Philip K. Dick put it this way – “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
He would say something like that. He wrote science fiction, but science fiction that was more than science fiction – he wrote novels about how reality is slippery. Go ahead. Believe something really isn’t so. That “something” can’t be so. Wait a bit. That “something” won’t go away. It was so all along. The oceans rise. Hurricanes get more and more intense and each one breaks a new record for size and intensity. More and more of everything west of the Rockies goes up in flames every year. Go ahead, stop believing in climate change, if you believed in it all in the first place, but it doesn’t go away. Reality is like that.
Two years ago it was this:
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) has, once and for all, disproven climate change. While “eggheads” at “science laboratories” were busy worrying about how the increase in heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere was leading to a long-term upward shift in temperatures and increased atmospheric moisture, Inhofe happened to notice that it was cold outside – weirdly cold outside. So cold, in fact, that water falling from the sky had frozen solid.
So he brought some of this frozen water into the Capitol and onto the Senate floor to show everyone, but mostly to show the eggheads.
He held up a big snowball. That snowball proved all that climate change stuff was nonsense. Inhofe was, and still is, chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee. Case closed. And then he pointed out the window. Look! See! The earth is flat! Anyone can see that!
No, he didn’t point out the window and say that. That was only what everyone expected he would do next. Everyone understands Republicans. Philip K. Dick understood Republicans.
But there is that which won’t go away, and two years later there is this:
What initially looked like an impish dig at President Trump by French President Emmanuel Macron over climate policy has turned into a concrete plan.
First, when the Trump administration proposed slashing federal science budgets and then, on June 1, when Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, Macron took to social media to offer (in perfect English) to greet with open arms – and research dollars – American scientists worried about the political climate as well as global warming.
Macron urged worried climate scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to see France as a “second homeland” and to come work there because “we all share the same responsibility: make our planet great again.”
It seems that Emmanuel Macron was serious:
Two years after the Paris climate accord was adopted, the French government is unveiling a list of 18 “laureates” – 13 of them working in the United States – who have won a “Make Our Planet Great Again” competition for research grants awarded for as long as five years. They include professors and researchers at Cornell University, Columbia University, Stanford University and other institutions.
It seems there are those who prefer reality:
“For me, the chance to work on some very exciting science questions with my French colleagues and not be so dependent on the crazy stuff that goes on in Congress and with the current administration is honestly very attractive,” Louis A. Derry, a professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell, said in an interview. “But it can be embarrassing to try and explain what is going on at home right now.”
That’s okay. No one will ask anything about what’s “going on at home” – because it really doesn’t matter anymore. No one will ask about the definitive Inhofe Snowball. There’s work to do:
The French government’s offer attracted 1,822 applications, nearly two-thirds of them from the United States. France’s research ministry pruned that to 450 “high-quality” candidates for long-term projects. A second round of grants will be awarded in the partnership with Germany.
There is that which won’t go away. Deal with it. Laugh about that definitive Inhofe Snowball late in the evening, over cognac at the Flore, and then get back to work in the morning.
There are, however, lots of other things that won’t go away. The laws of gravity won’t go away. Repeal those and everyone can fly – but gravity won’t go away. No one is going to fly, and it may be the same for the laws of political gravity. Say something outrageous, something that offends almost everyone, and fall to earth. There are things that end political careers. Don’t insult America’s definitive Vietnam war hero, John McCain. Don’t say he wasn’t really a hero – especially if you dodged the draft and stayed home and got even richer in those years. Do that and it’s over. And don’t insult a Gold Star family who lost a son who fought for us all. Don’t say they’re Muslim ingrates who have no right to question you. Do that and it’s over. And don’t get caught on tape bragging about groping women, and when more than a dozen women come forward and say that you did just that, and they have the dates and times and places, don’t call them all liars and sluts or whatever. Do that and it’s over – but the laws of political gravity don’t seem to apply to Donald Trump. He did all those things, and he flew on. Al Franken got far too touchy-feely with a number of women long ago, and the laws of political gravity brought him down – but those same laws won’t bring down Donald Trump, or his new best buddy, Roy Moore, who seems to have hit on teenagers long ago, and seems to have gotten far too touchy-feely with a fourteen-year-old girl. Call them all liars. The laws of political gravity don’t apply.
That’s the theory, but some things won’t go away:
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York told CNN on Monday that President Donald Trump should resign over allegations of sexual assault.
“President Trump has committed assault, according to these women, and those are very credible allegations of misconduct and criminal activity, and he should be fully investigated and he should resign,” Gillibrand told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview.
