Mark W. Hendrickson
Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. These articles are from The Epoch Times, and Visionandvalues.org, a publication of Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.
The Kavanaugh Accusation: A Defining Moment for #MeToo
What is #MeToo’s mission? Is it to work for a reduction of abusive sexual behavior and to promote greater respect for each other, or is it to weaponize sex for partisan, ideological purposes? We may find out soon.
Just last week, I wrote in support of #MeToo’s efforts to curb predatory sexual behavior, saying that they could be more effective and helpful if they would dare to challenge the rich and socially accepted purveyors (Hollywood, Playboy, et al.) of socially corrosive sexual titillation.
Now, one week later, #MeToo is in a position to squander their long-term effectiveness in one huge misstep.
All they have to do to blow it is to hitch their reputation to the attempt to derail Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court on the flimsy basis of unproven accusations of impropriety as a minor. If that happens, #MeToo will lose a ton of respect, credibility, good will, and moral authority.
If, going forward, #MeToo focuses its efforts on adults using positions of power to coerce or extort sexual favors from those beneath them in a hierarchical organization, they will enjoy mainstream support.
But, if #MeToo starts going after every man who crossed a line as a callow teenager, the result will be a circus. Heaven knows, we have enough problems to address in the present without reliving thousands of years- and decades-old cases of adolescent impropriety of various degrees of veracity.
Yes, let’s do more to teach today’s youth about proper conduct toward members of the opposite sex, but let’s reserve the heavy artillery of branding someone for life for incorrigible adults who pose a present threat to decency and respect today.
Hopefully, there are enough sober thinkers in the #MeToo movement to see how much support they will lose if they call for the unjust ruination of a man’s career on the basis of unproven allegations.
Sadly, two female U.S. senators are setting horrible examples. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has stated that Kavanaugh should be disqualified “given what we know.” Sorry, senator, but we don’t know what did or didn’t happen 36 years ago.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) apparently blames all males for sexual misconduct, and has called on men to “step up” and “do the right thing.” Well, I stepped up last week in support of curbing sexual predations. Now I hope the senator will reciprocate and do the right thing by not lynching Judge Kavanaugh on the basis of an uncorroborated allegation dependent on fuzzily recalled events from 36 years ago.
Hypocrisy — What makes progressives’ attempt to torpedo the nomination of a brilliant and fair-minded jurist, who by all accounts has been a model of upright behavior throughout his professional career, is the rank hypocrisy of it all.
Liberals have long blamed the environment in which someone was raised for the occurrence of crime and poverty. While I don’t think environment explains or exculpates everything, it can indeed be a potent factor. So it is with sexual misconduct. That is why, in my article last week, I urged #MeToo to criticize today’s social environment in which recreational sex is glorified and chastity and monogamy are devalued.
Liberals also have customarily come down on the side of lenience for minors who have broken laws. Indeed, while we can disagree about how much leniency to show to adolescents, we need to make some allowances for juvenile misbehavior, for minors are not fully mature individuals either emotionally or psychologically. Many of us made mistakes as teenagers that we would never make as adults.
The eleventh-hour attack on Kavanaugh reminds me of how, six years ago, the left went after GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for some high school mischief. I happened to live in the same dormitory as Mitt that year, and wrote about the incident for Forbes.com.
Even though I think Mitt did what he was accused of (something I won’t believe about Kavanaugh without credible corroboration), I feel that he learned and grew from his overzealous behavior. Kids are kids, they make mistakes, and to say that a mistake in youth disqualifies a person from doing honorable work as an adult is wrong and cruel. (It’s also impractical, because if only people who never stepped out of line as kids can be eligible for high office, those offices will have to remain vacant.)
Progressives say that standards of conduct must be stricter for someone to occupy a position as powerful as a seat on the Supreme Court. That is laughable coming from people who gave Bill Clinton a pass for his alleged serial sexual depredations, even though as president he had more power than a Justice Kavanaugh ever would.
Furthermore, Clinton’s known transgressions as an adult were far more outrageous than Kavanaugh’s unknowable, alleged transgressions as a youth. To have given Clinton a pass, but to condemn Kavanaugh is as dishonest a double standard as can be imagined. And to pretend that the Clinton episode is “ancient history” and that progressives’ standards have risen over the two decades since is bunk.
