To House Speaker Ryan, on the price of milk
Dear House Speaker Ryan,
You sat down with Steve Inskeep from NPR on the first day of December to discuss the tax bill and other things, and you came to the topic of sexual harassment. You said you have a fifteen-year old daughter. I have two daughters.
Specifically, you said, “I want my daughter to grow up in a country-she’s fifteen years old- where she is empowered and respected, wherever she goes and wherever she works and whatever she does.”
And I agree that our girls should feel safe wherever they go! Anywhere but the White House.
Congressman, your daughter, Elizabeth, “Liza” for short, will be 18 in three short years. Should the political science bug run in the family, Liza may very well choose to apply to be a staffer or an intern of some sort in the United States Government. If she is influenced by her father to serve her country, she may join you in the blink-of-an-eye in Washington, with her cardigan and her pearls and her little black flats. And Liza could work anywhere in DC, except the White House. You qualified your statements to Mr. Inskeep:
“And I think nowhere should that be more obvious and apparent than working here in Capital Hill. So I think here, in Congress, we should set ourselves the standards we expect from other people and we should set high standards for ourselves.” You said that we continue to find out about more and more harassment, you called it “disturbing.” I am also disturbed.
Mr. Inskeep asked you directly why you called for Republican candidate, Roy Moore, to drop out of the Alabama Senate race early on. You did not hesitate in your reply:
“It’s because I believe those allegations were credible.” I share in your trust of the victims, of the women. Then, Inskeep asked you what we’ve all been thinking: what was the difference between the nine sexual assault accusations for Mr. Moore and the sixteen accusations against President Trump?
“I’m focused on Congress. Roy Moore is trying to come to Congress. My job here as Speaker of the House is to make sure Congress is an institution we should be proud of…I think the allegations made against him are very very credible.” Inskeep pressed you again. “Is there a difference between those two cases?” You replied, “I don’t know the answer to that. I haven’t spent my time reviewing the differences between the two cases.”
Congressman Ryan- for your Liza’s sake- make the time. Make the time to understand the allegations made against the highest office in our land.
During your interview, Mr. Speaker, you justified that it’s no secret that you and Trump have had differences of opinions, that you’ve shared your “opinion on his tweets and the rest.”
“And the rest.”
I think it’s important to review “the rest.”
We haven’t asked Trump’s accusers to testify yet, because there’s been no trial, so “the rest” can only be judged by the accounts of sixteen women and the President’s own words. And although the climax of the soundbite was enough for Republican Rob Portman to publicly pledged to vote for Mike Pence instead, I do think it’s important to read the entire quote in context. The President boasted to Billy Bush, specifically, that:
“I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look… Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Portman was joined by Senators Rubio and Cruz and McCain. Priebus stated, “No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever.” It was enough for you to come out with a statement immediately following the release of the video and audio. You said, “I am sickened by what I heard today. Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified.”
I had the same visceral reaction to candidate Trump’s words. “No way,” I thought, “could a man who boasts about attacking women be elected in this country.”
I was wrong.
Weeks after the election, I sought solace and understanding from a close friend from your side of the isle. This friend has worked with Republicans. This friend has a sister and a niece and mother and aunts and friends who are girls. And I wanted to know how he felt, how he thought it was possible for a sexual deviant who affirmed his own misdeeds…to have been elected?
“You know, Gaby, I asked the mother of a close friend the same question you ask me. I asked her how she felt about Trump’s words as a woman? She responded, ‘What does that have to do with the price of milk?’”
Now, my friend did not vote for Trump. But that rationale was stuck in my throat like a pill that won’t budge. I was, of course, deeply discouraged to hear a woman disregard the words of a sexual predator (I mean, she’s not in danger of being grabbed, is she?). And I thought it callous and misguided. A fellow woman, a fellow mother, found her perceived economic stability more important than the safety of women and the dignity of The Office. A fellow American had admitted that if there’s financial gain, any moral delinquency from a politician is tolerable.
And she’s not the only one. Kelly Ann Conway admitted that Alabama voters should continue to support a pedophile, misogynist, and predator in Roy Moore because “I’m telling you we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through.” So there it is again: the economic justification to look away, look aside, or just don’t look at all.
