One of the most significant cultural upheavals before the June 2020 Black Lives Matter Uprisings was the advent of the #MeToo era. Like the Black Lives Matter Movement, it was long overdue; it was a cultural reckoning that, for one of the first times in American history, caused many Americans to reconsider their own role in some form of systemic oppression. The cultural conversation audibly shifted, and while Republicans and the right wing dug in, defending the status quo, legions of liberal and centrist commentators made a pretty penny penning articles that rightly decried the inherent discrimination in the American workforce and culture writ large. Figures like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and Matt Lauer were accused of sexual assault or rape and lost their jobs for it; in the former two cases, they went to jail (although for the majority of sex crimes, this is statistically unlikely). 

Even government officials weren’t safe. In 2017, after accusations of sexual harassment, the late liberal hero John Conyers, co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus and a longtime advocate for single-payer healthcare, resigned from Congress. When Democratic Party darling Al Franken was accused of impropriety, it was almost expected that he would resign, which he quickly did. One of the most powerful Senate Democrats, in line for leadership, respected by both the party’s centrist and progressive wrings, and a prominent critic of the then-President, his resignation sent shockwaves throughout the liberal sphere, showcasing that literally no-one could survive these types of allegations. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was the first to publicly condemn Franken and call for his resignation; while she was praised in the media for her courage, she was widely criticized by party supporters for her rushed condemnations, as there was no investigation, no trial, nothing by which to ascertain whether or not Franken was actually guilty. Meanwhile, on the right, the narrative of a gender-flipped witch hunt was played up, as accusation after accusation piled up against Donald Trump without even a hint of balking.

If it wasn’t obvious before, the line between the Democratic and Republican Parties was drawn clearly and firmly with Donald Trump’s nomination of credibly accused gang rapist Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. The confirmation vote was split almost perfectly along party lines (reactionary Joe Manchin being the only Democrat to cross the aisle). In the runup to the 2016 election, Donald Trump himself trotted out nearly all of Bill Clinton’s sexual assault accusers as guests of honor to a debate with Hillary Clinton. It was a grotesque gesture, rooted not in a compassion for or belief of these women, but a hope to pin the blame on Clinton for her husband’s violent misogyny. It didn’t work, fairly or unfairly; all it did was cement the (correct) view of Trump as a man willing to use anyone else’s suffering for his own gain. Fortunately, Trump’s gambit didn’t work; unfortunately for victims of sexual assault, the gambit didn’t work. No extra attention was paid to the alleged crimes of former President Bill Clinton, a man impeached over his coercion of an intern into a sexual tryst. Even now, Clinton’s alleged actions and ties to Jeffrey Epstein have evaded mainstream media recognition in the era of #MeToo.  And so the narrative was set: the Republican Party does not care about survivors of sexual assault. (Blatantly true.) 

The implication, however, was that the Democratic Party does. Of course, Bill Clinton is not President any longer, nor was he First Gentleman. One could make an argument that holding politicians accountable for their crimes after leaving office would be beneficial, as France has shown by charging their former president with corruption, but then you would be fundamentally misunderstanding the imperial machine. Those at the top of the hierarchy are always responsible for abhorrent and reprehensible behavior, such as the presidential and noble airstrikes conducted in Syria last week by President Biden. Make sure to tell the families of those killed in the airstrike to be thankful because Biden chose a “proportionate military response.”

“One could make an argument that holding politicians accountable for their crimes after leaving office would be beneficial… but then you would be fundamentally misunderstanding the imperial machine.”

Before the party coalesced around visibly decaying Joseph Robinette Biden, he was accused by a plethora of women of various uncouth behaviors. These accusations ranged from hair-sniffing to unwanted touching to non-consensual kissing. Lucy Flores said she felt “shocked” and “embarrassed” when the then-Vice President smelled her hair and kissed her head in public, claiming that she “wanted nothing more than to get Biden away.” Flores, a former Bernie Sanders supporter, was accused of lying to make the presumptive frontrunner look bad. Vail Kohnert-Yount summed up many women’s experiences with Biden in recounting her own, noting that it was “the kind of inappropriate behavior that makes many women feel uncomfortable and unequal in the workplace” rather than outright assault. Perhaps for this reason the allegations seemed to pick up no steam, eliciting no response at all from Democratic officials. These revelations—however muted the response from politicians was—alarmed progressives in the party, and caused many supporters of other candidates to question the unfair media coverage that Biden faced, while at the same time a superstar MSNBC anchors claimed Sanders’ policies would lead to “executions in Central Park.” 