Just two years ago, those now arguing that an alleged sexual assault by an intoxicated teenager disqualifies an individual from high office for life wanted Hillary Clinton — a woman who had allegedly thrown dirt on the female accusers of her husband — to be president of the United States. How utterly cynical.
Yogi Berra famously quipped, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.” #MeToo now finds itself at a fork in the road.
In this case, it is more than obvious which fork #MeToo should take. They should opt for the higher road of evenhandedly and consistently working to uproot sexual exploitation from the workplace, and shun the downward path toward becoming nothing but another demagogic tool of partisan politics.
The #MeToo Movement’s Blind Spot
The #MeToo movement has scored a significant victory: Les Moonves has “stepped down” as CBS chairman and CEO after multiple accusations of predatory sexual behavior spanning many years came to light.
The #MeToo movement appears to be an amorphous, spontaneous uprising against people in positions of power who have engaged in serial sexual predation. That strikes me as a quintessentially American phenomenon. Whatever the particulars of the movement’s structure, leadership, etc., it is accomplishing several worthy objectives.
First, justice: Moonves’ comeuppance illustrates the old Biblical principle that one reaps what one sows (Galatians: 6:7). What “perfect justice” in this case would be, I cannot venture to say, but there is at least partial justice now that Moonves’ victims see him paying the price of public disgrace and removal from his position of power as a consequence of his misdeeds.
Second, deterrence: Clearly, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg during this, the first year of #MeToo. That means that there are a lot of guilty men (and a few women) out there who are sweating bullets that their shameful mistreatment of others (whether violently criminal or “merely” unethical, obnoxious, and abusive) will be revealed. And for others who haven’t yet crossed the line to engage in predatory sexual misconduct, most will be far more likely now than they were a year ago to refrain from crossing that line.
Third, accountability: The dam has broken. The notion that one could engage in such ugly behavior with impunity and hide safely behind an unwritten code of silence has been shattered. Notice has been served: Do it, and you will pay a heavy price.
This is all to the good. The norms of our society are changing for the better. Treating others with greater respect is much needed and much welcomed. That being said, I have a bone to pick with the #MeToo movement.
By all means, let there be days of reckoning for the guilty. Let the perpetrators be unmasked and receive their just desserts. But if the movement stops there — only bringing to light more misdeeds by more perpetrators — then it is only treating the symptoms of a societal problem and not its causes. The real culprit here is the mindset that fuels the impulses, rationalizations, and self-justifications that trigger such misconduct.
Can anyone deny that American society has become increasingly preoccupied and saturated with increasingly lurid and demeaning concepts of sex over the past 50 to 60 years? This isn’t to say that intense interest in sex arose with the baby-boomer generation; powerful sexual desires are as old as the human race. But the Playboy philosophy that emerged in the 1950s and the sexual revolution that exploded in the ’60s and ’70s magnified and amplified those natural instincts, exalting sex and sexual “liberation” and indulgence as the mark of a “hip” modern man or woman.
A year ago this month, just before the #MeToo movement rose to prominence, Hugh Hefner, the founder of the Playboy empire passed away. I have no personal animus against Hefner, but as long as the peccadilloes of living men are being discussed openly, why not take a look at a deceased individual who played a key role in glamorizing sex-without-commitment promiscuity?
How was Hefner different from a pimp? No, he didn’t ply his wares on street corners, but he still paid women to disrobe for the titillation of males who were willing to pay. And how would you characterize his flagship publication, if not as pornography? (You might say “high-class porn,” but pairing “high-class” with “porn” seems like an oxymoron, so perhaps a more accurate description of Playboy is that it is porn with more polish than some of the cruder versions thereof.)
Let me emphasize that I’m not alleging that Hefner singlehandedly debased human sexuality in American culture. He was a figurehead for a vast number of people in our society who were seduced into believing that sex is a toy that takes one to the pinnacle of happiness when, in fact, sexual hyperactivity has destroyed families and brought pain to millions of devastated American children who have wondered why Mom and Dad didn’t stay together.
