Alleged molester loses dramatic US election

Street fighters: The #MeToo hashtag was popularised by actor Alyssa Milano in October. © Getty

Will Donald Trump be brought down by #MeToo? Roy Moore, the candidate he backed in this week’s election, lost after being accused of sexual misconduct. Now the focus is on the president.

Alabama is one of the most conservative states in America. It almost always votes red. In 2014, the Republican Jeff Sessions kept his Senate seat with 97% of the vote.

Tuesday was a different story. In the by-election triggered by Sessions’s resignation, Doug Jones, a Democrat, narrowly beat Republican candidate Roy Moore. The result, unimaginable a month ago, stunned the country, energised the opposition and threw the ruling Republican Party into turmoil.

Moore was a divisive candidate to begin with. But his campaign took a hit in early November, when he was accused of molesting — and attempting to rape — teenagers in his past. Senior Republicans distanced themselves from Moore, even as he dismissed the claims as “fake news”. Yet the party’s national committee stood by him, as did President Trump.

Coming as it did in the midst of the #MeToo movement, the election appears to have been swung by these allegations. Indeed, Jones used them against his opponent. He described the vote as a referendum on “who we are and what we’re going to tell our daughters”.

As Alabama delivered its verdict, the president’s own scandal returned to the spotlight. During his campaign last year, a tape recording emerged in which Trump boasted about groping women. He was then accused by at least 16 women of sexual misconduct. On Monday, three of them appeared on television to repeat their allegations.

Soon after, Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democratic senator, called on Trump to resign over the claims, lending her voice to a growing chorus in her party. Trump fired back, calling Gillibrand a “total flunky” who “would do anything” for campaign contributions. His comment was widely taken as a sexist innuendo.

Even Republicans are standing up to Trump. On Sunday Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN and one of the most high-profile women in politics, said that his accusers “should be heard”.

The president insists that they are all lying. That argument worked last year, but the scandal has not gone away. As one of his accusers said on Monday, “The environment’s different. Let’s try again.”

#HimToo

Good luck to them, say some. They are unlikely to make a difference. Trump has weathered several scandals already, not least the Russia one. He has never come close to resigning, and his party has shown no willingness to impeach him. He is too important to them. He will survive.

Things are changing, reply others. The difference between Trump’s victory and Moore’s defeat shows how much of an impact #MeToo has had already. If Americans make it clear that they do not want a president accused of harassment, his party will turn on him too. Moore is gone, but there is more to come.

You Decide

  1. Would Trump be elected president if the vote were tomorrow?
  2. Should everyone accused of sexual misconduct immediately lose their job?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are running for election. Focusing on one issue, explain to the class in 60 seconds why they should vote for you.
  2. Write definitions for these terms: “sexual misconduct”, “sexual harassment”, “sexual abuse”. After researching the claims against Moore and Trump, decide which term best applies to their cases.

Some People Say...

“Between men and women there is no friendship possible.”

Oscar Wilde

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The global campaign against sexual misconduct has been raging since early October, when allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced. Some say its seed was planted last year, when Trump brushed off the claims against him. Since October, dozens of famous men — many of them in showbiz — have seen their careers crumble as a result of allegations.
What do we not know?
How the #MeToo movement will affect politics. Unlike most people, politicians cannot just be fired: if they do not resign or get voted out, it is generally hard to force them out of their job. Some have resigned, such as Democratic Senator Al Franken. However, Republicans have been reluctant to turn on their own members who face allegations. Do you think Moore’s defeat is a turning point?

Word Watch

Red
The colour of the Republican Party.
97%
The Democrats did not even bother to run an opponent against him.
By-election
A one-off election, called a “special election” in the USA, triggered when a member of a political, elected institution resigns or dies. By-election results are often seen as an indicator of how the public mood has changed since the last general election.
Sessions’s resignation
When chosen as Trump’s attorney general, Sessions was obliged to leave the Senate.
Narrowly beat
Jones took 49.9% of the vote to Moore’s 48.4%. The Republicans’ Senate majority dropped from two to one, putting their ability to pass laws at risk.
Divisive candidate
Moore was suspended twice in his former career as a judge. Once because he told other judges to defy federal law and refuse to let gay couples marry; once because he chose not to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments he had put up, again ignoring a court order.
Flunky
US slang to describe someone who just obeys orders.
Innuendo
Merriam-Webster: “A statement which indirectly suggests that someone has done something immoral, improper, etc.”

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