Sex has become the central focus of U.S. politics. In the Alabama election, as Donald Trump admitted, the political future of the country was very much at stake. The defeat of Roy Moore because he was accused of sexual misconduct placed the Democratic Party in the minority by only one vote in the Senate, 49 to 51. Sex – or perhaps better, anti-sex – tipped the balance in favor of the Democratic Party. Moore, the losing candidate, is a fanatic evangelical who says God speaks to him in the morning. A woman, now grown, accused Moore of molesting her when she was a girl. Trump’s failure in Alabama, an overwhelmingly Republican state, might be the beginning of the anticipated end for him.
The history of sexual tension [in politics] begins in 1991, when law professor Anita Hill testified before a Senate committee that Clarence Thomas, nominated to the Supreme Court by president George H.W. Bush, had sexually harassed her when they worked at the Department of Education. Despite her testimony, Thomas was confirmed as Supreme Court justice. He is the most conservative Supreme Court justice the U.S. has ever had.
The U.S., which is so prudish, so preoccupied with protecting the individual’s right to privacy, so hypocritical and so self-declaredly Christian, is facing an uprising of women against misconduct by its most prominent figures. In television, Bill O'Reilly and Charlie Rose. In the movies, Dustin Hoffman, in addition to Harvey Weinstein, accused by Salma Hayek, among many other women. In the restaurant industry, the famous chef Mario Batali who, in addition to kneading dough for spaghetti, likes to grope the waitresses. In academia, professors at prestigious universities have been accused by male and female students, and even university presidents have lost their jobs. This doesn’t apply exclusively to the exploitation of women: James Levine, music director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, was accused of molesting a young teenage boy who was an aspiring musician. And as if that weren’t enough, a very prestigious federal judge has been accused of being a pervert.
During the Roman Empire, when the Republic was failing and it was believed that a dictatorship could save what was left of the grandeur of Rome, women held the role assigned to them by Aristotle, that of inferiors, faring only a little better than slaves. The worst cases of dishonoring women happened in Rome. Suetonius relates that Caligula did not respect any women. He invited them to dinner with their husbands, and “[a]s often as the fancy took him he would leave the room, sending for the one who pleased him best, and returning soon afterward with evident signs of what had occurred, he would openly commend or criticize his partner, recounting her charms or defects and commenting on her conduct.”* Concerning Nero, Suetonius writes, “Besides abusing freeborn boys and seducing married women, he debauched the vestal virgin Rubria. … He castrated the boy Sporus and actually tried to make a woman of him.” **
The crisis in the U.S. is so bad that the head of state, President Trump, is increasingly seen as a dictatorial autocrat, closer to Caligula or Nero than to Alexander Hamilton. At its root, the struggle is over a woman’s right to control her own body: access to birth control, the fight against kidnapping and marital rape and the right to abortion. The right not to be harassed in the workplace is apparently on the agenda now, but what is at stake here is whether a dishonorable president like Trump, with his excesses, his past as a sexual predator and his inability to keep ducking his political responsibility, will be able to stay on as president.
We are in a revolution launched by abused women, in the double sense of being abused for being intelligent and perceptive, and of having been abused by powerful men.
*Editor’s note: The source of this quote can be found in the English translation of Suetonius on Caligula, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/Caligula.
**Editor’s note: The source of this quote can be found in the English translation of Suetonius on Nero, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/Nero
Mario Melgar-Adalid holds a Doctor of Law degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He has been an investigator at the Institute of Legal Research and a professor in the College of Law at UNAM. He is a Level II member of Mexico’s National System of Researchers.