between an unpaid intern and her boss — a man 27 years her senior and also the president of the United States — complicates notions of consent and culpability. She would grapple with post-traumatic stress disorder for decades and struggle to find a clear career path. These are not ordinary consequences for a poor decision; most of us do dumb things we regret in early adulthood, but few of us are defined by them for the rest of our lives.
Monica Lewinsky will always be “that woman” first, no matter what else she does in her life. But for Bill Clinton, the label of “sexual predator” somehow never stuck much beyond a footnote.
To be clear, this is not about politics. Sexual harassment happens on both sides of the aisle, and getting away with it happens on both sides of the aisle, too (See: Trump, Donald).
Nor is this about forever saddling a man to his past bad behaviour as some sort of petty exercise in retribution. I have written before about the need to find a way forward for men who have taken ownership of certain past abhorrent acts, and in theory, that could apply here, too.
But that ownership still eludes Bill Clinton, who will cite his feminist policy achievements as if they are some sort of anti-venom to his decidedly anti-feminist personal behaviour. Decades on, Clinton still has never privately apologized to Lewinsky for abusing his authority, or for making her out to be a liar, or for his lack of judgment in an affair that ruined her life, but not his.
So this is — or ought to be — about a long, long overdue reckoning for a man who was lucky enough to time his bad behaviour a few decades before we collectively knew what it meant to gaslight and to victim-blame. Before our understanding of consent evolved. A reckoning for someone who should have, by now, genuinely admitted the profound depravity of his actions.
If the world were just and good, one of America’s most well-known and unrepentant sexual predators would be forced to cancel his speaking tour before it even begins. If the world were just and good, his time would really be up.
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