Dizzy Miss Lizzy

Senator Elizabeth Warren is one of the most indispensable voices in American politics today.  She should not run for president in 2020.

Why not?  Reasons enough, my friends.

Reason No. 1:  While she is a highly effective member of the U.S. Senate (if such a thing can be measured), Warren’s experience as an executive lies somewhere between negligible and non-existent.

Reason No. 2:  As a genuine populist hero of the left, Senator Warren is structurally incapable of appealing to a broad cross-section of the American public, as presidents are generally expected to do.

Reason No. 3:  Outside the liberal enclaves that comprise her natural constituency, Warren tends to come across as a wild-eyed wackadoodle whose entire public persona consists of two or three basic—and borderline radical—talking points from which she rarely, if ever, deviates.

And most importantly, reason No. 4:  The “Pocahontas” thing.

In isolation, none of these would-be drawbacks would be enough to disqualify Warren from seeking and/or attaining high office.  Certainly, they didn’t stop the 44 individuals who have thus far succeeded in doing both.

However, the same cannot be said when all of the above occur simultaneously in a single person, and in the senior senator from Massachusetts, that’s exactly what they do.

Put simply, Elizabeth Warren will never be elected president, and the American left might as well accept this fact now.  Trust me:  It will be a lot more painful on the night of November 3, 2020.

Admittedly, if you take Senator Warren at her word, she will not be a candidate in the first place.  In one interview after another, Warren has asserted, in no uncertain terms, that she is interested only in getting re-elected to the Senate this fall, and has given no serious thought to what she might do with herself thereafter.

Of course, no one believes a word of this—nor, to be fair, should Warren be expected to say anything different until her current race is behind her.  As ever, actions speak louder than denials, and the clearest indication to date that Warren is, indeed, gunning for the White House occurred on Valentine’s Day, when she addressed the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C., where she passionately reasserted her conviction that she herself descends from Native American stock.

Why would a mere senator—one who will barely face an opponent this November—feel the need to defend her identity in this manner?  No doubt there were several motivations—pride and family honor chief among them—but the most self-evident to any politically-minded observer must be the fact that President Trump has for months attempted to smear and discredit Warren by repeatedly referring to her as “Pocahontas.”

The basis of this nickname—as a majority of the public probably still doesn’t understand—is the curious gulf between Warren’s certainty about her Native American heritage and the lack of concrete genealogical evidence to support it—a discrepancy that was exasperated last weekend when Warren declined to submit to a DNA test that would presumably resolve the issue once and for all.  Asked by Chuck Todd for an explanation, Warren responded, “Look, I know who I am.”

What she means—as Massachusetts learned in 2012, when she was first elected senator—is that she spent the entirety of her Oklahoma childhood hearing stories from her parents about their family’s Cherokee roots—stories that turned out to be mostly (if not entirely) false, but which Warren took at face value, because why on Earth shouldn’t she?

Years later, still believing this, Warren listed herself as a “minority” in the Association of American Law Schools directory, while Harvard Law School singled her out as an example of ethnic diversity among its faculty.  (At most, Warren is 1/32 Cherokee.)  On the other hand, Warren did not mention her supposed Native blood on her college applications, nor is there any evidence that her would-be minority status resulted in preferential treatment at any point in her academic or professional career.

Taking all of these little contradictions together, does “Look, I know who I am” strike you as an answer that will withstand an 18-month presidential campaign against Donald Trump?  I’d certainly appreciate a clarification or two, and I’ve been in her fan club since Day 1.

What we have here—albeit in embryonic form—is Hillary’s Emails 2.0.  That is, an ostensibly meaningless issue that is blown utterly and inexplicably out of proportion—by Republicans and the media alike—and which slowly but surely immolates the candidacy of the person in question, resulting in four years of President Donald Trump.

Like Hillary Clinton’s email problem, Elizabeth Warren’s “Pocahontas” problem will persist and metastasize as Election Day grows ever-closer, overshadowing every other consideration and rendering her ultimately unelectable.  If Clinton proved an easy target for Russia-based fake news, just imagine what those hackers will do with Warren.

