The Next Enlightenment

The modern world began in the eighteenth century with The Enlightenment – the Age of Reason – roughly between 1715, the year that Louis XIV died, and 1789, the beginning of the French Revolution. The idea was new. Reason was the primary source of authority and legitimacy, not the church or any king. Thoughtful men (and a few women) could figure out what’s what. Citizens could figure out the best way to run their own nation. This pitted individual liberty and religious tolerance against any absolute monarchy and the fixed dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church, or any church. It was time for liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state – for a change. We put all that in our new Constitution and the French put that in their Declaration of the Rights of Man of the Citizen – and the Dark Ages were finally over. Let there be light – the light of reason.

That’s what the new United States was about, and more generally, that was a period when everyone who was anyone decided the way to figure out the world was to examine empirical evidence and figure out, from that evidence, how things actually work. If someone says something is so, devise an experiment to see if what they say will happen or won’t happen, in a way that anyone can repeat, to show it’s always so. One does not take things on faith. Devise ways to test things, to see how they really work – which is why Benjamin Franklin was flying his kite in a thunderstorm. Electricity wasn’t magic after all. Believe nothing and think things through, and test your thinking, and ask others to test your thinking, so you’re sure about what’s what. Because God said so, or just because God made things that way – that was no longer good enough. The idea was to see what He had been up to, to examine his intricate handwork. Worship him, if you wish, but check His work. He’d be fine with that. He gave man reason after all.

Some resisted this. Darwin, building on the work of Lamarck, gave them pause – there was all this evidence of evolution, of one species evolving into another, and damn, it certainly looked like we might be descended from… earlier primates. That wouldn’t do. The empirical evidence was there, but must be wrong, or incomplete, or planted by God to fool us and to test our faith. What about Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden? What about the Book of Genesis? This wasn’t in the Bible, and that led to the Scopes Monkey Trial in the twenties. Now there are the Creationists, claiming God-just-did-it should be taught in our schools alongside all that science stuff, as one theory of how things work is just as good as another. Empirical evidence cannot be all it’s cracked up to be. People joke that these folks are trying to repeal the Enlightenment. That’s not far off the mark – but there’s no going back. Climate change is real, no matter what Donald Trump and Scott Pritt say. There’s solid empirical evidence of that, and Trump’s notion that the nation should run on coal, a Victorian power source, might kill us all. What was good enough for Victorian London isn’t good enough now. There’s no going back.

And now it’s time for the next Enlightenment:

The “Silence Breakers” – those who have shared their stories about sexual assault and harassment – have been named Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

Numerous women have spoken out publicly since October about sexual misconduct by dozens of high-profile men in entertainment, media, business and sports. Time praised those who have given “voice to open secrets, for moving whisper networks onto social networks, for pushing us all to stop accepting the unacceptable.” The magazine’s cover features Ashley Judd, Taylor Swift, Susan Fowler and others who say they have been harassed.

Things just changed, and this is amusing:

Time’s announcement was made Wednesday on NBC’s “Today” show, where longtime host Matt Lauer was fired last week amid harassment allegations. “Today” host Savannah Guthrie acknowledged Wednesday that this year’s winner hits “close to home” and mentioned Lauer by name.

That would have never happened before, and there was a loser here:

The two runners-up for Person of the Year were Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump, accused of sexual misconduct by numerous women himself. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Trump, Person of the Year in 2016, tweeted recently that the magazine had told him he “probably” would be named again if he agreed to an interview and photo shoot. Trump added that he “took a pass.” Time has disputed his account.

Trump has been left behind, and Time was clear about what a big change this is:

When movie stars don’t know where to go, what hope is there for the rest of us? What hope is there for the janitor who’s being harassed by a co-worker but remains silent out of fear she’ll lose the job she needs to support her children? For the administrative assistant who repeatedly fends off a superior who won’t take no for an answer? For the hotel housekeeper who never knows, as she goes about replacing towels and cleaning toilets, if a guest is going to corner her in a room she can’t escape?

Like the “problem that has no name,” the disquieting malaise of frustration and repression among postwar wives and homemakers identified by Betty Friedan more than 50 years ago, this moment is borne of a very real and potent sense of unrest. Yet it doesn’t have a leader, or a single, unifying tenet…

This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries. Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don’t even seem to know that boundaries exist. They’ve had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can’t afford to lose. They’ve had it with the code of going along to get along. They’ve had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women. These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought.

Women have had it. Enough is enough. The Enlightenment rearranged all precious concepts of political power and legitimacy and created modern representative democracy – a new norm. This could do the same. The year began with Donald Trump’s inauguration and the massive resistance to that – the Women’s Marches all over the country. Women are following that up by organizing in their living rooms and running for office – more women than ever before. Time was right to ignore Trump. He’s old news. Time went with those women who have had enough of men using and abusing them.

