Democrats Are the Beneficiaries of the Weinstein Scandal. ‘Identitarianism’ Returns 

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No need to remember when
‘Cause everything old is new again

 — Peter Allen, “Everything Old is New Again,” from the 1979 film, All That Jazz


The still-sizzling phosphorescent fires of the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal have jumped the hills of Hollywood to the porticos of politics. And the uncontained contagion has quickly spread, like wave after wave of uncontrollable napalm explosions, prompting a Daily News headline “Perv Nation.” Allegations and confirmations of misconduct are fueling simmering shifts in attitudes of how men treat women. That is a good thing. But it also heralds a return of old-school identity politics — specifically, gender politics — to the forefront of today’s inflamed political environment. And only one party is its beneficiary. The Democratic Party.

Suzanne Muchin, a corporate branding and strategy consultant based in Chicago, recently put things in perspective to the Poynter Institute’s Jim Warren:  “There are a few stories here:  women finding their voice and being empowered by their anger rather than ashamed by it, men being tried for this bad behavior in the court of public opinion, and the question of where all this is headed … because it is headed somewhere big (in my opinion).” She’s correct.

That something big will be the 2018 elections. When, on a national scale, people will vote out their anger. (A total of 36 governorships are up for election; 468 seats in the U.S. Congress — 33 Senate seats and all 435 House seats — are up for election; since 1934, the party of a newly elected president has suffered an average loss of 23 seats in the House in the following midterm.) Where Republican majorities are in jeopardy.

Next year will also be when the frontlines of hatred for Harvey Weinstein’s behavior (out of power), on one side, and hatred for Donald Trump’s politics (in power, with his own past charred by alleged bad behavior), on the other side, merge in an uncontrolled burn onto the Republican Party. Which is headed by white men. Who will be big losers.

Those matches have already been struck. But ironies abound.

Intuitively, one would think, given Weinstein’s support of the Democratic Party — advocating progressive positions, hosting fund raisers — and his close association with former President Bill Clinton and former President Barack Obama (Obama’s daughter, Malia Obama, interned at The Weinstein Company), that would be bad for the Democratic Party. Especially given Clinton’s past history with sexual misconduct. (Last week, Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC called Clinton a “predator”; Maureen Dowd in The New York Times speculated that women might not have come forward had Hillary Clinton become president.)

Earlier this month, Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker ably, and surprisingly, chronicled the still-crackling embers of Clinton’s past misbehavior of women. It’s been 25 years since he was first elected. And the world has changed.

Regarding Monica Lewinsky, “it was Clinton’s job as her superior not to abuse his power by taking advantage of her,” Parker wrote. “It is little wonder, then, that other men of the era didn’t feel compelled to curtail their proclivities, or that women felt their power to fight back minimized by the first lady.” Meaning, Hillary Clinton’s “contempt for women [accusers] rather than for her husband.”

Had the Clintons played their cards differently, “who knows?” Perhaps, “Hillary Clinton might have become president. And Donald Trump, whose disrespect toward women is epic, might not have.” Still, Bill Clinton, not Hillary Clinton, is very popular in the party.

Weinstein and Clinton are certainly Democrats. Nevertheless, their actions are seen more as symbolic of cultural shortcomings (rich, powerful men) rather than symbolic of political shortcomings (rich, powerful Democrats). They may have acted badly, but more importantly, the argument goes, they championed women’s causes. And, critical to the debate, Democrats have control over, and are arbiters of, matters surrounding the culture. As they have for the last 50 years. So, Democrats will use the political arena to effect changes in the cultural arena. And Republicans, managed by white men, will be, by default, portrayed as the ones who will hinder such cultural progress. Besides, the world will move beyond the Clintons, even as people recall President Clinton’s past offenses. What a brilliant strategy.

As feminist writer Kate Harding understands.