And as with Clinton, the criticisms will not be entirely wrong.  Remember:  When Hillary was ground down by accusations that she had used a private e-mail server for official government business, the point wasn’t that she’d violated some obscure federal rule.  The point was that Hillary couldn’t bring herself to admit she’d done something wrong until it was too late, thereby reinforcing her public perception as a duplicitous, untrustworthy crook.

Elizabeth Warren—someone who, by and large, has cultivated a reputation for frankness and candor on most subjects—can scarcely afford to be seen as evasive and deceitful about her own past.  By dilly-dallying around the truth of her genealogy—by not clearly saying, “I honestly believed something about myself that might not actually be true”—she risks falling into precisely that trap.  If she can’t sell herself to the American public, how on Earth can she sell them higher taxes or single-payer healthcare?

Liberals can argue all they want that “Pocahontas”-gate is a BS issue that is too silly and insignificant to become a determining factor in the primaries and/or general election in 2020.  That, as a candidate, Warren will rise or fall on the strength of her ideas in contrast to President Trump’s.  That, no matter what her contested family history says her about character, she couldn’t possibly be seen as a greater evil than Trump in the morals department.

That’s what we believed about Hillary in 2016, and look how well that went.


The Skater and the Veep

Poor Mike Pence.  He says something mean about gay people one time, and now he has to hear about it for the rest of his life.

Did I say “one time”?  Sorry, I meant “for his entire political career.”

How anti-gay is the vice president of the United States?  Well, anti-gay enough as Indiana governor to sign and promote that state’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which licensed businesses to deny service to LGBT customers.  Anti-gay enough as a member of Congress to vote against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Matthew Shepard Hates Crimes Act.  Anti-gay enough to proclaim that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service” and that federal HIV funding should be re-routed to organizations that “provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” whatever the hell that means.  Anti-gay enough, in any case, to compel his current boss, Donald Trump, to joke in a private meeting, “He wants to hang them all!”

To be fair, when Pence first ran for office in the year 2000, it was de rigueur for a Republican to hold aggressively negative views about homosexuality without worrying about political blowback down the line.  This was an epoch, after all, when same-sex marriage was illegal in all 50 states and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was considered a net plus for gay civil rights.

Here in 2018?  Not so much.  Now that marriage equality is the law of the land and LGBT folk have a visible presence in virtually every facet of society (including the armed forces), Pence as vice president has become increasingly reticent to make his true feelings on this matter known.  Indeed, there may be no greater illustration of the LGBT movement’s success than the general squeamishness with which many cultural conservatives broach the subject—if they bother broaching it at all.

Unfortunately for Pence—a man who, as Andy Borowitz once quipped, “really thought he’d be president by now”—the internet has an uncanny ability to record and retain one’s every last public utterance, and gay people know an unreconstructed bigot when they see one.

So it was that Pence recently found himself in an unexpected virtual skirmish with Adam Rippon, a sassy figure skater from Scranton competing at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.  Asked last month about possibly meeting the vice president as a member of Team USA, the openly gay Rippon tartly responded, “You mean the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?”

“If it were before my event,” Rippon continued, “I would absolutely not go out of my way to meet somebody who […] has gone out of their way to not only show they aren’t a friend of a gay person but that they think they’re sick.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to meet somebody like that.”

Rippon is hardly the first to publicly chastise Pence for his abysmal civil rights record since he rose to become one Big Mac away from the presidency.  Shortly after the 2016 election, the entire cast of Hamilton famously implored the then-VP-elect, who was sitting mere feet away, to “uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us,” implying a profound worry that he would not.  As well, in the days before the inauguration, the streets outside Pence’s temporary D.C. residence were transformed into a raucous, glittering gay block party organized by a group called WERK for Peace—an act of trolling that, if not particularly effective, at least had a nice rhythm to it.