Besides ignoring Hefner and fellow pornographers’ role in eroding standards of sexual self-control, the #MeToo movement also has given Hollywood a pass. The movie industry has played a huge part in the exaltation of sex over love. Scenes that were left to the imagination as recently as the early 1960s have became increasingly explicit in the years since. The constant bombardment of the senses with vivid scenes of sexual passion inflamed those passions in others.
Indeed, the #MeToo movement lost a golden opportunity at last spring’s Oscar ceremony. There, a famous actress used her time on national TV to call for more offenders to be brought to account. That was fine, as far as it went. However, she blew a golden opportunity to address Hollywood’s culpability in fanning the flames of sexual desire. Hollywood has contributed heavily to generating a cultural miasma in which morally weak individuals abandon self-restraint and instead commit sexual depredations against others.
As the book of Proverbs warns, “Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?” (Prov. 6:27) Hollywood films have ignited a lot of fires of desire over the years with graphic and mesmerizing depictions of sex as no-strings-attached thrills, best enjoyed with someone other than one’s spouse. For Hollywood figures to denounce those who are consumed by those fires, without accepting any responsibility for its role in pouring fuel on those fires is shortsighted, if not hypocritical.
The #MeToo movement is propelling needed change. The next step in its development should be for its spokespersons to courageously challenge the social acceptability of exalting sexual gratification above healthy relationships and time-tested moral norms. It’s time for them to address the roots of this cultural and social scourge.
Serena Williams, Umpire Abuse, and American Culture
If you follow sports at all, you know that Serena Williams erupted into a rage and verbal nastiness during her U.S. Open tennis finals match on Sept. 8. Williams, arguably the greatest female tennis player of all time, called the match umpire a “thief” among other unflattering characterizations that were heard by millions of spectators around the world.
In doing so, she not only embarrassed herself, shattered the dignity of her own sport, and marred the first Grand Slam victory by Japan’s talented and consummately gracious Naomi Osaka, but she shined a spotlight on a couple of deep-seated problems in American society.
Williams’ strong verbal attack against the umpire was symptomatic of the declining respect for authority, as well as the declining respect for others that has become endemic in contemporary America. Please understand, I am not blaming Williams for these problems. She isn’t the cause of these problems, but merely a prominent symbol of them.
Frankly, professional tennis tournament officials and governing boards have only themselves to blame for allowing a “gentlemen’s [and ladies’] sport” to degenerate into verbal hooliganism. Indeed, Williams is a much more restrained version of the volcanic John McEnroe, whose emotional immaturity and verbal pyrotechnics 30 to 40 years ago paved the way for this latest verbal explosion.
Even in baseball — historically a much less genteel sport than tennis — players who verbally abuse an umpire are ejected from the game.
Ejection is more problematical for tennis, since removal of one player ends the match, but here is how professional tennis could do it: Make a rule that verbal abuse of anyone on the court brings automatic disqualification; give the offending player’s share of the prize money to the paid ticketholders in attendance to compensate them for their contracted tennis match being truncated; stipulate that three such instances result in a permanent ban from professional tennis.
Do this, and the problem would greatly diminish. It’s simple economics: Raise the cost of misbehavior to the point where such behavior becomes nearly unthinkable.
One of the consequences of Williams’ verbal assault on the umpire is the message it sends to children: If you disagree with an official strongly enough, then it is permissible to berate and yell at the official. The token fine levied against Williams a day or two after the tournament will in no way erase the vivid mental images of her conduct. You can bet on younger athletes mimicking that behavior by bad-mouthing officials in their respective sports.
Verbally abusing officials isn’t harmless. In addition to whatever stress it imposes on the target, it discourages people from helping out communities and schools by serving as sports officials. Indeed, there already are many communities in the United States that are having a hard time finding anyone willing to officiate sports, or to work as volunteer coaches for children.
Many Americans now shy away from officiating because angry parents are so quick to verbally abuse and harass any official who makes a call against little Johnny’s team. Others decline to volunteer as coaches because some self-righteous parents who believe that their child is entitled to start or play an important position routinely bash coaches who don’t assess the team’s needs in the same way.
