Let’s break silence for responsibility, justice

J. Martin Rochester, Curators’ Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is author of 10 books on international and American politics, including his latest: “New Warfare: Rethinking Rules for An Unruly World.”


It is that time for New Year’s resolutions. 

The past year ended with “The Silence Breakers” — the women who came forward as part of the #MeToo movement to report their stories about sexual assault and harassment — being named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year.”

Time’s announcement was made on NBC’s “Today” show, whose host, Matt Lauer, had just been fired amid harassment allegations. He joined the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, John Conyers and Al Franken in falling from the ranks of the powerful and suffering humiliation. 

As Time put it, “These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal [as] their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: Nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought.” 


On the one hand, the revolution was long overdue, as the outing of Weinstein and company brought into the open the not-so-secret fact of decades-old sexual discrimination toward women in the workplace, ranging from casting couches in Hollywood to boardrooms of corporate America. 

However, while feminists could take satisfaction in having produced lots of evidence of “toxic masculinity,” they had to be careful to avoid stereotyping all men as predators lest they be guilty of sexual harassment themselves. Indeed, men and women alike have contributed to the depraved culture that has been the subject of so much handwringing lately. 

By depraved culture, I mean the larger society that allowed a Harvey Weinstein over the years to be at once a sexual monster and a friend of the women’s movement. 

Long ago, Daniel Moynihan warned that we were “defining deviancy down”; that is, American society was normalizing behavior that previously had been stigmatized. He was referring to such behavior as divorce, adultery, out-of-wedlock births, uttering the F-word and other obscenities in the public square, full-body tattoos and near-naked dress codes, all of which were becoming more prevalent. 

According to the cultural arbiters and gatekeepers — notably media, intellectual and corporate elites — we were supposed to be nonjudgmental toward these things. In fact, in some cases, they even merited celebration, as examples of newfound individual freedom and respect for diversity. 

The “sexual revolution” was at the center of this cultural shift. It started in the 1960s, with the excesses of Playboy alongside Woodstock. Both conservatives and liberals contributed to putting society into sexual overdrive and polluting the culture in other ways as well. The Playboy mansion was no more decadent than the haunts of the self-indulgent, equal-opportunity hedonists of the “flower children” generation, many of whom never grew up. 

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat said in his Oct. 1 critique of Hugh Hefner after the father of Playboy magazine died at 91:

“Needless to say, the obituaries for Hefner … have been full of encomia for his great deeds: Hef the vanquisher of puritanism, Hef the political progressive, Hef the great businessman, and all the rest.” 

Douthat wrote that Hefner should be remembered more for epitomizing the “rotten side” of capitalism and social liberalism.

There is hypocrisy on both the right and the left. Conservatives who trumpet the importance of “family values” too often find themselves embarrassed by sexual miscon duct committed by the likes of Bill Cosby and Roy Moore, not to mention Donald Trump. Most never took seriously the concerns raised about sexual harassment. 

As for liberals, they complain about objectification of women, yet nobody has enabled misogyny more than liberal media such as The New York Times, which regularly trashes the institution of marriage (devaluing faithful spouses and stable households) and praises as “artists” rappers such as Jay-Z and Kenrick Lamar, whose libertine lifestyles and foul-mouthed lyrics often insult women. Vice President Mike Pence is ridiculed for calling his wife “Mother” — what he considers a badge of respect — but rappers are given glowing reviews for repeating phrases such as “Mother F—k”  and the ubiquitous “Bitch.”

The growing permissiveness that concerned Moynihan extends today to criminal behavior. It is hard to see why we should prosecute Weinstein and others for sexual assault and put them behind bars when rabbis and others constantly complain about the injustice of “mass incarceration,” of punishing felons involved in drug-dealing and worse. I happen to believe that prison is appropriate when one commits a serious offense that harms others, whether men or women. But our culture has been moving away from the “broken windows theory of policing” and other efforts to promote a zero-tolerance policy toward wrongdoing. 

If you don’t think something is fundamentally amiss today, ask yourself what type of society condemns the people it relies on to perform the dangerous law enforcement and first-responder missions, yet honors criminals with memorials and citations, as we have seen in St. Louis? 

In setting a new standard for standard-less tributes, GQ magazine (formerly Gentlemen’s Quarterly) gave patriarchy an even worse name when it recognized ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as its “Citizen of the Year”; along with disrespecting the national anthem, he wore socks depicting cops as fascist pigs and announced he was a big fan of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. One wonders whether the other CK (Louis) finished second in the voting by the GQ editorial board.  

We are still capable of being judgmental about some things: for example, conservatives about lack of personal responsibility and liberals about lack of social justice. Wouldn’t it be nice if the two sides could meet halfway rather than treating these norms as mutually exclusive? How about using simpler terms such as “responsibility” and “justice”? 

 In 2017, we started to stop tolerating sexual harassment. Will 2018 be the year when we resolve to stop tolerating other sick, pathological behaviors?

I have written elsewhere in these pages about our “lewd and crude” culture. Although it is politically incorrect to complain about such issues, I keep hoping to help trigger another #MeToo movement. 

As they say, get woke!