In the teeth of all this cultural pushback—and his own odious history—Pence has opted to seemingly take the high road as of late, either by remaining silent or affecting an air of congenial magnanimity toward his would-be antagonists.  Following the Hamilton incident, for instance, Pence assured an interviewer, “I wasn’t offended by what was said,” adding, “When we arrived we heard a few boos, and we heard some cheers.  I nudged my kids and reminded them that is what freedom sounds like.”

It was in that same spirit of ecumenicalism that Pence last week tweeted to Rippon, “I want you to know we are FOR YOU.  Don’t let fake news distract you.  I am proud of you and ALL OF OUR GREAT athletes and my only hope for you and all of #TeamUSA is to bring home the gold.  Go get ’em!”  Around this time, USA Today reported—and a Pence spokesperson oddly denied—that the vice president had attempted to arrange a meeting with Rippon to try to work out their differences, and that Rippon had rebuffed the invitation, at least until after the Olympics conclude on February 25.

Here, then, is the $64,000 question:  Should Rippon take Pence up on his (apparent) offer?  For Rippon and every other social liberal in America, is it wise to scorn the man who is second-in-line to the presidency, rather than engaging with him in good faith when the opportunity presents itself?

Bearing in mind the only truly relevant fact about Pence—that he could become the 46th chief executive at a moment’s notice—might it be strategically advantageous to call the vice president’s bluff that he values all his fellow Americans equally and—by implication—is willing to have his mind changed?

Is it possible, in other words, that some kind of summit between Pence and members of the LGBT community might eventually persuade the former—as it has already persuaded 62 percent of the public and five-ninths of the Supreme Court—that the latter is a group worthy of the rights, privileges and basic dignity afforded every other American citizen?  And might such outreach result in more favorable legislation in the years to come?

I know:  Probably not.  Surely anyone who would willingly tether himself to Donald Trump is morally suspect at best and irredeemable at worst—an assumption tragically reinforced by such disgraces as Pence’s staged walkout from an NFL game last October after several black players kneeled during the national anthem.  He may not have fully drunk the Trump Kool-Aid yet, but he certainly knows how to toe the party line.

The real question, though, is how this weird mixture of stoicism and prissiness will manifest itself if and when Pence graduates from understudy to leading man.  From the Oval Office—without a vain, impulsive man-child to answer to 24 hours a day—will he resume his former life as a crass culture warrior—Trump with a Bible and a Midwestern accent, more or less—or will he transmogrify into the restrained, even-tempered statesman he has occasionally portrayed to the world since January 2017?

We may never find out the answer to that question.  (At least not until Robert Mueller has finished his work.)  All we can reasonably hope is that his overtures of goodwill are genuine and, if so, that we will be able to summon the nerve and generosity to meet him halfway.

A Nation of Hypocrites

“I watched the Super Bowl again this year.  Why?  ’Cause I’m an idiot.”

That was Lewis Black in 2001, and the sentiment has held up well in the intervening 17 years for both America and yours truly.

As a native New Englander, I haven’t fully invested myself in a professional sporting event since the 2007 World Series—the Red Sox’s second championship in four years—and haven’t given much of a damn about the Vince Lombardi Trophy since the Patriots effectively leased the thing at the beginning of the previous decade.  To coin a phrase:  I got tired of all the winning.

All the same, I have faithfully tuned in to every minute of every Super Bowl since discovering football in the late 1990s and will probably continue tuning in for the rest of my natural life.  To be sure, like every halfway-ethical American, I have been appalled by the NFL’s ongoing complicity in the epidemic of brain damage and suicide among current, former and (presumably) future players.  Intellectually, I know full well that by watching even one NFL game per year (my current average), I make myself complicit in this monstrous conspiracy and thereby become Part of the Problem.

Yet I watch the Big Game anyway, happily and without apology.  Why?  Easy:  Because I’m a hypocrite.

Yes, I suppose I could attempt to reconcile my shameful viewing habits by whipping up some half-baked rationalization—say, about how the NFL is finally taking the concussion issue seriously, or how supporting the Super Bowl is a way to support the economy and/or the troops.