That makes sense. Fifteen or more women have accused Donald Trump of using and abusing them – but he says they’re lying – each and every one of them. Women do that just to make trouble for men, or for fame, or for cash. Sad – and Judge Roy Moore says the same of all the women accusing him of this and that – they’re lying – each and every one of them. Both of these men say that’s the problem with women, but there’s nothing new there. Mozart wrote a comic opera about that – Così fan tutte – “they’re all like that” – a tale of scheming women manipulating men.

Trump and Moore seem to understand that, and if so many women are like that, and Republicans control both the House and Senate, and thirty-seven of the fifty state legislatures, Republicans could fix this. They could repeal the Nineteenth Amendment in an instant – if women don’t back off. Women should consider that. One more word and they lose the vote – all of them – but Republicans wouldn’t dare do that. There’s no going back.

In fact, a dam has burst:

Support for Al Franken all but collapsed on Wednesday among his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, with dozens calling for him to resign after a sixth woman said he had made an improper advance on her.

“Senator Franken should resign,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said Wednesday evening, the latest in an avalanche of statements that began with a half-dozen Democratic women and then snowballed throughout the day. “I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately.”

In fact, the culture has shifted:

By Wednesday evening, there was widespread expectation among senators in the Democratic caucus and aides that Mr. Franken would step down. If he does, he would be the most prominent lawmaker so far to be felled by the swirling allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct sweeping through the Capitol.

On Tuesday, Representative John Conyers Jr., the longest-serving member of the House and the longest-serving African-American congressman in history, stepped down under severe pressure after multiple women said he had harassed them, including one who said she was fired for refusing to have sex with him.

A freshman Democrat, Representative Ruben Kihuen of Nevada, has faced calls for his resignation since charges emerged Friday that he had repeatedly propositioned his former campaign finance director.

But the other side sees no culture shift at all:

Republicans have seemed more tolerant of infractions in their own ranks. House leaders have said nothing since it was revealed Friday that Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas used $84,000 from a secret taxpayer fund to settle a lurid sexual harassment case filed against him. And Republicans are deeply divided over Alabama’s Republican Senate candidate, Roy S. Moore, who has been accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls as young as 14, yet has maintained the support of President Trump and other conservatives.

There was only one exception:

Representative Joe Barton of Texas, the state’s senior Republican, announced last month that he would not seek re-election next year after graphic images that he sent to a constituent appeared on the internet. But he received little pressure to step down.

The Democrats, however, are going with the new Enlightenment:

Some have said Democrats are simply too quick to destroy their own, but the party appears intent on holding the high ground as sexual harassment scandals rock politics, entertainment and the news media.

“The Democratic Party will stand up for women and for what is right,” Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement on Wednesday night. “Public service is a public trust. If you are a candidate for office or an elected official who has engaged in sexual misconduct, you should step aside – whether you sit in the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate or the Oval Office.”

Perez had to add that bit about the Oval office, for contrast, but there’s little danger for the Democrats here:

If Mr. Franken resigns, the state’s Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, could choose his successor from a list of prominent female Democrats, including Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and Attorney General Lori Swanson.

That appointee could then run to fill the remainder of Mr. Franken’s term next year, when the Democrats have the political momentum.

That calculus may be playing in Democrats’ minds. After Politico published accusations from a former congressional staff member on Wednesday morning that Mr. Franken had forcibly kissed her, Democrats lunged. Unlike earlier accusations, the newest one involved a congressional employee in the workplace.

And that was that:

By the end of the day, well more than half of the senators who caucus with the Democrats, 35 of 48, and nearly all of the Democratic women in the Senate, had said that Mr. Franken must go. Some who remained silent did so because they serve on the Ethics Committee, which is considering his case.

Mr. Franken has apologized for his behavior, but the senators said his admissions are not enough.

Aaron Blake, however, says nobody is being especially courageous here:

The writing has been on the wall for this one for quite some time, and it took Franken’s Democratic colleagues (and apparently Franken himself) longer than it should have to see it.

The first reason is that the Democratic Party has simply staked out a much stricter position on these issues than Republicans have with Roy Moore and President Trump. A poll released Wednesday shortly after the senators called on Franken to resign showed why. Quinnipiac University asked Americans whether a lawmaker facing multiple sexual harassment accusations should resign. While just 51 percent of Republicans agreed, a full 77 percent of Democrats agreed. It also asked people how they thought each party was handling sexual harassment issues, and just 45 percent of Democrats approved of their own party.

