Opinion: A Call to Diminish Party Polarization and Bolster Ethics
By Brianna Bruccoleri, Guest Columnist
The Women’s March has been the most monumental single demonstration in the entirety of American history. Political scientists have estimated that the total number of participants is approximately 3.3 million individuals, who each attended one of over 500 marches across America on 21 January 2017. Statistically speaking, this means that 1 out of every 100 Americans partook in this social rally.
Now more than ever, women’s rights and social stigma have been called into the public domain to be examined by legislative officials and policy makers; however, there are still a myriad of matters pertaining to this modern Women’s Rights Movement that have not been dealt with. The most significant issue being the increasing number of sexual assault cases being brought against men by women while the rate of prosecution and indictment remains at a despicably low level. According to RAINN, every 310 out of 1,000 rapes are reported to police. 57 lead to an arrest, and only 6 will result in incarceration of the offender.
The most nationally pertinent and recent example which exasperates the issues of women’s rights and a lack of executive regarding sexual assault claims is the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. Although the general public of America has been wildly criticizing society and its lack of advancement as an entirety, it is important to compare and contrast the confirmation of Kavanaugh to that of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas which bears similarity, but, overall, actually shows more progression in society than a lack thereof to a certain extent. However, on the contrary, other issues develop.
In 1991, Anita Hill came forward with sexual assault claims against then-Supreme Court nominee Thomas—accusations of which were dismissed by an overwhelming majority of Americans. A Gallup survey following his confirmation shows that only 17% of all Americans were against the confirmation of Thomas, and a proceeding New York Times poll similarly suggested that 21% of the granted sample thought that the accusations against Thomas were true. Based upon these statistics, it may be concluded that the majority of Americans did not believe Hill and it was not heavily weighted on gender and partisanship has no effect—a Democrat was not much more likely to favor Hill than a Republican was, for instance.
Within the case of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Dr. Blasey Ford—the professor who came forward with sexual assault accusations against the now-confirmed Justice—and her credibility were almost solely based upon party partisanship. Figure 1, a YouGov poll which consists of 2,607 Americans, supports this claim.
Figure 1 displays the deep party polarization that is currently destroying American democracy and legislative progression on issues even outside of sexual harassment and rape allegations made by an accuser. This poll has concluded soundly that an individual is more or less likely to believe Dr. Ford depending on their identified partisanship. A Democrat, for example, is almost 60% more likely to claim that they fully believe, without any uncertainty, that Dr. Ford is telling the truth in comparison to a Republican—14% of the total Republican count being in favor of Ford’s credibility. Important to note is that there is very little discrepancy among Independents—about 1/3 believe Dr. Ford, 1/3 are unsure, and the final 1/3 do not believe her.
Now that it has been established that American party polarization runs so deep that the perceived credibility of an accuser is significantly influenced based upon personal party affiliation, one last factor must be examined before finalizing the comparisons between Thomas and Kavanaugh: gender.
Figure 2, provided by the same YouGov survey, shows that women are more likely than men to believe Dr. Ford. To put into perspective, 78% of male Republicans thought Kavanaugh was telling the truth while only 71% of female Republicans sided with Kavanaugh—this is a seven-point difference. Democratic men were more likely to believe him than Democratic women. Thus, one may conclude that gender affects the stance an individual takes on the confirmation of Kavanaugh, as well as their opinions regarding the credibility of Dr. Ford. In 1991, political identity did not matter, and gender only affected one’s stance on Hill’s credibility to a minimal extent. During the confirmation of Thomas, Americans tended not to believe Hill for no other reason aside from what may only be concluded as a lack of social responsibility and a severe absence of awareness for such issues, which were somewhat of a taboo at the time. Party lines and gender did not have a significant influence on perspective of Thomas’s confirmation.
In 2018, more Americans sided with Dr. Ford—especially Democrats and women, showing a change in society’s advancement and perspective. Although not a remarkable amount of progression, it is notable. More people now believe serious allegations—this includes more women. Due to the changes in societal conventions and an increase in advocacy for changes to laws and policies which would pose more favorability and fairness for accusers rather than the accused, more people are statistically inclined to believe the individuals who stand in front of the world to share their stories and warnings.