But who am I kidding?  I relish the Super Bowl because I enjoy football and all manner of grand spectacle, and if the game’s continued existence shaves a few decades off the lives of its main participants, well, who ever thought running full speed into another human being was a risk-free endeavor in the first place?

 “The test of a first-rate intelligence,” F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, “is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”  While there is nothing especially intelligent about watching professional football players pummel each other for three-and-a-half hours, the glaring contradiction of endorsing an activity you know to be despicable is perfectly emblematic of Donald Trump’s America—a culture in which no double standard is too flagrant and moral shamelessness knows no bounds.

In the age of Trump, hypocrisy is the new black.

That’s not to say that Donald Trump is necessarily to blame for this sorry state of affairs.  As with most other American flaws, the 45th president is less a cause than a symptom.  Trump may well be the single greatest hypocrite on planet Earth, but he is ultimately a mere reflection of the people who voted for him—and, equally, of those who didn’t.

Case in point:  While it’s true—as a cheeky Twitter parlor game has shown—that President Trump has said and done virtually everything he previously deplored in President Obama, who amongst us has not engaged in similarly disingenuous moral recalibrating during this abrupt shift in political leadership?

How many of us ding the president for his excessive golf habit but never gave it a second thought during the previous administration?  How many of us applaud congressional Democrats for refusing to compromise with Trump, despite spending eight years criticizing Republicans for refusing to compromise with Obama?  How many of us have condemned Trump’s history of philandering and sexual assault after excusing Bill Clinton’s for 20 years running?  How many of us were driven mad by the FBI’s investigation into Bill and Hillary’s business dealings but are delighted by its investigation into Donald’s?

Such is the corrosive effect of allowing raw political partisanship to inform one’s entire worldview—a fact Americans seem never to learn for more than a few minutes at a time.

The truth is that we are all guilty of practicing what we do not preach when it becomes convenient, and this goes far beyond party politics:  It’s also the smug environmentalists who luxuriate in 60 degree temperatures in December, or the self-proclaimed feminists who continue to patronize the work of sexually malignant artists and entrepreneurs.  It’s the health freaks who scarf burgers and brownies when no one’s looking, or the bleeding heart Robin Hoods who never seem to have spare change when they pass by a homeless person on the street.

Speaking as all of the above, I would never begrudge my fellow citizens the little duplicities that get them through their day.  When it comes to hypocrisy in 2018, the point isn’t to eradicate all of one’s moral inconsistencies.  Rather, it is to admit that those inconsistencies exist and not presume to be purer than one’s fellow man and woman.

Let him who is without hypocrisy cast the first stone.  Everyone else can watch the Super Bowl.

It’s Not Him, It’s Us

Donald Trump has resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for a year now—albeit on a strictly part-time basis—and for that reason, I am prepared to finally recognize him as president of these United States.

Like most liberals, I have struggled these past 12 months in truly accepting the legitimacy of the 2016 election—first, because of the ongoing intrigue vis-à-vis Russia, and second, because Donald Trump is a horrible human being who debases the presidency with every breath he takes.

And yet there he sits in the Oval Office and on Air Force One.  There his scratchy signature appears on every piece of legislation that flutters across his desk from Congress.  And there his portrait hangs on the wall of every federal building in America.

Thus, I can’t dance around it any longer:  Trump is my president whether I like it or not, and I regret to inform you, my fellow citizens, that he is your president as well, no matter how emphatically you may proclaim otherwise.

I make this simple and unpleasant point now in light of the two greatest lessons I’ve learned from the first year of the Trump era:  First, that nothing is more harmful to public discourse than the erosion of objective truth.  And second, that the survival of any nation depends on the health of its core institutions.

On the first point, it has become a matter of public record—most recently in the Washington Post—that Donald Trump is the most pathologically dishonest person to have ever occupied the White House, if not planet Earth.  Whether through cynicism or senility, Trump has demonstrated a near-superhuman capacity to exaggerate, distort or deny even the most trivial, Google-able details of his presidency and to dismiss any information he finds inconvenient as “fake news.”  By and large, his loyal minions have tagged along for the ride, bequeathing us a society in which the nature of reality itself has become a matter of personal opinion.

