The scary simplicity of this attempt at overturning a seminal cultural movement is that he doesn’t need to appoint anyone to do it. He just needs his base to help and his rivals to be complacent.
This week, many liberals woke up worried that President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, will usher in the overturning of the decades-old Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
Depending on whom you talk to, their fears are either wholly justified or nothing more than midterm scare tactics.
Either way, too few are concerned about a far likelier and imminent threat to significant progress in American sexual politics — Trump’s plans to overturn #MeToo.
He hasn’t begun his campaign in earnest, but it’s coming. He workshopped it at a rally in Montana last week, joking about throwing an ancestry testing kit to Sen. Elizabeth Warren to make her prove her claimed Native American heritage.
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“We are going to do it gently because we’re the #MeToo generation, so we have to be very careful,” he chided.
Blink and you might have missed it. And on the Trump scale of incendiary invective, it hardly moved the needle.
But the line drew laughs. And when Trump’s material works, he doubles and triples down.
The expediency of Trump’s undermining the months of progress seen by a sexual harassment national reckoning, which followed decades of suffering in silence, is obvious: It discredits his own accusers by mocking the movement they would benefit from.
But it’s actually far more dangerous — and brilliant — than that.
It would seem to those of us who have covered #MeToo and the countless powerful men it exposed and brought down, to those of us who were prompted to share our stories, and those in industries where tectonic shifts have already taken place that Trump’s impotent, self-serving jabs at such a powerful movement would have little effect.
But like everything else he has discredited — from the media to the Mueller investigation, the NFL to the FBI — the impact is all too real.
And there are plenty of #MeToo skeptics, many among his base, who will happily explode his message when he gives them permission.
Plenty of polls show a growing suspicion for #MeToo efforts.
A recent Pew poll of 6,251 adults found 51 percent of respondents believe “the increased focus on sexual harassment and assault” would make it harder for men “to know how to interact with women in the workplace.”
Likewise, a poll commissioned by The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics of 654 registered voters statewide found that 87 percent of respondents who identified as “very liberal” said their opinion of the movement is either very or somewhat favorable, while only 16 percent of “very conservative” respondents said the same.
Trump won Utah 45.9 percent to Clinton’s 27.8 percent.
But others risk providing false comfort. An NPR/Ipsos poll from December found 9 in 10 Americans believe that “a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment is essential to bringing about change in our society.”
Go to any underemployed town in America, and you’re unlikely to find 1 in 10 who would answer this way. Further, go to polite suburbs where, for the same reason, Trump support was underreported in 2016 polls. I’ve talked to numerous people who’ve said they don’t see #MeToo as progress, but would never say so publicly.
Watch that change when Trump gives it his treatment at a rally.
The scary simplicity of this attempt at overturning a seminal cultural movement is that he doesn’t need to appoint anyone to do it. He doesn’t need Senate confirmation. He just needs his base to help and his rivals to be complacent.
For #MeToo proponents, the mistake will be in assuming Trump can’t turn back the clock. He can, and he will try. Here’s hoping they are ready.