In short, the American proclivity to engage in verbal abuse already has hurt our children, by causing many adults with some talent for sports to shy away from youth sports involvements because it has become so unpleasant.
The problem isn’t confined to sports. Think of all the verbal abuse that has been heaped upon police since the “cops are pigs” countercultural meme gained traction in the turbulent 1960s. It persists today (see Colin Kaepernick, about whom I will write next). The impact? According to a recent report in The Christian Science Monitor, small towns in America are having great difficulty in finding anyone willing to go into police work.
I know none of us loves the cop who “picks” on us when we are speeding, but do we really want to create a social atmosphere in which nobody is willing to perform this vital, difficult, and under-appreciated work because their fellow citizens routinely denounce and condemn police officers?
We Americans have become entirely too quick to become verbally abusive of others. Sadly, today’s toxic political polarization aggravates that tendency, although it seems to me that politics didn’t make us mean, but instead, our reduced respect for authority and the verbal meanness that accompanies that disrespect has infected political discourse. (Examples abound, with the one freshest in my mind being the goons who staged the ugly interruptions of the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the hallowed chambers of the U.S. Senate.)
Now that I’ve mentioned the political realm, I think partisans on both sides of the political divide know of good people who have rebuffed attempts to get them to run for public office because they don’t want to endure having their families subjected to the harsh and increasingly vicious verbal abuses to which political candidates are often subjected.
Sadly, I have no hope that verbal attacks against political officeholders and office seekers will lessen any time soon. But can we please make an effort to muzzle ourselves and refrain from verbally trashing sports officials and coaches, and from demonizing the police? We need good people in those positions, but every time we abuse people in those positions, we drive good people away from where their talents could bless our society.
That’s why Williams’ outburst was so harmful. We have to stop behaving like this, for the sake of both our children and our communities.
Heroes, Sacrifice, Collusion, Capitalism, and the Nike-Kaepernick Ad Campaign
Colin Kaepernick, the currently unemployed NFL quarterback most famous for kneeling during the U.S. national anthem, has hit the jackpot. Nike Inc. has unveiled Kaepernick as a featured face in their new ad campaign. While the terms of the contract haven’t yet been released, Nike pays megabucks to the athletes in its ads.
Let’s examine Nike’s decision. First, though, full disclosure: I have never had any monetary relationship with Nike, not even as a consumer. (Why pay several dollars more for a product just because it has a little swoosh on it?) However, I have respected and defended Nike against ignorant attacks against its Third World factories. Nike’s sweatshops have done far more than most, if not all, nonprofits to lift people out of dreadful poverty.
That having been said, Nike’s new ad campaign disappoints me. With so many well-liked great athletes, male and female, in our country, why did Nike choose an athlete as widely disliked as Kaepernick to represent them? The answer: Nike made a cold, calculating, cynical decision. American society is divided and polarized. Nike, of course, didn’t cause the polarization; they simply have made their peace with it, and decided to exploit it to the hilt to maximize profits. This is capitalism without conscience in action.
As one commentator shrewdly observed in Business Insider, old white guys aren’t Nike’s target market. Nike correctly calculated that my demographic would howl in protest about the selection of Kaepernick, generating tons of free publicity. Nike also calculated that younger Americans — Nike’s target demographic — would embrace Kaepernick as a symbol of youthful defiance and liberation from the (supposedly) outdated values of their stodgy elders. Defiant rebelliousness is sexy, and that is what Nike is marketing with Kaepernick.
Another aspect of the generation gap that Nike is exploiting is that the American concept of “hero” has changed. In bygone decades, corporations would choose someone universally recognized as a hero to be their public face. Up until the mid- or late-60s, right and wrong were clear-cut and unambiguous. Heroes were the good guys, whether the Lone Rangers, Ozzie Nelsons, and Ward Cleavers of popular entertainment, or the Sgt. Yorks, Lou Gehrigs, and John Glenns of real life.
By the 1970s, though, the era of the anti-hero had dawned. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were thieves, but Hollywood portrayed them as charming and likable. For decades now, popular entertainment and culture have pushed the envelope of decency and morality, gradually eroding the old standards. It has been trendy to mock the “straight and narrow way” as uncool; to depict life as steeped in shades of ethical grayness. The bar is lower for what it takes to be a hero. Voilà, the rise of hero/villains such as Kaepernick.