The question is:  If Trump skeptics insist—correctly—that facts are not subjective or open to debate, doesn’t that include the fact that Trump is lawfully commander-in-chief, vested with certain powers he can exercise as he sees fit?  Isn’t declaring him “not my president” or “Putin’s puppet” a mirror image of Republicans’ smearing of Barack Obama as a secret Kenyan whose 2008 election was predicated on a lie?  If it was offensive then, why wouldn’t it be offensive now?  If we demand acknowledgement of basic truths from our opponents, shouldn’t we also demand it from ourselves?

Yes, we absolutely should, and for most of the time since Trump’s inauguration last January, we have not held up our side of the bargain.  We have allowed our visceral, if justified, contempt for America’s 45th chief executive to overwhelm our ability to judge him fairly, or to afford him even a scintilla of institutional respect.  In so doing, we have become part of the problem.

The key word here is “institutional,” which brings us to the second takeaway of 2017: the importance of institutions in a stable, functioning democracy, up to and including such American mainstays as a free press, an independent judiciary and, yes, the presidency itself.  If Donald Trump has proved the single greatest threat to our country’s loftiest norms and ideals over the last year, the American people have not been that far behind in the running.  If Trump’s rotten character has led the United States deep into the moral gutter, the majority of his antagonists have been all too happy to follow, engaging him on his own ugly, puerile terms.

If that seems like an exaggeration, consider how many times the word “shithole” has been uttered in public forums in the two weeks since Trump uttered it at a White House immigration meeting—as if CNN shortening it to “s-hole” would’ve been too confusing to the average viewer.  Don’t get me wrong:  As someone who worships at the altar of George Carlin, I enjoy filthy language as much as anybody.  But if the word “shit” appears more than, say, three times in a single TV news segment, the story is no longer about Trump or immigration—it’s about how much fun it is for pundits to say “shit” and get away with it.

Life under Trump does not have to be this way, and we are not making America great by mimicking all of Trump’s worst instincts.  We recently celebrated the birthday of the man who said darkness cannot drive out darkness, yet we continue to behave as if the only way to drive out Trump is to be nearly as obnoxious as he is.

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe the key to happy living is to treat people better than they deserve, and every now and again that includes the president (read: the presidency) of the United States.  Yes, of course Trump is an embarrassment and a disgrace who has no business in public life—let alone the Oval Office—but in the end this isn’t about him.  It’s about us.  It’s about not letting ourselves be dragged down to his level by surrendering to our lowest and most craven impulses.  It’s about retaining our core humanity even when it seems like all hope is lost.  It’s about that famous line from Cato—much beloved by George Washington during the Revolution— “Tis not in mortals to command success; but we’ll do more […] we’ll deserve it.”

Michelle Obama put it differently:  “When they go low…”

I forget how that line ended.

Buried Treasure

Today being December 22, it is still far too early in the year for me to come up with my ten favorite movies of 2017.  However, as I embark on the final stretch of my annual Oscar season binge, I offer a quintet of films from the past 12 months that the average viewer is likely to have missed but the smart, adventurous viewer will be gratified to have found.


Nearly a decade since the Twilight series took America’s teenage girls by storm, who would’ve guessed that Kristen Stewart—known primarily for having had to choose for a lover between a vampire and a werewolf—would become one of the most hypnotic actresses in world cinema?  Yet here she is in Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper—a virtually unseen, low-budget thriller from last March—commanding our attention like few performers of her generation can, seemingly with no effort whatsoever.  Roger Ebert used to say the greatest actors were those who appear to do the least, and that’s Stewart here, playing a well-heeled personal assistant and spiritual medium desperately trying to communicate with her dead twin brother—a ghost with whom she shares a bond that, like the rest of the movie, is never fully explained and is all the more spellbinding as a result.  Available now on Showtime.