This change shows a moderate progression amongst the general American public; nonetheless, it also poses a new issue concerning deep party polarization in our contemporary political climate which seems to only be becoming more cavernous by the moment. There are strong arguments which favor a complete end to partisanship due to this threatening polarization regarding all issues which may include but are not limited to immigration, public health, and education. However, only the end to party polarization regarding women’s rights and sexual assault claims exclusively will be evaluated in the following.
Based upon the presented statistics provided by YouGov, the public has become more accountable for its actions and platform as constituents. We have seen the rise of the #MeToo Movement, the quantitative and historical outcomes of the Women’s March, and an undoubtable increase in both women and men coming forward with accusations against those in positions of power who have wronged them all within the last five years. The increase in public awareness and accountability is extraordinary, and data and history predicts that this motion will only continue to grow and develop amongst the American public.
The most pertinent problem, therefore, lies within our government—the core issue is the very people that we elect into office. The following politicians have been accused of assault within recent years: President Donald Trump, Representative Trent Franks (AZ), Roy Moore, and former President George H.W. Bush. These four instances have, at one point of another, been found within the mainstream media. Whether it be coincidence or otherwise, all four of these men are Republicans.
A common assumption has been placed into the minds of thousands of Americans due to the media’s emphasis on Republican politicians’ sexual assault and misconduct: that Republicans are the sole party responsible for electing, re-electing, and condoning the actions of dishonest and accused politicians of their respective party. However, this is majorly due to the narrative that the media has written for the public to acknowledge and consume.
Considering this, the #MeToo Movement and all legal rights for those who have experienced sexual assault may only be furthered if we first destroy this incorrect and misleading presumption. Blindly believing and trusting in this chronicle that the media fabricates a social environment that places strong expectations and accountability for one party, but not the other.
The public must, above all else, establish a sense of transparency. The affiliated party of an accused politician does not matter, and no assumptions may be made based upon it. This assumption needs to be reconstructed because, as a society, we cannot suppose that one party holds any more accountability than another. When we do this, cases like that involving New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and his high-level staffer Albert J. Alvarez occur and go unnoticed by the American media and, thus, the American public.
In April 2017, chief of staff at New Jersey’s housing agency Katie Brennan, came forward with sexual assault allegations against Albert Alvarez—who was volunteering on Phil Murphy’s campaign for governor with Brennan. Although Brennan took the proper steps of reporting the assault to local police authorities, a legal prosecution never came to fruition. The DNA evidence provided was not substantial enough for an official charge to be presented successfully in a court of law. Brennan was unable to seek justice via law enforcement and the judicial system.
Accepting this inflexible reality of the legal system, which prioritizes the right to fair trial and innocence presumed until guilt is proven beyond an unreasonable doubt, Brennan sought some sort of remedy by contacting the transition counsel of Phil Murphy’s campaign. In March 2018, Brennan informed Murphy’s chief counsel Matt Platkin that she was sexually assaulted by Alvarez. Platkin then referred the matter to the chief ethics officer in the Governor’s office and recused himself from the investigation because he knew both Brennan and Alvarez from the campaign. Finally, the ethics officer then passed the matter along to the attorney general’s office.
Ultimately, an array of high ranking officials of authority on the campaign and within the current New Jersey state government, including the newly elected governor’s chief of staff Pete Cammarano, were aware of the sexual assault accusation against Alvarez. Yet, no one removed him from the campaign. In fact, after an extensive background check, Alvarez was offered and accepted the position of chief of staff at New Jersey Schools Development Authority— this career placement being offered despite the fact that multiple high figures of influence on Murphy’s campaign were fully aware of the allegations.
