In what some have called our post-truth culture, what matters most is which group one is with — or which “side” one is on. Group opinions and feelings, and “sides,” rather than any facts, truth, or reality, seem to carry the day.
The Judge Roy Moore campaign for the U.S. Senate seat for Alabama is an ideal example. To be forthcoming, I am not a fan of Roy Moore or his politics, and I believe — as do many others — the multiple women who have made claims of sexual assault, sexual harassment and impropriety against candidate Moore. The special election for the U.S. Senate seat in that state will take place on Dec. 12, 2017, and the lines, groups and sides for and against Moore are firmly in place.
From my perspective, the evidence against Judge Moore is strong and credible. A number of women, each of whom was the target or victim or Judge Moore’s sexual advances or bad conduct, and none of whom — to anyone’s knowledge — collaborated with each other, have come forward and offered very similar stories of improper behavior by Moore. In all of those stories, Moore was over 30 years of age, and a practicing lawyer, and the women were teenage girls. One of the girls was just 14 years of age when Moore was alleged to have engaged in his unwanted sexual behavior. Then there are the claims (which seem credible) that Moore was banned from the shopping mall in his hometown because of his harassment of teenage girls.
The Nevada Sagebrush Staff Editorial of Nov. 14, 2017, entitled “Believing survivors shouldn’t be about politics”, offers the wise opinion that “Victims of sexual assault should not be political victims, too”. Yet, the women who have come forward against Judge Moore are being victimized again for political purposes by Moore and his supporters.
Contrasted against the facts provided in the stories presented by the growing number of women (all based on their firsthand knowledge and experiences) are the outright denials, efforts to downplay the claims by asserting they are in the nature of a “witch hunt”, and the assertions that the stories were invented and politically motivated. They include Moore’s denials (first very weak and then more forceful), claims by his supporters that all of the women who made claims against Moore are “giving false testimony”, that Moore “is a good and moral man”, the charge that handwritten and signed note in the high school album from Roy Moore to one of the teenage girls (and now a complainant) was not his handwriting and signature, and the assertion that Moore is the victim of an orchestrated campaign by the liberal media.
Judge Moore has chastised the media for reporting on the accusations, and has stated that he plans to sue — although interestingly he has not sued — the Washington Post, the newspaper that first brought the story to the attention of the public. The media attack by Moore and his supporters, including President Trump, suggests that the liberal media is smearing another non-establishment conservative and “should not be trusted”.
There are a growing number of Judge Moore defenders who have stated that they will vote for him even if the accusations of the women are true. Those people are essentially saying that they would rather have a U.S. Senator who sexually assaulted and harassed girls than the more liberal candidate. For such supporters of Moore, including President Trump (who arguably does not believe the women because Moore “denies the claims”), such criminal acts would not be disqualifying. In fact, Mr. Trump has labeled Moore’s opponent as a Democratic “puppet” who needs to be defeated by Moore.
There are also many defenders of Moore (another “side”) who do acknowledge that the bad conduct alleged, “if true”, would be disqualifying. But there lies a huge problem and raises a misleading idea. Without photographs, videotapes, supporting eyewitnesses, or sound recordings, the truth cannot be “proven as true” as if in a court. Judge Moore and those who defend him using this line of thinking know this very well, and he continues to say that he should be “presumed innocent until proven guilty”, as if he is a criminal defendant. Short of a court verdict or judgement, which could take years, what methods or means are there to prove the truth? Would Moore’s defenders agree to accept the results of a polygraph test? At present, the only thing that exists is the credibility of the women’s complainants against the credibility of Moore. While some of his defenders would say that this is a classic “She said, he said” situation, the reality is that it is a “They said, he said”. Are there any reasons to doubt the claims of the women, other than to support Judge Moore? Even U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican Majority Leader of the Senate, and Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter, believe the women.
Thus, the sides are lined up. There are those who believe and side with the multiple women, and conclude that Moore is unfit to serve as a U.S. Senator. As noted earlier, I am one of those. The credibility of the women seems to be overwhelming, and Moore’s denials and his challenges to their credibility do not add up. Yet to the many who are on his side, including those who support a conservative agenda, and those who are opposed to “traditional and establishment” Republicans, Moore is the credible one and the women’s claims are not true, have yet to be proven to be true, or just do not matter.
The blind loyalty toward Moore by his supporters is not limited to his “side”. Such group loyalty, and unwillingness to be persuaded by the truth, may be natural. Indeed, it was also seen recently when Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in Congress, was asked about claims of sexual misconduct against Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan. Ms. Pelosi, who has been a strong voice against sexual assault by Republican elected officials, initially said that Mr. Conyers was an “icon” and argued that no judgement against him should be made until an ethics investigation was completed. Other Democrats agreed with her. Divisions over this issue have arisen in the Democratic Party. But Ms. Pelosi and many other Democrats have modified their original position and are now calling for Mr. Conyers’ resignation.
In our post-truth society, sides seem to matter most.
Opinions expressed in The Nevada Sagebrush are solely those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of The Sagebrush or of its staff. Seth Bell studies political science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @salsuppe