The Hideous Normalization of Harvey Weinstein

It was Wednesday night and Harvey Weinstein, a man who had delighted in hurting and abusing people for years, made his way down the stairs of a Lower East Side bar with two women and two men. There was a VIP table waiting for him, just like the old days, where he would be comfortably shrouded in darkness. The bar was Downtime. The event was Actor’s Hour. Weinstein had been reportedly invited there by Alexandra Laliberte, the organizer of the event. A comic by the name of Kelly Bachman performed in front of the audience. She was a rape survivor. “I didn’t know we had to bring our own mace and rape whistles to Actor’s Hour,” she said on stage. But instead of laughter, which would seem condign to the unfathomable moment, she was booed and told to shut up.

Weinstein was safe. And it became clear as the evening rolled on that Weinstein was, even in his disgraced position, more important than the women. Zoe Stuckless, dumbfounded by his appearance, decided to speak up. “Nobody’s going to say anything? No one’s really going to say anything?” She was thrown out and accused of heckling. A third woman, Amber Rollo, approached Weinstein and one of Weinstein’s goons called her a “cunt.”

My position is that this is a nothing less than a fucking travesty of normalization and that Weinstein clearly had an obscenely unfair advantage, one that is being severely underestimated as people take in the shock of his most recent appearance.

First off, women have the right to be safe, goddammit. And Weinstein’s appearance at Downtime was decidedly harmful, if only because, while he has already lost much, he has not yet faced full repercussions for his behavior. I’ve read Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s She Said and the evidence in that book is meticulously documented. These two incredible journalists really went out of their way to get the allegations right. The book corroborates what an abusive and predatory beast Weinstein has been, as does the reporting of Ronan Farrow. We know that this man has abused and/or ruined the lives of at least 87 women and who knows how many more. Nearly 100 women. Think about that. Nearly 100 women who could have given us more art and joy. Even as a hard liberal who believes very strongly in rehabilitation, this is such a staggering and heartbreaking and extraordinary tally, such an overwhelming set of stifled possibilities, that I truly don’t believe that Weinstein should be allowed to show his face in public for a while, certainly not until he has stood trial (which is presently set for January). But Harvey is now going out in the world more or less as he did before his downfall. And there are no repercussions and certainly no consideration of what this means by the morally bankrupt jackals — including the Downtime management and Alexandra Laliberte — who enabled this ghastly evening.

What angers me so deeply is how, as we see in the clips, the majority of the audience who attended the Actor’s Hour event seemed to support Weinstein, pretending as if he was some endearing old school figure. He sat at a special table. Weinstein, of course, showed no shame or remorse. That should be no surprise. And the details really should alarm us. The goon calling Rollo a “cunt.” The bafflingly clueless public statement issued by the bar on Facebook. Weinstein’s right to a night out mattering more than the three women who bravely spoke out against him.

Strictly from a numbers game, this is obscene privilege. This is male entitlement. This is toxic masculinity writ large. This is the hideous normalization of a huge and uniquely abusive monster. This is, even on the comparatively small stage of a basement bar, a power grab. Weinstein really should not have the right to exert any advantage at this point. But he is protected. By Alexandra Laliberte — the shameful organizer of Actor’s Hour who is believed to have invited him to her events not just once, but twice. By the odious venue managers who prioritized Weinstein above the women and dismissed their justifiable distress as “heckling.” By the hack comedian Andrew B. Silas, who appeared as an act that night and offered a stupid quip about Good Will Hunting and normalized Weinstein. Silas was such a coward, such a witless Quisling, that he held back on lobbing a joke on where to get chloroform. By the very attendees, mostly actors, who probably believed that humoring Harvey might get them somewhere in their careers or who were just too spineless to stand for anything.

And the cycle of normalizing a clearly and unquestionably dangerous sexual predator now begins again — even as Weinstein wears a GPS ankle bracelet monitoring his movement. There is little consideration paid to how such a normalization snowballs and becomes more common and thus more accepted. And that is why I am greatly indignant with anyone who is okay with what happened at Downtime and why I feel that it is necessary to protest in the strongest possible terms against this normalization. Harvey Weinstein is not normal. He is very rich. He didn’t just “make a few mistakes.” He hurt and abused and manipulated women and ruined their lives. He is a very dangerous man buffered by money and the remaining dregs of privilege. He sure as hell shouldn’t be sitting at a VIP table. Lest we forget, if he didn’t put up the $1 million for bail, a sum that most people don’t have, he’d be sitting in a jail cell in an orange jumpsuit awaiting trial. If, for fuck’s sake, you’re actually one of those foppish apologists who wants to “be fair to Harvey,” then you’re going to have to acknowledge that the present situation is already unfairly stacked in his favor.