One would think, however, that it would be impossible to ignore allegations of outright rape. When Tara Reade’s allegations surfaced – that is, when she accused Biden of digitally penetrating her while he was a Senator – many in the progressive wing of the party believed there was no way that he could remain the presumptive favorite to defeat Trump. After all, one of the major themes of attacks against Trump for the last three years had been his various sexual assault allegations. How could the party that believes women possibly stick by a man credibly accused of such a heinous act?

Gillibrand, who seems to have learned her lesson after the Franken situation, and rising star Stacey Abrams both explicitly made clear that they believe Biden over Reade. Failed Presidential candidate and alleged abusive boss Amy Klobuchar was less pointed, but stood behind Biden all the same. Even Bernie Sanders, Biden’s chief rival in the primary contest, refused to come out aggressively in support of Reade’s claims, despite prominent supporters arguing for more scrutiny

The Democratic-friendly press was even more overt in their disdain for Reade. Daily Kos’ disgusting “She’s baaack! Tara Reade whines that Kamala and media aren’t taking her claims seriously” (which, staff notes, “is not subject to review by Daily Kos staff prior to publication”) smears Reade as a “serial embelisher [sic]” and “exposed perjurer,” claiming that any outlets who took the accusations seriously “should be ashamed of themselves.” (This all came in the face of various friends and neighbors coming forward to corroborate Reade’s testimony.) For a group of journalists that celebrated Ronan Farrow’s groundbreaking reporting about Weinstein and the pervasiveness of sexual assault in the circles of the elite, this response was almost unfathomable. The one thing that the Democrats claimed they were at the point was advocates for women. All of that credibility built up by actually being correct on an issue for the first time in years—dashed.

So where does that leave us? After kicking off Trump’s presidency with a massive Women’s March in defiance of the right-wing erosion of hard-fought women’s rights and potential future destruction of those rights, the liberal-centrist coalition ushered in a new Sexual Assaulter-in-Chief. Even now, liberal sweetheart and serial old folks murderer Andrew Cuomo faces calls to resign as he faces multiple accusations of sexual harassment. As they were with Biden’s accusers, the national Democratic Party has been silent (admittedly, to her credit, Nancy Pelosi called the allegations “credible,” though she refused to take the logical next step and call for an investigation or resignation). 

The Democratic Party seized on the wave of momentum generated by the #MeToo floodgates opening, and the Republican party’s natural resistance to accountability and egalitarianism created the perfect opportunity. In late 2018, more women were elected to Congress than ever before (a record that would subsequently be broken in the 2020 congressional election cycle). The Democratic party, more than ever, painted itself as a diverse and progressive party. Under the second half of the Trump administration, the 116th Congress proposed a large number of progressive policies; even though they were unable to pass any of these, due to Senate gridlock directed by Mitch McConnell, these policies were attractive even to leftists. Yet, now, when Democrats control both houses of Congress, neither chamber seems intent to deliver any relief whatsoever (with Biden specifically arguing for fewer Americans to get stimulus checks), much less progressive legislation. Why didn’t the Democrats—as popular parlance goes—keep that same energy?

With the marginalization of Biden’s accusers – and the outright defamation of Tara Reade – the Democratic Party effectively killed the #MeToo Movement. The death of the movement for accountability about sexual exploitation and violence laid the groundwork for the deflation of the summer’s Black Lives Matter Movement’s calls for real, structural change. If the Democrats can ignore two key constituencies—women and Black voters—then they are virtually unaccountable to anyone (except their corporate donors). The willingness of party elites to turn their backs on women demanding justice in order to protect Joe Biden of all people speaks to how opportunistic and craven the Democratic Party truly is. If a movement central to the fight for justice—as #MeToo was—can be cast aside when it becomes too inconvenient, who can we expect the Democrats to fight for? 

By Vigilius Haufniensis and Johannes Climacus, Contributors