We are living through a time of stunning cultural divide, an imploding political moment pitting the defense of values against the preservation of symbols.
Consider that 14 years ago, a certain Republican Congressman from Florida championed Roy Moore’s fight to keep a granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments.
“God’s name is on our currency, in our Pledge of Allegiance and mentioned throughout the very Constitution that is protecting Mr. Moore from a liberal activist judge,” the Florida Congressman argued.
Turns out that Moore’s supporter, Mark Foley, who resigned three years later when exposed as a predator of underage interns, cared more about protecting a symbol of Christianity than he cared about practicing Christian behavior.
President George W. Bush condemned Foley’s actions as “disgusting” and said he was “dismayed and shocked.” (Bush did still back Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert after Hastert — who years later went to prison for his past molestation of teenage boys — failed to take quick measures to punish Foley.)
Can you imagine if Republicans had stuck by Mark Foley in 2006 and Foley had remained a player in Republican politics? There was no question that Foley was in the wrong, that he had to go. The young men he preyed on might have had evidence in the form of instant messages, but there was no vocal contingent impugning their motives and calling them partisan attention-seekers who were asking for it.
I’d like to think the unanimous condemnation in both of those travesties wasn’t because the victims were males, but because it was an era of slightly finer moral clarity. As a woman, though, several incidents in Republican politics over the past year make me wonder.
Contrast the handling of the Foley scandal with that of the allegations against Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. A man who dedicated his life to judging the sins of others is now facing his personal day of judgment, accused of sexual solicitation of an underage girl. (Moore would later write that “revelations of homosexuality” were the reasons for his backing of Foley’s resignation, conveniently ignoring the charges of preying on the underage.)
A champion of preserving God’s words in the public space, Moore’s warped and convenient Christianity — a brand he exploited for a six-figure salary at his tax-exempt private foundation that employed his wife and son — was a cover for the evil lurking underneath for many years.
As recounted by the victim, Moore, as a 32-year-old assistant district attorney, offered to watch a mother’s 14-year-old daughter to spare the teenager the trauma of witnessing a nasty divorce proceeding. He would then sexually pursue the young girl, appearing in front of her in his underwear in an attempt to have her touch his erect penis.
“I felt responsible,” Leigh Corfman, now 53, said. “I felt like I had done something bad. And it kind of set the course for me doing other things that were bad.” At age 16, Corfman tried to kill herself.
It’s not a new concept in the United States that men of a certain age should not be pursuing sex with teenage girls. Though there was plenty of room for growth, expansion and improvement of the law, the age of consent has been 16 or 18 years old in 22 states since since before the turn of the century — as in 1900, not 2000 — with the exception of five Southern states that kept it at age 10. The age of consent in Alabama has been 16 years old since at least 1920.
But to those who support Moore for the Senate, the accusations — thoroughly sourced and reported by the Washington Post — are mainstream media news designed to discredit a Christian man. Moore himself waited only a few hours before he started fundraising off the charges. “The Bezos Amazon Washington Post that dropped that dime on Donald Trump is the same Bezos Amazon Washington Post that dropped the dime this afternoon on Judge Roy Moore,” Steve Bannon said.
The link here isn’t the “opposition media” that Bannon decries; it’s two men who are accused of grave sexual misconduct that Bannon and his followers want us to tolerate.
I agree with Bannon that yes, this is the “politics of personal destruction” — but the real perpetrators are men like Moore and Trump, who only have themselves to blame.
And as a nation of conscience, we only have ourselves to blame if we let this continue unchecked. If we accept it, we accept that this kind of behavior can happen to our own innocents whom we seek to love and protect. It’s a trade-off made by brave women like Leigh Corfman and the men and women who have come out in force to recount terror that they refuse to accept as inevitable for the next generation. They are a force of moral courage that is rare and real and that we are privileged to encounter in our lifetime.
Doug Jones, Moore’s Democratic opponent, avenged the deaths of four little girls killed by the Ku Klux Klan; Moore preyed on little girls.
This is the choice the people of Alabama have to make, and it matters that we take a stand on the side of protectors and against predators.