Sexual Assault Storm Tells us Something Else About Power
Let’s talk about power. The way I see it, there are basically two types of power, political and economic. You can wield power through the government, or through your giant bank account.
In the crony world of corporate-political America, the lines are blurry. These days most people gain their political or economic power by mixing the two. But you can still tease apart whether someone’s power derives mostly from political or economic sources.
And there are all these people with either type of power who secretly behind closed doors act completely inappropriately when it comes to sexual advances.
(There’s more to the story about why the media is just now reporting these things. Read my take on the media’s plan for using sexual assault accusations as a weapon. But for our current discussion, suffice to say, most of these guys are major creeps exploiting their positions.)
So what happens to the people in each power-house when they are caught, with credible evidence?
The economically powerful in the private sector get fired. They have sponsors pulled, they have projects canceled. The power they used to take advantage sexually is seriously diminished. Even if it doesn’t cost them outright, it costs them in network connections. It costs them in reputation, and reputation is a key component of economic power.
The latest to be fired is Matt Lauer. Weinstein and Spacey lost projects and gave up lucrative deals. Mark Halperin and Charlie Rose were fired. Louie C.K. lost a whole bunch of shows and specials.
And the politically powerful are not affected. Al Franken has not resigned. John Conyers has not resigned. Some people even think Trump is getting off easy, although his controversy is more about words than actions. Bill Clinton is lucky he is from a different era. Roy Moore will become a Senator if a slim majority of Alabama voters approve.
Congress also has more than a whiff of entitlement, accustomed to operating by its own rules while other organizations rush to protect themselves from liability.
Beyond that, some lawmakers argue that voters, not colleagues, should serve as the ultimate judges of those under scrutiny.
When Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) was asked Wednesday about the difference between quick actions taken against non-politicians and lagging moves against members of Congress like Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, he blurted out one line:
“Who elected them?” he said, referring to the private-sector figures.
This highlights the problem with holding government accountable. This shows how much easier it is to hold the private sector accountable. When people and organizations have to worry about their wallets, they respond.
The market is very effective at regulating behavior. We, the people, have the power hit the economically powerful where it hurts: their wallets.
We have no such power with politicians. In fact, the taxpayers fund their settlements! The government doesn’t stand to lose “business” no matter what its members do. They will still be funded by tax dollars, we have no choice.
And to fire them, we need to wait until the next election cycle. But even then, the politicians at fault might not be in your district. Even if they are, you need a majority to hold them accountable.
Public pressure on politicians does nothing to curtail their power unless it causes them to lose an election. But as consumers, we can immediately affect the power of people in the private sector. They don’t need a slim majority to maintain power, they need a broad customer base excited to hand over their dollars.
The private sector has built-in incentives to punish people who fall into disfavor with customers.
Political power is a creepy club of factions and games. When someone in the private sector is accused of sexual misconduct, their peers quickly disown them. They are banished, exiled, shunned, and may God have mercy on their souls.
But politicians know that their power is not subject to the same constraints as economic power.
Democrats have remained coy about whether or not Franken and Conyers should resign. Some Republicans have called for Roy Moore to drop out of the Alabama Senate race. But President Trump remains supportive. Marco Rubio says it is a “difficult situation.”
Because on the one hand, as a Republican, you want the Republican Party to keep the seat. On the other hand, I personally find the accusations against him to be credible, and I don’t think he has done or said anything in the last month that has helped himself or in any way made me feel better about it,” Rubio said. “But he’s staying in the race, the people of Alabama will have their vote and we’ll move on from there.”
So that is that, colleagues wash their hands of the situation. Let the voters decide their fate. Because that always works so well…
Power Goes to Their Head
I think power does basically the same thing to people whether it is economic or political power.
And if these people are willing to put their careers on the line for a cheap sexual thrill, imagine what else they are capable of.
I don’t know if this says something about human nature, our culture, or men in general. But the lesson I get out of it all is that power imbalances cause people to do crazy things. How easy it is for power to go to someone’s head.
Behavior that everyone knows is completely inappropriate is common among people who feel above others.
Those with economic power learn from their fall from grace. Congress’ solution? They will implement sexual harassment training for politicians and staff, and call it a day.