“I am a Democrat,” she wrote last week in The Washington Post, “because I am a feminist who lives under a two-party system, where one party consistently votes against the interests of women while the other sometimes does not.” She adds that Democrats are members of the only party positioned to “pump the brakes on Republicans’ gleeful race towards Atwoodian dystopia.”

Never mind the likes of Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Mel Reynolds, Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, John Edwards, and, the latest, Al Franken. All Democrats.

While she recognizes that men’s harassment of and violence against women is not a Democrat or Republican problem, it is a “systemic issue,” where its roots lie in a “patriarchal culture” that “trains men to believe they are entitled to control women’s bodies — for sex, for sport, for childbearing, for comedy.” She fears, nonetheless, that demanding the resignation of Senator Franken (and his ilk) would “drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms.”

Her remedy?

With regard to Franken, a Democratic Dante, he should not walk the Lethe, the river of forgetfulness. Instead, his purgatory will mean recusing himself from reelection in 2020 and being condemned to a “listening tour” to “learn what the women of Minnesota … most want him to fight for in his remaining time, and to go to the mat for their needs.” In short, “do penance.” And support a “qualified progressive woman,” as a means to “change the culture.” The same applies for other men who scorch the land with “toxic masculinity.” It is a means a return to a liberal hallmark: Identity politics.

It began before Harding’s call for government of women, by women, and for women.

A day after Election Day 2017, The New York Times ran a headline summarizing the races:  “A Year After Trump, Women and Minorities Give Groundbreaking Wins to Democrats.” The story featured, among others, Jenny Durkan (who will be Seattle’s first openly lesbian mayor), Michelle De La Isla (who will be Topeka, Kansas’s first Hispanic mayor), and Danica Roem (the first openly transgender person in the country seated in a state legislature, Virginia).

The election results, according to the Times, showed the “potential” of a “rising coalition of women, minorities, and gay and transgender people who are solidly aligning with Democrats.” Meanwhile, in the wake of this month’s election, Republicans were embroiled in the Roy Moore sex scandal. That story broke two days after the election. Forget their meager response to the election. And forget their tax plan. Or Russian meddling. Or infrastructure.

This environment will undoubtedly favor female incumbents in 2018, like Senator Elizabeth Warren (who identifies with a large, endless group:  victims; she promotes victimhood as an ideology). And next year’s election will be an opportunity to exact revenge against the unrepentant Trump and his party. Republicans lose with the resurgence of identity politics. Which is stoked with emotion.

However, for one liberal humanities professor, the age of identity liberalism is at Democrats’ peril and “must be brought to an end.”

Last year, Columbia University’s Mark Lilla wrote The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics as a kind of eulogy — and wake-up call — after the 2016 presidential election. As The American Conservative noted, his claim was controversial on the left because “it dared to question one of American liberalism’s most dogmatically held beliefs.” In a recent email exchange with, Lilla writes that “identitarians” seem to prefer “making a point to making a change.”

“The new identity politics,” he argues, “is expressive rather than persuasive. Even the slogans changed, from We shall overcome — a call to action — to I’m here, I’m queer — a call to nothing in particular. Identitarians became self-righteous, hypersensitive, denunciatory, and obsessed with trivial issues that have made them a national laughing stock (drawing up long lists of gender pronouns, condemning spaghetti and meatballs as cultural appropriation …).”

But acquiring power in a democratic system means “winning elections, and winning elections (especially given American federalism) means having to persuade a lot of people from different backgrounds in every corner of the country that they share something and can work together to build something.” Therefore, he warns, “identitarianism” is a “dead end” as it “does not unify anybody” and it only “plays into the hands of the alt-right by inflaming passions.” Besides, “Democrats won’t be able to achieve anything lasting if they don’t have responsible partners on the other side.”

Lilla also offers counsel to Republicans, who need plenty of it. “Reaganism,” he sensibly advises, “may have been good for its time but it cannot address the problems that the country — and Republican voters — face today.”

Send for the fire-brigade in 2018.


James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and former columnist with The Cape Cod Times. His work has also appeared in The Providence Journal, and