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With #MeToo, the biggest fish in politics will be let off the hook

#MeToo, basically, has affected those that are disposable and easily replaceable. For political partisans, when it matters electorally, those allegations have been, if not ignored, deflected

columns Updated: Oct 26, 2018 17:02 IST
#MeToo
As the #MeToo movement gathered momentum at the outset of 2018, it claimed a significant trophy in Canada in January(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

As the #MeToo movement gathered momentum at the outset of 2018, it claimed a significant trophy in Canada in January. Patrick Brown, then the leader of the Progressive Conservative party in the country’s largest province, Ontario, was favoured to become its next premier (equivalent of chief minister). But a series of allegations of sexual harassment against him forced his resignation. This week, Brown resurrected his political career, scoring an upset victory to become the mayor of the town of Brampton. It isn’t quite a potential pathway to prime ministerial ambitions as the premiership would have been, but Brown may have made history as the first #MeToo accused to have staged an electoral comeback.

Back in January, Brown was dispensable. Just a few months ahead of the elections, and his party solidly placed to capture power, a change could hardly have affected its fortunes, and it didn’t. In India, MJ Akbar resigned from his post as minister of state for external affairs after facing a perfect storm of allegations, an outcome that was inevitable, although he was given enough time (too much, critics will credibly argue), to make the noises necessary to claim innocence. Without a grassroots grasp, though, Akbar’s departure was predictable, since it would have made little difference in terms of electoral fortune, while his survival in the council of ministers may well have, in a negative way. Others, with vote garnering weight, remain ensconced in legislatures across India despite facing charges of crimes against women, ranging from that cringe-inducing term, ‘eve teasing’, to rape.

#MeToo has affected those that are disposable and easily replaceable. For political partisans, when it matters electorally, those allegations have been, if not ignored, deflected. Which is why in the US, Democratic party senator, Cory Booker, continues in office, and the party’s deputy Chair, Keith Ellison, remains its nominee for the post of attorney general of Minnesota for the midterms. Or, why the Republican party massed behind Brett Kavanaugh to place him on the Supreme Court.

The higher up the greasy pole, the less such charges stick. The 45th president of the United States is a prime example of this phenomenon. You could argue Donald Trump is a misogynist, but Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is a self-avowed feminist-in-chief. That he may have groped a reporter in 2000, while at an event in the province of British Columbia, was recounted by the victim herself penning an op-ed immediately afterwards in her local publication laying out the troubling episode. Trudeau has a zero-tolerance policy towards those in his party facing such accusations. Trudeau himself said he recalled no “negative interactions”.

That may well illustrate #MeToo’s political impact so far: When it’s convenient, smaller fry can be ditched, but the biggest fish will get away, simply because that may mean negative interactions for their parties at the ballot box.

Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Oct 26, 2018 17:01 IST