You join these women in defending unfathomable behavior because you “haven’t spent my time reviewing the differences between the two cases,” and you see a “President who is fighting for the things I’m fighting for.” This was your final justification to Mr. Inskeep for continuing to work with a man who feels he could grab your Liza and my daughters whenever he wants because he’s a celebrity.
You justified this man because you “see a President who is fighting for an agenda that will make a positive impact on people’s lives. Is this President unconventional? No two ways about it. He’s very unconventional. But if we make good by the American people by actually improving their lives and fixing problems and finding solutions that are bothering them, that’s a good thing, that’s what we’re working toward. Is he unconventional? Yes…But he’s himself and I’m myself and he got elected, and, you know what, my duty as a constitutional officer, as a representative of congress is to make government work and…to fix people’s problems and that’s where I’m focusing.”
If you make good on keeping the price of milk low, then that will make the harassment of women worth it? Is that your argument?
You labeled sexual harassment as “unconventional.” You called what millions of women experienced through the recent #metoo phenomenon as “unconventional.” The Guardian recently published a complete list of the President’s “unconventional” behavior. Cathy Heller and Temple Taggart and Jennifer Murphy and Rachel Crooks and Natasha Stoynoff and Jessica Drake and Summer Zervos were all forcibly kissed. I hope you’ll believe them since the President admitted to these habits (“I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait”).
Mr. Trump grabbed Jessica Leeds’s breast “like an octopus.” Karena Virginia joins her in accusing Trump of touching “the right side of my breast. I was in shock,” while Melinda McGillivray and Ninni Laaksonen and Cassandra Searles had their buttocks grabbed by the President. Trump put his hands up Jill Harth’s dress. Kristina Anderson explains he “did touch my vagina through my underwear.” Lisa Boyne describes Trump sticking his head “right underneath their skirts” in reference to contestants walking the catwalk. Bridget Sullivan and Tasha Dixon tell us that beauty contestants were denied privacy while changing, some as young as Liza and the students I teach, Mr. Speaker. “The time that he walked through the room was shocking. We were all naked.”
If the President were to force Liza to kiss him, or if he grabbed her breast or butt, if he ignored requests from your girl for modesty, or grabbed under your baby’s skirt, would your tax bill or the price of milk matter to you at all? You say you’re focused on fixing people’s problems. Half of the people in this country have loudly proclaimed that sexual harassment and assault are a pervasive problem in our society. Three of our last five presidents have been accused of sexual misconduct. It was easier to count the women who didn’t post #metoo on my newsfeed than it was to count up the hundreds who did. Every day we hear about new indiscretions, new Weinsteins, new Trumps.
Sir, you said that nowhere should this matter more than with our elected officials. That they should be held to high standards. You described Congress’s recent actions to update 1995 policies and laws about education and training regarding sexual harassment. You’re looking into government harassment cases which utilized tax payer money as payouts. All good and right things. But the words and actions of the President have an impact on everyday Americans, a more insidious impact than the fluctuation of the price of our milk. When the President demeans immigrants and Muslims, hate crimes go up. When Trump refuses to denounce Nazis marching in the streets, more Nazis find comfort in the light of day to march for fascism and racism and anti-Semitism. When the President refuses to shake Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hand, men and boys are watching.
Mr. Speaker, your inability to denounce the President’s moral offenses, to decry with the same confidence Mr. Moore and Mr. Trump’s crimes as the same evil, you have not worked to make American girls like Liza and my students and my daughters safer. You have let them down. You have let me down.
You called this a watershed moment in this country, and it is. Victims have finally gained the confidence to bring their attackers into the light, to shame the shameless. This watershed moment will wash victims into voting booths in 2018. No more should daughters and mothers and sisters and CEOs and teachers and nurses and Americans stand for this hypocrisy. After years of hearing the Republican Party rightfully call for Bill Clinton’s resignation, of standing up for “family values,” no more can we stomach your duplicity and inaction- your dance of words- during this turning point for America.
Do the work, spend the time reviewing the two cases, and be an upstander, not a bystander.
Show our daughters that you care more for their dignity and safety than you do for the price of milk.
A woman, a mother, and an American