Everyone who worried that the #MeToo movement had gone too far can breathe a sigh of relief. It turns out that even if there’s very credible evidence that a man is complicit in sexual harassment and degradation, he can still work at the apex of American politics.
Donald Trump just hired Bill Shine, who was forced out of Fox News in the aftermath of sexual harassment scandals there. He will be deputy chief of staff for communications. As of this writing, seven men say that an influential Republican congressman, Jim Jordan of Ohio, knew about the widespread sexual abuse of athletes when he was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University, and did nothing to stop it. Jordan has alternately denied any knowledge of abuse and dismissed what he did hear as “conversations in a locker room.”Many of Jordan’s conservative colleagues continue to publicly support him, as does Trump. Last week Trump made a gross, sexually demeaning joke about a female senator, but most of the public seemed too exhausted to make a fuss.
Amid the flood of personal stories of sexual coercion that has marked the #MeToo movement, we learned how often people – particularly women – will submit to sex they don’t want because men wear them out with entitled demands. In the face of men bent on violation, maintaining one’s own boundaries takes energy, and sometimes it flags. It feels as if we’re now experiencing something similar as a nation.
It’s hard to imagine Trump getting away with hiring Shine – who has been named in both sexual harassment and racial discrimination lawsuits against Fox News – even a few months ago. It’s true that Shine, Fox News’ former co-president, is not accused of sexually exploiting anyone himself. But he is credibly accused of being a party to exploitation.
In 2016, Gabriel Sherman reported on the role Shine played in former Fox News chief Roger Ailes’ decadeslong sexual harassment of an employee, Laurie Luhn. Early in their relationship, Ailes allegedly filmed Luhn dancing in a garter and stockings, then used the footage as leverage. In the years that followed, she performed sexual favors for Ailes – in addition to career help, she sometimes received hard cash in exchange – and, at his insistence, recruited other young women for him to prey on.
In Luhn’s telling, Shine was often the one who arranged her encounters with Ailes. When Luhn’s supervisor questioned expense reports she submitted for the hotel where she met Ailes, she was transferred to report to Shine directly.
Another former Fox employee, Julie Roginsky, sued Fox News, Ailes and Shine last year, claiming that she’d been denied opportunities at work for turning down Ailes’ sexual advances, and that she was further punished for refusing to malign former Fox personality Gretchen Carlson, who had sued Ailes for sexual harassment. Shine, said the suit, “aided and abetted Ailes’ acts of retaliation and harassment.” (Fox settled.)
Plagued by scandal, Shine resigned in May 2017. A person with his record would be unemployable at most major companies. “It would be hard for an employer to prove that it had an effective policy preventing harassment if it hired somebody that it knew had let harassment occur rampantly in their prior employment,” said Carolyn Wheeler, a lawyer who spent decades at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But thanks to Trump, the American people are now paying his salary. A few months ago – say, in December, when Al Franken resigned from the Senate – there might have been a massive backlash. Not now.
The same is true of Trump sexually demeaning a female senator. In December, Trump wrote on Twitter that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., had once come to him “begging” for campaign contributions, “and would do anything for them.” His innuendo was clear, and was widely criticized. But last week when Trump, demanding that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D.-Mass., take a DNA test, said, “We have to do it gently because we are in the Me Too generation,” it had much less impact.
At this point, who can get that worked up about each instance of White House sexism? Even as Shine takes up his prestigious government job, the Trump administration still hasn’t returned many migrant children to the parents it snatched them from. It is about to appoint a Supreme Court justice who will, among other things, probably end Roe v. Wade. It is simply impossible, with Trump’s onslaught of indecency, to maintain pre-Trump standards.
That may be why Jordan believes he can brazen out his own sex scandal. (Some of his allies, taking a page from Trump, are claiming that accusations against him are part of a “deep state” conspiracy.) You might think that Republicans would be wary of a story involving a congressman and the sexual molesting of student wrestlers. It was only two years ago that former Republican House speaker Dennis Hastert admitted to molesting teenage wrestlers when he was a wrestling coach, before going to prison.
But who can remember 2016? Who can remember December? Without the force of law behind it, #MeToo can create change only in institutions that are susceptible to shame, and the Trump administration is shameless. After all, if Trump cared about the American people’s consent, he’d resign.