Trump Will Never Be a Normal President

Last night’s State of the Union speech was a masterstroke of psychological warfare against the American public. Donald Trump lightened his bellicosity after forty days of unbridled and imperious madness, speaking in a notably softer tone remarked upon by nearly every media outlet. Even when he had little to do with their laudable triumphs, Trump pointed to the frail and the weak, including Megan Crowley, who was diagnosed with Pompe disease at the age of fifteen months, and used this as a way to assail the Food and Drug Administration for its “slow and burdensome approval process.” (Never mind that the FDA approved Lumizyme in 2014 for Pompe patients.)

Instead of taking responsibility for his brash and reckless handling of the botched Navy SEAL mission in Yemen, which resulted in the needless death of Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, Trump manipulated the hoi polloi by having Owens’s widow stand up and weep before the crowd, exonerating himself by claiming that a raid currently being investigated by the Pentagon for malfeasance, had been a success because a general had declared it so. A cult leader typically earns trust from his followers by modulating his fiery bluster so that any subsequent quiet words appear sane by comparison. He offers testimonials rather than facts, phony comforts instead of genuinely inclusive commitment he can back up. Trump’s address before the joint session was the subtle and deadly act of a dangerous and incorrigible demagogue, a gesture that proved so emotionally potent that progressive commentator Van Jones committed an unfathomable act of spineless treachery on live television, stating, “That was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period.”

That Jones bought so easily into the cheap lie of national unity with such an astonishing declaration of hyperbole says much about where we now are as a nation and why partisan hacks need to tell the truth right now or lose their jobs. The manic energy of Trump’s near bipolar tweets, his Islamophobia and his callous war on non-criminial immigrants, his crazed inventions about “illegal voters” and terrorist plots in Sweden, and his colossal diplomatic missteps, to say nothing of his criminal appointments and his Cabinet’s likely collusion with Russia, is enough for any sane human being to curl under the blanket for the next four years or, heaven forfend, the next eight. It has created a landscape of fatigue where normalcy is an elixir, an ideal whereby opposing parties can again, theoretically at least, reach across the aisle and broker compromises. It accounts for former President George W. Bush, hardly a paragon of liberalism, being lionized for his anti-Trump remarks in a television interview. And it also accounts for why the Democratic Party, which has become a gutless and ineffective husk that no longer represents its progressive origins, opted for softball chair Tom Perez instead of the restorative brimstone that might have been consummated under Keith Ellison.

Trump is not, and never will be, a normal President. And as such, it is our duty to continue resisting this poisonous cancer in all forms, even when the regular acts of protest exhaust us. A putative leader who speaks in dulcet tones, wherever he may come from, must ultimately be judged by his policies, his ideas, and the full range of facts, not how he appears on camera. Previous Presidents have lied to us, but Trump’s fuzzy relationship with the truth is an unprecedented pox upon the marketplace of ideas. Trump’s failure to countenance objective facts or other perspectives is, if anything, an approach which creates national division rather than unity. As Hannah Arendt once observed:

Seen from the viewpoint of politics, truth has a despotic character. It is therefore hated by tyrants, who rightly fear the competition of a coercive force they cannot monopolize, and it enjoys a rather precarious status in the eyes of governments that rest on consent and abhor coercion. Facts are beyond agreement and consent, and all talk about them — all exchanges of opinion based on correct information — will contribute nothing to their establishment. Unwelcome opinion can be argued with, rejected, or compromised upon, but unwelcome facts possess an infuriating stubbornness that nothing can move except plain lies. The trouble is that factual truth, like all other truth, peremptorily claims to be acknowledged and precludes debate, and debate constitutes the very essence of political life. The modes of thought and communication that deal with truth, if seen from the political perspective, are necessarily domineering: they don’t take into account other people’s opinions, and taking these into account is the hallmark of all strictly political thinking. Political thought is representative. I form an opinion by considering a given issue from different viewpoints, by making present to my mind the standpoints of those who are absent; that is, I represent them….The more people’s standpoints I have present in my mind while I am pondering a given issue, and the better I can imagine how I would feel and think if I were in their place, the stronger will be my capacity for representative thinking and the more valid my final conclusions, my opinion.

Trump has demonstrated, more than any other President, that he does not possess this “enlarged mentality” of considering all standpoints. He bans media outlets that he does not agree with. He refuses to face the White House Correspondents at their yearly dinner. He fires acting Attorney General Sally Yates for acting upon the law. This is tyrannical fascism rather than the promise of a democratic republic. It is contrary to every known act of politics. Those who normalize this or who remain silent or who soft-peddle their stances and inquiries in this highly volatile time are a direct threat to the future of the United States. We must always remember that Trump is not normal and we must regularly protest him until we have some government that is close to normal.