For me, the disappointment in Nike’s choice of poster boy is compounded by the glib superficiality of the ad campaign’s message. The notion that Kaepernick has been “sacrificing everything” is shamefully dishonest. Whoever wrote and adopted that phrase should spend a couple of hours in Arlington National Cemetery to learn what “sacrificing everything” really means.
What exactly has Kaepernick sacrificed? Certainly not fame and fortune. What about his professional football career? Kaepernick has not “sacrificed” it, but squandered it. He has accused NFL owners of colluding to blackball him from the NFL. This is a dubious assertion. Kaepernick’s hasn’t been sidelined because he knelt during the national anthem. Lots of NFL players have done this repeatedly, yet they continue to play.
He derailed and perhaps permanently forfeited his football career by doing outrageous things such as being photographed wearing “police are pigs” socks. (Can progressives who salute Kaepernick honestly say that you would clamor for the reinstatement of a player who had been as derogatory and condemnatory toward a racial minority as Kaepernick has been to police? Why the exception for that brand of despicable bigotry?)
Put yourself in the shoes of an NFL team owner for a moment. Mindful of the values of your fans and that a significant chunk of them already have boycotted NFL football, you wouldn’t dare to sign a player who has figuratively spat upon our country’s police officers. Besides costing you many fans/customers, the addition of this radioactive player to any NFL locker room would cause intolerable distractions. There is no collusion. Every NFL owner can plainly see the perils of hiring Kaepernick.
One last point about Nike’s choice of Kaepernick: Besides lowering the bar for what constitutes a hero and grossly devaluing the meaning of “sacrificing everything,” the perennial Nike motto “Just do it” seems feeble. In the present context, “just do it” seems to exalt the kind of casual carelessness that Kaepernick has manifested: Don’t pause to consider the ramifications of your actions; just follow your impulses. Frankly, that is a terrible message to convey to young people. We should encourage them to be more thoughtful, not less, about their actions.
As for Kaepernick himself, I haven’t written him off yet. We all make mistakes, especially when we are young and immature. It is possible that as he matures, Kaepernick will see that while he had legitimate concerns, his actions were hurtful, unfair, ineffective, and counterproductive. You don’t promote justice with injustice. You don’t disarm prejudice with prejudice. You don’t build bridges by burning bridges.
The big question about Kaepernick going forward is whether he has room in his heart to let love displace anger, and room in his mind for reason to supplant unthinking reactiveness. Will he allow the gall of bitterness to harden him into yet another pathetic hate-America leftist? Or will he awaken to the fact that the United States, despite not yet having completely fulfilled our noble ideals, is still a great country where more has been done for more people than virtually anyplace else on Earth, and where we can accomplish so much more if we work together, in mutual respect?
I hope he can come back from the dark side, although Nike is paying him a ton to be an anti-establishment icon. Good luck, young man.
An Open Letter to the Players of the National Football League
Many of you give generously of your time and money to various community activities. You also deeply desire to help our country live up to our lofty ideals of peace, justice, and opportunity. Thank you for your efforts and for caring.
The decision that some of you have made to kneel during the playing of our national anthem has sown confusion, in addition to controversy. The following remarks are an attempt to bring clarity to several important aspects of this issue.
First: Constitutional Rights — If the National Football League (NFL) or a team owner requires you to stand for the anthem, this isn’t a violation of your constitutional right to free speech. Our precious First Amendment stipulates: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . .” Since it isn’t Congress that is requiring you to stand during the anthem, the First Amendment doesn’t apply here.
Second: Owners’ Rights and Employees’ Obligations — The NFL and the team owners — private employers — are the ones requiring that you, their employees, stand for the anthem. There is no constitutional right to have a job where the employer must provide a public platform for employees to express their personal grievances. On the contrary, employers have a right to establish guidelines for what is permissible behavior during working hours.
The requirement that you stand for the national anthem is no different than the board of trustees of my college insisting that we professors wear silly caps and gowns, march in an orderly procession, and remain seated during official ceremonies such as convocation and commencement.
