Illustration: David and Bathsheba (Flemish tapestry)
Some claim that the decline of our national morality began with Bill Clinton. His rendezvous with Monica Lewinski was certainly a headline-grabber and indicated a moral lapse unbefitting an American President.
But one only need look back a few generations to find more-recent examples of Presidential indiscretions: e.g., Eisenhower and Kay Summersby, Roosevelt and Lucy Mercer. Even the Founding Fathers were not immune to the failure to control wandering libidos: Jefferson and his black slave Sally Hemings is the most popular example.
Libido combined with power can be both intimidating and seductive. The ancient Greeks would often blame the gods or their agents for humanity’s errors: read Euripides’ Medea or Homer’s Oedipus Rex if you believe that this is something new; and the Bible describes King David’s seduction (or rape) of Bathsheba, wife of Uriah. As the good book reminds us, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles. 1.9).
My point is that men in positions of power use that power in ways that deviate from their electoral, contractual, or moral obligations.
And so we come to the present, in which the vanguard of a few courageous women have said, “Enough!” Indications are that those few are fast becoming many. Among the male rebuttals offered up are: “I don’t remember”; “It was consensual”; “That never happened” (despite corroborating statements of witnesses and co-workers); and President Trump’s favorite, “They are all liars.”
Of course, the exercise of sexual power is not limited to politicians, corporate executives, or sports figures and celebrities. It is found in every demographic, from farm worker to priest, from sales clerk to college professor. It is largely a male control problem leading to female victimization (although we cannot ignore male victimization of young boys), perhaps encoded by genetics or society or a combination of both (often used as thin excuses, by the way).
The question all men must answer is a simple one: Am I to be ruled by a system of ethics founded on decency toward others, no matter where an individual might be in the socioeconomic hierarchy, or am I to yield to my base instincts? The events of the past few weeks demand that all men examine their conduct in relation to women and the vulnerable, whether co-worker or casual acquaintance.
Bill Britton is a freelance writer and formerly an editor for John Hopkins University Press, ABI Research, and Elsevier Science, and is a frequent contributor to Vero Communiqué.
Mr. Britton’s comments are his own and do not reflect the position(s) of Vero Communiqué.
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