This weekend, we learned of two horrific stories of abuse involving state legislators. The most bizarre case came from Kansas where Republican state Representative Mark Samsel decided to become a substitute teacher. Instead of teaching, he battered his wards, kneeing one boy in the crotch, and told them God was speaking to him as he lectured them on suicide, homosexuality, masturbation, and other topics. He’s been charged with a misdemeanor
The second case comes out of Idaho where a Republican state house member is accused of raping an intern. Rep. Aaron Von Ehlinger, who is 38, claims that sex with the 19-year-old woman was consensual. According to the intern’s attorney, von Ehlinger, ”released his written defense without redacting her identity, which has led to a campaign of harassment and bullying of her.” He resigned after the House Ethics and Policy Committee recommended he be suspended and “said it would support a motion to expel him from the Legislature.” Von Ehlinger was initially appointed to complete the term of a member who died and then won re-election unopposed.
These incidents come on the heels of the investigation that alleges that Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz paid for sex with a minor. Gaetz has been one of Donald Trump’s chief defenders and some people (Gaetz) saw him as a leader of Trumpism after the administration ended. Few Republicans have rebuked Gaetz or called for any sort of punishment. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has said that Republicans won’t take any action against Gaetz unless charges are filed.
In the age of Trump, Republicans have dropped any pretense of accountability. They ignored Trump’s abusive behavior and defended him against accusations that were on tape and in court documents. Sex with a porn star? No problem. Sexual harassment? Just Donald being Donald. Palling around with pedophiles? That’s what rich playboys do. They use any excuse to exonerate Trump and the mentality has filtered down.
The problem is not that most Republicans are abusive. They aren’t. The problem is that they have sent the message to ones who are that they won’t be held accountable. It’s filtered down to the local level. The only real crime in the modern GOP is criticizing Donald Trump. Just ask Liz Cheney.
Democrats have taken a completely different tack since the #MeToo movement began. They demanded resignations from accused officeholders with little or no due process. Accusations alone are enough to end a career. Even Bill Clinton has seen his star fade. At times Democrats and their most activist base may venture into self-righteousness, but they have also discouraged boorish or abusive behavior in the ranks.
Republicans have created a culture of unaccountability that encourages bad behavior. Bad actors like those state representatives in Idaho and Kansas believe they won’t be called out for their abuses. They have seen the most powerful people in their party not only get a pass but get defended for criminal behavior. Unless Republicans start to police their own, we’ll see more instances like those we read about this weekend.