“These allegations are credible; they are numerous,” said Gillibrand, a leading voice in Congress for combating sexual assault in the military. “I’ve heard these women’s testimony, and many of them are heartbreaking.”
If he does not “immediately resign,” she said, Congress “should have appropriate investigations of his behavior and hold him accountable.”
She wasn’t alone:
Later on Monday, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon also called on Trump to resign in a tweet, encouraging Capitol Hill to investigate. Two other Democratic senators – Cory Booker of New Jersey and Jeff Merkley of Oregon — called for Trump’s resignation over the weekend.
Gillibrand and the others were simply saying that the laws of political gravity are universal, and that led to this:
Responding to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley saying Sunday that Trump’s accusers “should be heard,” Gillibrand said Monday, “Not only should women be heard, but they should be believed.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders responded to Haley’s comments at the news briefing Monday, where she reiterated that Trump “thinks it’s a good thing that women are coming forward” but noted that he denies the allegations.
But still, the laws of political gravity don’t apply here:
“As the President said himself, he thinks it’s a good thing that women are coming forward but he also feels strongly that a mere allegation shouldn’t determine the course,” Sanders said. “And in this case, the President has denied any of these allegations, as have eyewitnesses … several reports have shown those eyewitnesses also back up the President’s claim in this process, and again the American people knew this and voted for the President and we feel like we’re ready to move forward in this process.”
What eyewitnesses? No one knew who they were. They’ve never been mentioned before. Some team at the White House just got a new homework assignment. Find eyewitnesses to all the events in question, eyewitnesses who will say the events never happened.
That’s a tall order given this:
Three women who’ve accused Donald Trump of sexual harassment and assault held a press conference in New York on Monday morning to call for a congressional investigation into the president’s alleged history of sexual misconduct.
“In an objective setting, without question, a person with this record would have entered the graveyard of political aspirations, never to return,” said Rachel Crooks, who has accused Trump of grabbing and kissing her without her consent in an elevator in 2005. “Yet here we are with that man as president.”
Reality is that which just won’t go away:
None of the allegations presented on Monday are new. Crooks and Jessica Leeds, who joined her at the press conference, made their stories public in a New York Times piece published in October 2016, a few days after the leak of an Access Hollywood recording that included Trump bragging about groping and kissing unsuspecting women. At the press conference, Leeds said that after being seated next to Trump on an airplane and enduring his unwanted groping both over and under her clothes, “that was the last time I wore a skirt traveling.” The third accuser, former Miss USA contestant Samantha Holvey, also spoke out before the 2016 election, accusing then–pageant owner Trump of meandering backstage while the contestants were getting dressed and inspecting each woman before they went onstage. Trump bragged about “inspecting” the pageants in an appearance on the Howard Stern Show in 2005.
Now, the women said, they hope the country is more ready than it was last fall to believe their accounts and force Trump to answer for his alleged crimes.
Things did change:
In recent months, since bombshell reports of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual abuse appeared in the New York Times and the New Yorker, dozens of men in entertainment, politics, media, law, and the restaurant industry have been exposed as serial harassers. Many observers, including me, have wondered whether the allegations against Trump would have been treated differently if they had been revealed during this cultural moment of increased scrutiny of sexual violence. “The Weinstein story hit, and it was like an explosion in a shingle factory: Things were flying all over the place,” Leeds said on Monday. “And it became apparent that in some areas, the accusations of sexual aggression were being taken seriously and people were being held accountable. Except for our president.”
And the context here was deadly too:
The three women also appeared Monday morning on the NBC talk show of Megyn Kelly, who has likewise made headlines for accusing a powerful man – in her case, former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes – of sexual misconduct.
Ailes joined the Trump campaign as an informal advisor after Fox News fired him. Trump said he didn’t see how Ailes did anything wrong at Fox. Ailes, a rather dissolute obese old man, then died. Everyone forgot him, and he doesn’t matter and some things don’t go away:
In the interview, Holvey recalled her shock at Trump’s election win despite several public accusations of sexual harassment and assault. Seeing 53 percent of white women vote for Trump “hurt the most,” Holvey said. “We’re private citizens, and for us to put ourselves out there to try and show America who this man is, and especially how he views women, and for them to say ‘meh, we don’t care’ – it was, it hurt,” she continued. “And so, you know, now it’s just like, ‘Alright, let’s try round two. The environment’s different. Let’s try again.'”
That produced the same result:
The White House addressed the Kelly segment with a statement, calling the claims by all three women “false.”
