A key component of Democrats’ messaging against Donald Trump in the lead-up to the 2016 elections was highlighting a rich history of him disregarding women’s boundaries — accusations of sexual assault were aplenty, and it all culminated into the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape in which then-candidate for the US presidency flaunted the boons of exclusive access to women by virtue of working in show business. That bludgeon was used to great effect by the Hillary Clinton campaign to undermine Trump’s claim to office, but the strategy proved ultimately unsuccessful as America’s hunger for being lorded over by a right-wing populist was yet to be sated.
The story eventually left the public consciousness as Democrats realized that Trump’s affront to women was not a deal-breaker for his core constituency — soon however, lamenting the dire state of misogyny within Trump’s inner circles would come to bite Democrats in the ass as their claim to moral potency is undermined by a candidate whose past of abusing power to do much of what they spent years cautioning against came recently to the fore. After Bernie Sanders left the Democratic primary race to the disappointment of many, it was to Joe Biden that the eyes turned in the hope of embodying what the party has come to represent in recent years — so far, the presumptive Democratic nominee has done little to earn their trust.
Part of this is due to the nature of the Biden campaign itself — aside from debate appearances prior to the Iowa caucus, the campaign has made a concerted effort to keep him as out of public eyes as possible. Some orbiting Democratic inner circles claim this is intentional, and doubly more so as Trump’s handling of this recent global pandemic has come down under harsh scrutiny. But outside of the center-left, most have settled on Biden’s inability to string together coherent sentences as the main primary concern — needless to say his handling of the allegations left a lot to be desired.
This was readily apparent when Biden broke down his media hiatus to appear on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and comment on the allegations — he ended up denying them, and now the focus has shifted full tilt to Democratic operatives and liberal punditry to show whether this statement can resist the pressure of Trump’s ruthless campaigning tactics in what is likely going to be the bloodiest race for presidency in American history.
Since #MeToo became the main currency by which power is traded in feminist circles, it was all-the-more puzzling to see so many of its main staples throw their weight behind Joe Biden, even with a yet-to-be-investigated credible allegation of sexual assault on his record — between entertainers like Alyssa Milano, Debra Messing and Cardi B, members of liberal intelligentsia like Amanda Marcotte and Charlotte Clymer, and even liberal feminist-favorite Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden’s line of support is far from sparse. Whereas one could conceivably make the case that Hillary Clinton was the perfect candidate to run against Trump’s pompous brand of sexism and misogyny, Biden seems more like a far-flung attempt to fight it in kind.
Whatever may lie on the other end of this conflict, it can’t bode well for the #MeToo movement — once siphoned for political ends to defeat Trump is invoked again, but this time, #MeToo stands to have its ideological core completely dismantled as its patron saints cherry-pick which women to extend solidarity towards. “Like many feminists, I’m terrified of Trump’s possible reelection; there is no overstating the damage that another term of his presidency would have on Americans and the world, especially the most vulnerable among us,” says GEN’s Jessica Valenti. “But we can’t abandon our values out of fear. Doing so is not only wrong but would undercut all the credibility the women’s movement has built around #MeToo.”
Even if Joe Biden’s reputation survives the allegations, what he will have permitted by assuming power on the back of pent-up feminist anger since Trump’s election in 2016 will prove to be a devastating blow for the movement as a whole. The greatest display of power is political, and it’s one that feminists have been seeking for so long — for them to give it up to the embodiment of everything that goes against their values is perhaps proof that the group’s aim has been falsely set on ill-considered long-term political calculations, rather than unconditionally committing to their principles no matter the short-term political cost.
This is the logical conclusion of centering the pursuit of justice around identity politics — it is hard to square a vote for Biden now that he has the very things that feminists spent several years decrying about the cabal of power-abusing public figures. What further dings Biden’s standing on that debate is his long tenure in public office — if what Tara Reade alleges is true, that would mean Biden partook in a verbatim display of power abuse, challenging his fitness to claim its ultimate form.
It isn’t the first time that liberal feminism had to engage in copious amounts of mental gymnastics to justify why it would be indeed advantageous to vote for another kind of rapist, but what’s more so egregious is their reticence to make that point more bluntly — so much of anti-Reade criticism seems to rest its case on disputing her claims, rather than making the cold-hearted political calculus that some who believe Reade’s story already are. Supporting Biden is ostensibly the feminist thing to do since another four years of Trump might prove perilous to everyone, not just women — but trying to claim that feminist doctrine would have solicited Biden’s support either way is decidedly a dangerous road to walk.
The frailness of #MeToo in the face of what should’ve been an easy test to pass is a cautionary tale about politicizing what should be a foundational aspect of equality and justice — it puts into question all the work that has been done to further women’s rights in the last few years to have it crumble down before a political candidate whose ideas aren’t even groundbreaking such as to merit leeway. Even if Biden comes out the other end scuffed, his reputation is likely to heal much faster than Reade’s — it is an affront to women everywhere that this is even a possibility at all.