Officially a 2016 release, Jim Jarmusch’s characteristically quirky gem premiered in Boston at noon on January 20, and that’s exactly where I was when a certain real estate developer was being sworn in as America’s 45th commander-in-chief.  While the timing was mostly coincidental, Paterson proved the perfect antidote to the raging nihilism descending on Washington, D.C., at that time.  As Donald Trump bellowed about “American carnage” and the horrors of Muslims and migrants, here was a quiet little story about a municipal bus driver who spends his leisure time writing poetry and hanging out at the bar, silently pondering where his life might be headed.  It helps that he has an ebullient—and equally creative—wife (Golshifteh Farahani) waiting for him when he gets home—a reminder that love and marriage are less about material things than a shared commitment that transcends race, class and whether Brussels sprouts are a good thing to bake into a pie.


Before Sally Hawkins took our breath away as a nonverbal janitor who befriends a mysterious sea monster in The Shape of Water, she proved equally captivating in this altogether different cinematic animal, directed by Aisling Walsh, about Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis.  Profoundly shy and afflicted by severe arthritis, Lewis is portrayed by Hawkins as an uncommonly generous, patient and heroic woman who navigates a difficult relationship with a cruel man (Ethan Hawke) through playful manipulation of his weaknesses and, eventually, the discovery of her remarkable—and financially lucrative—skills as a painter.  Like Paterson, Maudie is both the portrait of a marriage—in this case, a real one—and also a short treatise on creativity and the unlikely places it can be found.


It may seem facile to describe a movie about white people as “the Moonlight of 2017,” yet Sean Baker’s follow-up to 2015’s Tangerine nonetheless bears certain key similarities to last year’s surprise Oscar winner and achieves greatness for many of the same reasons.  Like Barry Jenkins’s film, The Florida Project burrows into a Sunshine State community that is often ignored—in this case, itinerant poor folks who hole up in cheap motels near Disney World for short periods of time—and luxuriates in the life, struggle, and humanity within.  While Moonlight followed its young protagonist, Chiron, through several stages of adolescence, the hero of The Florida Project—a sassy six-year-old named Moonee (Brooklynn Prince)—exists entirely in the present and functions as our eyes and ears through virtually every frame of this story.  By shooting the movie from Moonee’s point of view, Baker understands—as Harper Lee understood in 1960—that sometimes the best way to understand the difficulties of adulthood is by filtering them through the innocence of a child.


The French guerrilla artist who calls himself JR first came to my attention in the fall of 2015, when he plastered a giant photograph of a man on a diving board along the glass windows of Boston’s John Hancock Tower, roughly 500 feet above Copley Square.  No explanation was given; none was required.  In the years before and since, JR has been travelling the world in search of interesting people and, as in Boston, taking super-sized portraits of them for display in the most public possible spaces.  In this documentary, JR is joined on this quixotic journey by one Agnès Varda, an endlessly inquisitive 89-year-old film director who, along with Jean-Luc Godard, represents the last living remnant of the French New Wave of the 1950s and 1960s.  If this pairing doesn’t constitute the most delightful buddy comedy road trip of 2017, I don’t know what does.

Rose’s Turn

If you’d asked me a week ago to list my 25 favorite Americans whom I haven’t personally met, Charlie Rose may well have been among them.  I have watched Rose’s eponymous PBS program regularly for the better part of a decade now, plowing through hundreds (if not thousands) of interviews with people from every imaginable walk of life—political leaders, filmmakers, musicians, authors, historians, scientists, businesspeople, fellow journalists—you name ’em, Charlie’s interviewed ’em—and I cannot conceive of my life as an active global citizen without having done so for so long.

In a media ecosystem that tends to value screaming over substance and certainty over wisdom, Rose has truly been a godsend, drawing out more knowledge and insight about the world around us than any other TV newsman in the last 25 years.  The Spartan set of his studio—a large round oak table surrounded by darkness—embodied the simple, unpretentious mission of Rose’s program:  To bring an understanding of a given issue to a wide audience through conversation between serious-minded individuals.  With the possible exception of C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb, he did this better than anybody in the business.