“The American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory,” the statement read, imputing the accusers with “political motives.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently affirmed that the Trump administration has “been clear” on the fact that all of Trump’s accusers are lying “from the beginning.”
In short, Trump won the election – so the American people rendered their verdict – these women are liars – but they think not:
More than 20 women have accused Trump of sexual harassment and assault, many of which are far more severe than the alleged misdeeds that were leveled against Sen. Al Franken, who was pressured to resign his Senate seat last week, before an ethics inquiry he requested could even begin. At Monday’s press conference, Crooks said that if Republicans in the Senate were willing to investigate Franken after several women said he forced kisses on them or groped them during photo-ops, “it’s only fair that they do the same for Trump.”
So, really, the American people rendered no verdict, but there still may be no hope here:
When reporters asked the accusers what they hoped might come of a congressional ethics probe, none of the three women had an answer. Crooks and Holvey both said Trump should resign his office, and then admitted that the chances of him doing so were nearly zero. None expressed interest in joining the lawsuit of Summer Zervos, who is suing the president for defamation for calling her and her fellow Trump accusers “liars.” The best outcomes the women could come up were vague notions of shifting attitudes about sexual assault and an indictment of Trump in the “court of public opinion,” in Crooks’ parlance.
There’s little hope there:
Even though Trump was elected more than a year ago in a culture that discussed sexual assault somewhat differently, the Republican Party – and Republican voters – have continued to support the Senate candidate Roy Moore amid mounting evidence that he made a habit of preying on teenage girls in his 30s. Public conversations about men who abuse their power to demean women have changed since Crooks, Leeds, and Holvey first told America about their encounters with Trump. The priorities of the party that got him elected have not.
The party repealed the laws of political gravity long ago – if they can be repealed:
White House aides have warily watched the Me Too movement sweep Capitol Hill, opting to repeat rote denials about allegations against the president. The president’s advisers were stunned Sunday when one of the highest-ranking women in the Trump administration broke with the White House line and said the accusers’ voices “should be heard.”
“They should be heard, and they should be dealt with,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a CBS interview. “And I think we heard from them before the election. And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.”
Haley’s comments infuriated the president, according to two people who are familiar with his views but who spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
The man hates political gravity. Why can’t he fly? Perhaps he should not ask that question:
Some Trump aides, advisers and outside confidants are privately grappling with how to navigate the charged national environment over sexual misconduct, which may not pass anytime soon, and an increasingly aggressive Democratic Party.
Some outside Republicans close to the president said they are increasingly uneasy about his ability to withstand a revived spotlight on his behavior toward women amid the dramatic attitude shift happening nationwide in response to accusations of sexual misconduct against men from Hollywood to Capitol Hill. A number of Trump associates are also wary of the potential political costs if the president goes on a sustained attack against his accusers.
Trump has no good options here, because gravity is real enough:
In phone calls and meetings in recent days, people in Trump’s orbit have deliberated over how best to defend against more than a dozen women who have leveled specific claims against him – while also taking seriously claims of sexual assault and harassment and not seeming to dismiss women, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly about the private discussions. There have also been conversations about how the issue could linger through next year’s midterm campaign season and how to handle that possibility, one outside adviser said.
Some things just won’t go away. Reality is a bitch, with that word taking on many meanings here.
Paul Glastris notes the implications of that:
The polling on this one is pretty hard to deny: Republican voters are flatly more willing to tolerate sexual predators among their elected officials than Democratic voters are. You can try to chalk that up to demographics – that GOP voters are older, whiter, and more resistant to feminism and forgiving of men’s misbehaviors. But the variability of their tolerance – 71 percent of Republicans say a Democratic congressman accused of sexual harassment should resign from office, but only 54 percent would demand the same of a Republican, a far bigger partisan swing than Democratic voters show – gives the game away.
If Roy Moore wins in Alabama and is not expelled by the Republican-led Senate (and it looks like he won’t be); if Republican leaders and commentators continue to stonewall in the face of growing calls to further investigate Donald Trump’s record of sexual assault; and if Democrats continue to purge the boors and abusers within their own ranks despite the political costs (which, though less high so far than for Republicans, is not nothing), it’s going to be noticeably more difficult for even the most both-siderish reporters and commentators to maintain their silence about the asymmetric polarization that is, practically speaking, the single most powerful force reshaping American politics and policy.
That’s political gravity at work. Gravity doesn’t go away. Climate change is real enough. These women are real enough. Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. Reality is a bitch. And Donald Trump cannot fly.