As a last resort, Brennan emailed the governor and first lady on 1 June 2018, stating she wanted to set up a meeting regarding a “sensitive matter.” Within the hour, Governor Murphy emailed her back, claiming that his correspondence team was “on it.” However, a meeting was never scheduled. Instead, Jonathan Berkon, a partner at the law firm Perkins Coie LLP, who served as an attorney for the campaign, called and told Brennan that Alvarez would be leaving his job. Three months later, Alvarez would still be working at the development authority.
Brennan, with no other means of communicating her message, claimed that learning this information prompted her to speak publicly about the alleged assault. Brennan reported her story to the Wall Street Journal, who immediately reached out to Alvarez for comment. He denied all claims, and finally resigned from his position. It took Brennan almost two and a half years and multiple attempts to have her voice heard by those in authority. Up until this point—when the media communicated her story—the entire Murphy administration did not take her claims seriously. Because Alvarez was not charged with a crime, he was allowed to work for the state at a high-leveled position despite serious assault claims.
The issue within this case, much like a variety of other political accusations, does not include a lack of credibility—Brennan’s story was never debated as being true or false. The issue at hand is that the Murphy administration did not act upon these accusations due to their own personal agenda and self-interest. Since Alvarez was not being prosecuted due to insubstantial DNA evidence, he could legally work for the state; however, moral objections—clearly—were dismissed in totality. It posed more benefit for the administration to keep Alvarez, so they did until it became inconvenient for them to do so. Once news broke to the national media, Alvarez resigned, and the administration, coincidentally enough, finally began to take action. The story of Brennan is a pinnacle example of what is wrong with American politicians: they lack morality and accountability. The #MeToo Movement will be unsuccessful and legislation will pose little use unless each begins to target the issue at hand. Those who we elect into political positions, as well as those they choose to associate with, must be held to exceptionally high standards. They are not typical Americans—their career is public service; therefore, they must be committed to it in every aspect conceivable.
Our toxic political environment is abundant with bribery, extortion, blackmail, crooked lobbying agendas, and a variety of other immoral activities with no ethical basis whatsoever. Due to this, it seems as if politicians consistently act in bad faith—the legal term conveying the entering into an agreement without the intention or means to fulfill it, or the clear violation of basic standards of honesty and integrity. Our politicians did, in fact, act in bad faith within the case of not just Kavanaugh or Alvarez, but also within dozens of other cases that were not in the national or even regional spotlight.
This is a call to recognize and adjust the dialogue surrounding sexual assault and misconduct claims. We must, together, call for politicians to hold themselves accountable for the sake of morality—not for the sake of the public or themselves in an agenda-progressive sense. We must elect representatives who are guided by principles that coincide with characteristics that include benevolence and empathy. When we discuss a candidate’s qualifications, we must examine their character and ethical stances which are so essential to their identity that they cannot be compartmentalized to any extent. We must expect our politicians to be moral people, both publicly and privately, because their decisions affect how they engage in society, and, ultimately, how society interacts with itself.
We must demand improvements within our government. We must request for our government to review its hiring practices and background checks of employees—not just their legal history should be considered. We must judge their character to a certain extent. All employers have a right to know if potential or current employees have been accused of sexual assault, and should be informed of this via law enforcement officials; an individual that has experienced sexual assault should never have to share her allegations with their offender’s employer, like Brennan was strained to do.
To do so, we must continue to move forward as a united nation. The public must be cognizant of the fact that the people we elect and the legislation they favor are a representation of who we are—regardless of party lines. Sexual misconduct and policy for or against it is blind to party identification, and can be committed by a Republican or Democrat just the same. We cannot allow for yet another Thomas or Kavanaugh to sit on the highest court of the land. We cannot ignore state executives, like that of the Murphy administration, which act in self-interest and bad faith. We cannot keep quiet and we must hold all our politicians accountable. When we do this, we fail as a society.
We need to ask for better, do better, and be better.
Author’s Note: This article focuses on sexual violence and related allegations, and may be sensitive for some readers—please be advised. It is important to note that sexual violence can happen to anyone at any time regardless of their gender, age, or various identifications. For those who have experienced sexual violence, support may be sought by calling (800) 656-4673 in order to speak with a counselor, available 24-hours a day.