06 February 2018

Power is guilty

In some sort of grand irony, the actor Alec Baldwin, who has regained fame portraying Donald Trump as an insensitive boor on Saturday Night Live, is being criticized for his boorish insensitivity to a crucial issue of our day.  Baldwin has a record of boorishness of his own for such offenses as making harrassing phone calls to his daughter and calling for a congressman's home to be burned by a mob. His latest offense is to hold back from  the rush to judgment on some former collaborators, most notably Woody Allen, who have been accused of different degrees of sexual assault by different women. Worse, from a certain perspective, he has criticized some of the accusers, most notably Allen's erstwhile stepdaughter. The way in which some critics define Baldwin's offense is telling. A New York Times piece quotes a writer from the feminist Jezebel website who said, "It seems like he is aligning himself with the more powerful people in these situations -- not the accusers but the accused." This stance takes the "speaking truth to power" idea a bit too far in that it implicitly refuses to presume "power" innocent and impugns those who dare do so. According to this particular form of political correctness, the power imbalance itself seems to be as great a crime, as much a form of violence, as the sexual or sexualized abuse that sometimes  results from it. The "powerless" are owed the benefit of the doubt, especially when they are not white or male and the "powerful" are. Not to believe the accusers and presume the "powerful" guilty is, as a TV writer puts it, "overlooking and underestimating women while overvaluing the men." There's something vaguely Maoist about this, as if what counts in the eyes of the law should be what class you belong to, not the plausibility of your accusation or your defense. For what it's worth, I haven't looked into any of these cases enough to have reason to doubt any of the accusers, but I still believe in the presumption of innocence, as should anyone who doesn't ever want to be found guilty by association, or guilty by identity. Private citizens aren't under the same constraints as the courts, of course, and it's their right to call each case as they see it, so long as they realize that that goes for everyone else, including those who may find you intrinsically guilty of some crime against the nation, humanity, or the common good. In other words, if you don't like being called a "traitor" by some Trumpian yahoo, perhaps you should consider the Golden Rule before you call every accused celebrity, no matter how powerful he may be, a rapist.
Now, if you see anyone say that the presumption of innocence privileges the powerful and marginalizes the powerless, it's probably time to give up and let the bombs drop.

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