If you want a shorthand for how Rose comported himself in his job—and why it proved so darned engaging day in and day out—just imagine if Larry King had bothered to study up on his nightly guests more than ten minutes before the show began—and had he truly cared what they had to say once it did.

Like King, Rose was adept at the rare—and increasingly rarefied—art of allowing his guests to talk for extended periods without interruption and to take the conversation in any direction they chose.  Unlike King, Rose was unfailingly curious and well-read about whatever the topic at hand happened to be—indeed, he seldom if ever booked a guest to whom he showed indifference or dislike—and was equally in his element with Bashar al-Assad as he was with Amy Schumer.

Never content merely to plug some actor’s new movie or boost a rising senator’s presidential prospects, Rose always made his best effort to cut right to the heart of a question, probing his subjects about what truly drives them to do what they do:  What is it, precisely, that gets them out of bed in the morning?  What does success mean to them?  What have they learned from failure?  What makes them happy?  What, in short, is their own personal meaning of life?

Naturally, not everyone who came to Rose’s table was up to the challenge of having their souls plumbed for deeper meaning.  However, a great majority of them were—including many who tend to be reticent in other settings—and those interviews are treasures to behold, and are available for viewing in their entirety at CharlieRose.com, where I will continue to spend time on a fairly regular basis.

However, over the last week, a big fat asterisk has affixed itself to all that I have just written, following a devastating report in the Washington Post about Rose’s secret history of sexually abusing and intimidating at least eight different women in his employ—behavior that ranged from traipsing around hotel rooms in an open bathrobe to forcibly kissing and touching would-be romantic partners to angrily firing those who rejected his advances, potentially ending their careers as a result.

Indeed, from details in the Post story alone, Charlie Rose would seem to be the Harvey Weinstein of broadcast television—a perfect scumbag whose libido and sense of male entitlement are almost farcical in their reckless audacity.

Reading these women’s accounts in full—as I did when the story broke last Monday—felt very nearly like a personal betrayal.  Despite having never met the man, nor frankly known much about him beyond what he presented when the cameras were rolling, Rose had long struck me as a fundamentally decent and respectable elder statesman of news media—a true gentleman whom I could (and did) trust to present the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, about how the world really works—up to and including the problem of sexual assault in and out of the workplace.

That he, of all people, would turn out to be a Dirty Old Man who treats women as pure flesh and is so clueless about human nature that he had no idea of his predatory tendencies until he read about them in the Washington Post—well, it’s enough to make you wonder whether the Founding Fathers had it exactly backwards in granting full citizenship exclusively to landowning white men.  Whether, indeed, it might not be such a crazy idea to bar all men from positions of power until (to coin a phrase) we know what’s going on.

In any case, speaking as someone who can occasionally differentiate right from wrong, I understand why Charlie Rose will not—and should not—be allowed on television for a very long time, if ever, and that my continued viewing of old episodes of his show is, for the most part, indefensible.  For all the enjoyment his interviews have given me over the years—right up until last week, in fact—I accept that his fall from grace is a small price to pay for a society in which women’s job security and physical safety are not determined by the carnal urges of the men who sign their paychecks.

All the same, I cannot help but echo the reaction of Gayle King, Rose’s CBS This Morning co-host (along with Norah O’Donnell), who expressed an equal measure of disgust and sadness at the revelation that our boy Charlie is not the man we thought he was—that his periodic and rather creepy on-air flirting with female guests was a massive red flag that no one in authority was willing to see or do anything about.  As King explained to multiple outlets in the days after Rose was banished from CBS and PBS for good, one can be disgusted by behavior that is reprehensible and destructive while retaining a degree of affection for a person one has come to know and love and who, in his better moments, was undeniably charming and respectful to men and women alike.

The truth is that it is extraordinarily difficult to have your entire perception of another person negated in an instant and be able to adjust your loyalties accordingly.  As liberals are continually learning about Trump supporters—and as conservatives learned about many Obama voters before that—once you convince yourself of the inherent goodness of a given individual, it takes an awful lot of bad behavior on his or her part to alter your basic conclusion as to what kind of a person he or she truly is.  Once your initial opinion is established, confirmation bias kicks in and protects you from inconvenient information that might lead you to unattractive truths.