The second reason is that, while Franken probably handled this about as well as he could have politically, his approach was always more about buying time than actually mitigating his problems. Franken repeatedly and profusely apologized, and plenty of Democrats and reporters focused on those apologies rather than what specifically he was (and wasn’t) apologizing for.

And then that changed:

When the latest accuser came forward Franken shifted tactics and offered a blanket denial. “This allegation is categorically not true, and the idea that I would claim this as my right as an entertainer is preposterous,” he said. “I look forward to fully cooperating with the ongoing ethics committee investigation.”

That fuller, unmistakable denial was clearly a sign of the jeopardy in which he found himself. It also reinforced that his mealy-mouthed apologies were never really going to cut it in today’s Democratic Party.

Welcome to the new world, but Josh Marshall had already explained why Trump will be fine:

If the constituency doesn’t care, the accused will be fine. Big public companies are vulnerable to and dependent on consumer sentiment. That is their constituency and they tend to follow public opinion, once it is engaged. The same is true of news organizations which are both (in most cases) public companies and also trade directly on public sentiment, usually sentiment of different political persuasions.

Separate from the sexual harassment and misconduct issue, we see this in corporate America on issues of race, diversity, evolving sentiment on cultural issues like LGBTQ rights. Corporations are certainly not progressive by nature. You can see that in their aggressive support for President Trump’s tax and regulatory policies. But they are quite sensitive to public opinion on high profile issues – so corporate America in general has refused to follow the Trump line on hate groups, NFL player bashing and the like. Why? A corporation’s brand reputation, particularly with younger people, is one of its most critical assets. For consumer-facing brands, younger people are literally the future. Younger Americans have more progressive views on race and many ‘cultural’ issues. They are also less white. Corporations don’t have partisan polarization or electoral colleges.

Trump doesn’t care. His constituency is overwhelmingly white and disproportionately older. Indeed, many define their political outlook against the attitudes which are so prevalent among young Americans. Their constituencies are different. They act differently.

In fact, these people live in the old world:

They do not care about Trump’s long history of predatory behavior. Republican elected officials may care themselves. But they are also dependent on Trump’s core supporters. Once it was clear, a week or two out from the Access Hollywood revelations in October 2016, they stopped caring either.

Many national Republicans have denounced Roy Moore. But he’s still on the ticket and he has a good shot of winning the Senate seat. Why? Because his supporters don’t care. It’s a microcosm of the Trump story. I criticize the media for a lot of things. I think there is much to criticize in their coverage of Trump. But I think we should recognize this basic point: news coverage can’t force people to care about something they don’t care about. They can only share, promote and broadcast the information.

President Trump will continue to skate until the base of the Republican Party starts to care. There’s no sign they will.

And that might be what separates the old world from the new World, as Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog explains here:

I know that a lot of Democrats see this as unilateral disarmament, at a time when Roy Moore is on the verge of being elected to the Senate and there’s no chance President Trump will resign in shame. But if you don’t think the fact that it’s the right thing to do is sufficient reason for Franken to resign, then let’s get pragmatic.

Yes, Moore is probably going to the Senate. No, there won’t be a successful vote to expel him. And the president is just going to continue denying his own sexual transgressions. But that leaves voters with a clear choice in 2018 and beyond: If Franken steps down, Democrats can say they demanded a reckoning for their sexual assailants (John Conyers, too), while Republicans closed ranks to protect Moore and Trump (as well as, so far, Blake Farenthold). If you’re a woman, or a decent man, and sexual misconduct disgusts you, which party represents your values? Going into 2018 and 2020, isn’t this a better message for Democrats than “We protect our own predators, just like the Republicans”?

Which party represents your values? That is a better question, and the polling bears that out:

A vast majority of respondents in a new poll think Congress should investigate sexual harassment allegations made against President Trump.

A new Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday finds 70 percent of respondents think Congress should investigate the allegations.

Just one-quarter of respondents think Congress shouldn’t investigate the accusations.

And everyone knows who they are:

Republicans and Democrats differ on the issue. Just 39 percent of Republicans say they think Congress should look into the allegations against Trump, compared to 86 percent of Democrats who feel the same way. Another 67 percent of registered Independents polled agreed Congress should look into the allegations.

And add this:

The poll also found that 73 percent of respondents think it is hypocritical for Trump to criticize other men who have been accused of sexual harassment. Just 16 percent think Trump is right to criticize others.

A majority of respondents, 66 percent, think that if an elected official has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by multiple people, the official should resign.

Welcome to the new world, Donald. That’s what this is. Enlightenments don’t happen very often, and this new one may turn out to be just as useful as the last one. Embrace it, and understand that there’s no going back – just like the last time. Dark ages do end.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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