Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
“Accused, Without Due Process”
February 19, 2018
“…nor shall any State deprive any person of life,
liberty or property, without due process of law…”
Ratified July 9, 1868
“People’s lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?” So Tweeted President Trump, following the resignation of White House staff secretary Rob Porter. That the Tweet may have been self-serving and that there is a discrepancy as to when the White House was notified by the FBI of Mr. Porter’s alleged mistreatment of his two wives does not negate the importance of Mr. Trump’s observation. While the Left immediately jumped on the Tweet as confirmation that the President had declared war on #MeToo and women in general, someone had stood up for the accused. Due process – the concept of innocence until proven guilty – is embedded in our Constitution and is at the heart of our judicial system.
Dozens of alleged victims of harassment and worse have emerged, since revelations about Harvey Weinstein first appeared in The New York Times last October. The media has tried and convicted the accused in their pages and on air. I do not doubt that many, if not most, of those accused are, in fact, guilty. Many men take advantage of vulnerable women. And some women submit to unwanted passes when they are scared or feel it is to their advantage. The world is competitive, and people do what they must to succeed, whether in school, sports, on the stage or in the office. Predators lurk. Such behavior reflects today’s culture – that nothing is more important than winning.
The purpose of this essay is not to suggest that most accusations are without merit. Nor is it to claim that women have not been molested and treated badly by men who use power, money and prestige to further their sexual desires. I am sure they have, just as I suspect a few women have used sex to further careers. What I find offensive is the lemming-like behavior of the media and political opportunists who take advantage of someone else’s misfortune. We should not allow our reactions to morph into unfounded allegations and recriminations. The accused are owed a chance to be heard. What has been happening is reminiscent of the Soviet Union, and the Salem witch trials of 1692, when twenty people – mostly women – were executed, largely because of acrimonious relations between families of plaintiffs and defendants.
In a recent New York Times article, Mark Landler struck a truism (perhaps unknowingly) when he wrote: “At a time when charges of sexual harassment and abuse are bringing down famous and powerful men from Hollywood to Washington…” (Emphasis mine.) I used “unknowingly” because, nowhere in his article did Mr. Lander note the irony that it was “charges” that brought down these men, not proof of wrong doing. When judgements are rendered by the press, rather than in the courtroom, the rights of the accused are violated. No matter how offensive we find Harvey Weinstein or Ray Moore, they have rights. Kangaroo courts have no place in a democracy.
Questions that need asking: Has offensive behavior become more common? Have women thrown off the yoke of silence? Are accusations being aired more liberally? I don’t pretend to have answers, but I do know technology has made it more difficult to hide and our values have deteriorated. We have seen a decline in traditional families, a rise in out-of-wedlock births, a fall-off in church attendance, an abandonment of children by fathers, an increase in abortions, and a rise in narcissism and moral turpitude that is reflected on social media, with examples set by the glittering classes from entertainment, politics, finance, sports and media. Politicians claim a desire to seek answers, but they see it in their self-interest to keep such issues alive for the next campaign.
Skepticism is suspended, and expressions of schadenfreude are displayed, when the accused is a member of the opposing political persuasion. Given the ubiquity of the claims, though, both sides have reasons for feelings of joy and remorse. Sexual harassment, however, is a cultural, not a political, issue. Harvey Weinstein and Ray Moore represent opposite ends of the political spectrum, but they stand together when it comes to alleged misbehavior. Nevertheless, despite our gut reactions, and suppositions as to their mutual guilt, we should bite our tongues (or take our fingers off the keyboard) until courts of law render decisions.
America is a nation comprised of people from all over the world. We are of different backgrounds, cultures, races and creeds. Some are great athletes; others, great musicians. Some are intellectuals; others, great mechanics. We are tall and short, fat and slim. We are men and women, gay and straight. We are militarists and pacifists. A free society allows us to enjoy and celebrate our differences. We perform every job there is. As Carl Sandberg wrote, we are hog butchers, tool makers and stackers of wheat. It is our differences that allow the economy to work and our nation to be strong. But, as Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania School of Law recently wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “We live together, and we need to solve our problems together.” We have all found a home in this country. We are here by choice, not coercion. We have hopes and aspirations, for ourselves and for our children. Our country has imperfections (What country does not?), but we have a government and laws that treat us – black and white, rich and poor – as equals. E Pluribus Unum is our national motto, out of many, one, something we should not forget. as politicians seeking votes herd us into segregated paddocks.
David Brooks recently wrote in The New York Times that a sense of scarcity has replaced a sense of abundance. From a people who felt that anything was possible, we have become a nation focused on limits. While Mr. Brooks lays blame on Mr. Trump, that sense goes back further. Following the financial crisis, it was the argument for “the new normal” of two percent GDP growth. Limits on what people could achieve individually were behind the documentary, “Life of Julia” and the mantra, “You didn’t build that!” Scarcity turns optimists into pessimists. It makes us meaner when it comes to immigration and free trade, and angrier when it comes to wealth and income disparities. It discourages dissent and shoves people into corners. It divides us. It makes outcomes more important than opportunities. But we can rise above that. Individuals must be made to believe again in the bourgeoisie virtues of aspiration, initiative, creativity, diligence, hard work and risk. They remain keys to success…And we all have a right of due process.
In youth, I was taught the old idiom: “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
It became part of my fabric. But, as I became older, I grew to recognize that words can hurt. Socrates reputedly once said: “False words are not only evil in themselves, but they inflict the soul with evil.” By that, I believe he meant the soul of the one who spoke or wrote, not the one at whom the words were directed. Convicted criminals should be punished, but the accused have a right to be heard and to confront their accusers. Fairness and justice demand nothing less.
“Divida et Impera” (Divide and Conquer), proclaimed Julius Caesar, as he increased his power and extended the reach of the Roman Empire. It is a tactic used by politicians (especially those on the Left) to win elections. They appeal to specific constituents’ needs, rather than to the nation as a whole. It pits one group against another, segregating, rather than unifying, our people. When accusations are made, and due process is ignored, no matter the alleged crime, it is democracy that is at risk.