It is a quiet panic, but it is a panic nonetheless.
It is going on in cities large and small, but especially in megacities like New York and Los Angeles, and power centers like Washington, D.C.
It is men who are panicking. Important men with important jobs. They are examining how they treated women. Not only last week or last month, but decades ago.
Did they ever slap a secretary’s behind? Did they pinch an intern? Grope a woman looking for a promotion?
And how many years do these men have to worry about?
Ask yourself how many years women have been sexually harassed, assaulted, demeaned and treated unfairly. There’s your answer.
It used to not matter. This is hard to believe, but true.
In 2003, actor and body-builder Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to run for governor of California, the nation’s largest state.
Less than a week before the election — a special election in which the incumbent governor, the widely disliked Gray Davis, had to be recalled before Schwarzenegger could be elected — the Los Angeles Times began printing chillingly and disgustingly detailed accusations by women that Schwarzenegger had groped and improperly touched them.
His poll numbers dropped.
So Schwarzenegger called on his powerful friends to do damage control. Just before the election, Jay Leno said in one of his nightly monologues: “You’ve got Arnold, who groped a few women, or Davis, who screwed the whole state.”
It got a big laugh.
But Schwarzenegger could be an unbelievably crude guy, especially when it came to violence and women. While promoting “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” he gleefully told Entertainment Weekly: “How many times do you get away with this — to take a woman, grab her upside down, and bury her face in a toilet bowl?”
How many times should you get away with this? How about none?
While Schwarzenegger was getting big crowds and big laughs, his accusers had to live shattered lives, lives in which their misery continued long after the physical assaults stopped. “Did he humiliate me?” one told a newspaper. “You bet he did.”
Before the election, Schwarzenegger issued one of those meaningless blanket apologies. And he later pledged to hire a private investigator to look into the accusations against him.
[Maybe he was going to hire the same investigator O.J. Simpson was going to employ to find the murderer of his wife and her friend.]
In any case, Schwarzenegger decided not to hire the shamus. Why should he? The public was on his side. He was an actor and he knew how to act innocent.
I once asked Schwarzenegger about the role that acting played in his political life. “Franklin Roosevelt once told Orson Welles, ‘We are the two best actors in the country,’ ” I told Schwarzenegger. “Are there things you learned from your acting career that you have used in politics?”
Schwarzenegger was eager to answer: “In the close-up on the screen people can read your eyes and your honesty and the same is in politics. People look at you — many times they forget the words — but they look at you and they walk away and they say, ‘I believe this guy.’ ”
Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected to the governorship. People believed this guy. Or else they didn’t care if he was lying or not. Flash forward to 2016.
This is part of a transcript from a taped interview by Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” and business mogul Donald Trump, who was running for President of the United States.
Trump: “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.”
Bush: “Whatever you want.”
Trump: “Grab ’em by the p—y. You can do anything.”
This was the guiding principle of Donald Trump’s life: When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
Even though the tape and many, many crude comments Trump made about women, as well as accusations from women, were well known before the election, Trump was elected anyway.
Today, the public mood has changed. Women are using Twitter and other social media to speak out.
The list of alleged molesters and abusers of women seems to grow every day. Some men have admitted their crimes and others haven’t. Some have resigned from office. Others have been forced out of cushy jobs.
Whether this will continue — and I hope it does — is anybody’s guess.
But there are a lot of panicky men out there. And they are panicky because they know their doom may be only one tweet away.
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