One solution to this conundrum is to be a lot more skeptical about your own assumptions, mindful of Mark Twain’s famous observation, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble:  It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Over the past year, there have been a great many things I knew for sure that were proved false by human events, not the least of which was the notion that a man who systematically—and openly—treats women horribly could never be elected president of the United States.  You’d think that fact alone would’ve steeled me against being surprised by anything ever again, and perhaps the truth about Charlie Rose will snap me out of my naïveté once and for all, just as the revelations about other celebrities have snapped other people out of theirs.

I just wish I could be more confident that I won’t be proved wrong about that, too.

The Moore You Know

What America giveth, America can also taketh away.

If the women (and sane men) of this country have been feeling pretty good lately about the swift and sudden accountability that has met certain prominent men accused of inappropriate—and, in many cases, felonious—sexual conduct over the years, that hopefulness is being severely tempered down south, where the good people of Alabama are about to send a pedophile to the U.S. Senate.

The pedophile in question is one Roy Moore, a former judge and religious fanatic who has twice been yanked from his courtroom perch after refusing to enforce laws he found personally inconvenient, and who has been known to publicly suggest (among other things) that 9/11 was divine retribution for America’s sins and that gay sex is “a crime against nature, an inherent evil, and an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it”—the latter suggesting more about the man’s internet viewing habits than he perhaps intended.

This being Alabama—the most religious state in the union, according to Pew—Moore’s strutting Christian authoritarianism had already made him the odds-on favorite in his state’s special Senate election on December 12.  However, now that Moore has been accused of sexual harassment and/or assault by no less than six women—most of whom were underage at the time—his victory against Democrat Doug Jones seems all but guaranteed.  Indeed, if the latest polling is any indication, Moore’s in-state popularity has only grown as the claims of sexual misconduct have piled up.

In an earlier era—say, 13 months ago—such a scenario would’ve seemed unthinkable in America—not to mention dangerous, appalling, depressing and grotesque.

Here in the penultimate month of 2017, the prospect of a known serial predator being elected to the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body is still dangerous, appalling, depressing and grotesque—but it is also just about the most thinkable thing in American politics.  Roy Moore will, in fact, be the next senator from Alabama, he will not be expelled by his 99 chamber mates when he arrives (contrary to rumor), and he will serve there at least until his first term expires in January 2021.

How do I know this?  Because I lived through all 366 miserable days of 2016—including the one involving the sentence, “Grab ’em by the pussy”—and I know history repeating itself when I see it.  If Donald Trump was the tragedy, Roy Moore is the farce.

One need not be a political scientist to notice the cascade of similarities between last year’s rise of Trump and this year’s rise of Moore:  Both entered their campaigns as objects of national ridicule and disgrace.  Both are known for irresponsible, inflammatory comments on divisive cultural issues and a general contempt for those with whom they disagree.  Both are profoundly immature and obsessed with maintaining their oh-so-fragile sense of alpha superiority.  Both have been able to parlay that über-masculinity into a Stalin-esque personality cult among their most loyal fans.  Both have become so convinced of their infallibility that they never, under any circumstances, admit any fault or assume any personal responsibility.

Finally—and, at the moment, most importantly—both Trump and Moore have been presented with credible evidence of having behaved criminally toward multiple women (at least 12, in Trump’s case), both have faced calls within their own party to drop out of their respective races (Trump after the Access Hollywood incident) and, in denying all accusations, both have flatly and defiantly pledged to fight on to the end, claiming they themselves—not their accusers—are the real victims in this story.

All that remains to be seen is whether lightning can strike twice—whether, for the second year in a row, an obviously and flamboyantly unqualified political candidate can stonewall his way to victory in the face of all common sense, potential criminal charges, and every law of political gravity.

Let’s not kid ourselves, folks:  If America can make a pussy-grabber president, Alabama can make a pedophile senator.