Third: Uniforms and Uniformity — The purpose of a uniform is to outwardly manifest uniformity — the merging of individuality into one common purpose. When some players kneel and others stand, the appearance of uniformity is gone, it looks sloppy, and you don’t look like a team.
Obviously, the 46 players dressed for your team on game day don’t all share the same beliefs, perceptions, and priorities in their private lives, but why call attention to that right before kickoff? That is a crucial time when all teammates should be of one mind.
Your teammates who stand may respect your desire to protest, but I’m sure it makes some of them inwardly sad when you won’t stand for the national anthem.
Fourth: Some Practical Considerations — Who decides which issue(s) of the many possible choices are to be protested? What if a born-again Christian on your team wants to protest abortion? What if one of them took my economics course and wanted to protest the cruel injustice of burdening our country’s youth with tens of trillions of dollars of debt and obligations? And how can you tell when protests are no longer needed?
There is a basic problem here: If we use the national anthem as an occasion to protest because something isn’t right yet, the protests will never end, because there will always be problems in a society comprised of imperfect human beings.
Fifth: Counterproductive Results — Do anthem protests help or hurt your cause? Look at last year’s attendance figures and TV ratings. Your anthem protests have caused many Americans who would be naturally inclined to support your campaign for justice to permanently tune out you, the NFL, and your social messages.
Those you have alienated include:
1. Those veterans (many, but not all) who, while supporting your right to protest on your own time, deeply resent you kneeling when the flag that some of their friends died for is being honored by the playing of the national anthem;
2. Many police officers and their friends and families who resent being portrayed as animals because some of their colleagues committed wrongs;
3. Some moms, upset that their kids started fighting before a pee-wee football game when some of the boys mimicked you by kneeling during the anthem, who have now banned watching NFL football games in their homes;
4. Those fans whose greatest joy in the week used to be going to a football game to forget about personal and social problems for a few hours, when fans of all political persuasions could stand or sit side-by-side in friendly fellowship, united in support of their favorite team.
A football game was one of our last refuges — a refreshing oasis — from the political polarization that has seeped into so many areas of our lives. The anthem protests have deprived people of that oasis, and some have turned their backs on you as a result. Depriving innocent people of joy does nothing to bring more justice to our society.
Sixth: Your Right of Conscience — The NFL’s anthem policy this year (clearly unenforced) allows players to remain in the locker room if they can’t in good conscience stand for the anthem. They didn’t have to do this.
The 1940 Supreme Court decision Minersville School District v. Gobitis exempted those with certain religious convictions from having to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. It didn’t provide an exemption for people who were upset about something, but the NFL owners, out of respect for your conscience, magnanimously provided an “out” for those who would resent having to stand for the anthem.
Seventh: Your Aim — Although most of you don’t mean it this way, it looks to many like you are protesting the flag — the symbol of our ideals — when your real complaint is with the failure of certain individuals to live up to those ideals. The Stars and Stripes isn’t responsible for individual shortcomings and wrongs, so why make the flag look like a target?
Eighth: The Matter of Timing — As football players, you all understand how crucial timing is to the success of a play. Timing is just as important when it comes to addressing problems. By choosing the playing of the national anthem as a time of protest, you have achieved the counterproductive result of upsetting fans who otherwise would be receptive to your message.
The book of Ecclesiastes tells us: “To every thing there is a season” (Eccl. 3:1). Couldn’t that mean today that there is a time for gratitude, a time for protest, a time for football, and a time to work for a better America?
Ninth: Is the Glass Half-Empty or Half-Full? — You have legitimate concerns about very real problems. Our country has never yet completely lived up to our lofty and noble ideals, and we need to keep working on it. But there is more freedom and prosperity here than most people in the world’s history have even dreamed of.
Most importantly, there is something of paramount importance that unites all of us Americans: While we have not yet come close to solving all our country’s problems, we are blessed to have the freedom to work toward our worthy goals.
That is what our veterans fought and died for. That is what Old Glory symbolizes. So when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played, can’t we stand together in gratitude for the freedom we all have to make a difference? Can’t we celebrate the positive, can-do spirit that has always made America great?
Wishing all of you an injury-free season and progress in your careers. *