The #MeToo campaign received a prominent endorsement last week from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg attached no qualifications or reservations to her endorsement, and her comments as a sitting Supreme Court justice effectively granted a quasi-official sanction to the campaign. In an interview with National Public Radio’s Nina Totenberg at the Sundance Film Festival, Ginsburg said of the #MeToo campaign, “Well, I think it’s about time.” She continued: “For so long, women were silent, thinking there was nothing you could do about it. But now the law is on the side of women or men who encounter harassment, and that’s a good thing.” The occasion was the premiere of a documentary film about Ginsburg’s legal career titled “RBG.”
The witch-hunting atmosphere being whipped up around #MeToo by the Democratic Party and its supporters runs counter to democratic legal principles such as the presumption of innocence, the prosecution’s burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to confront one’s accusers, the right to summon witnesses in one’s defense, the right to respond to accusations, the right to equal treatment, the right to trial by jury and the right to due process of law. Instead, careers are ended, reputations are ruined and lives are destroyed without any kind of legal proceedings whatsoever.
Ginsburg’s remark that the law is now “on the side of” victims requires some deconstructing. While sexual abuse is (and should remain) illegal, there have been protracted efforts to undermine the presumption of innocence in prosecutions involving sexual allegations, replacing it with the accuser’s “right to be believed.” There is nothing progressive about these efforts to expand the powers of prosecutors and the state at the expense of democratic legal protections. The Democratic Party has long promoted Ginsburg as a paragon of liberal principles. In reality, her legal career, which includes founding the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project in 1971, embodies the trajectory and fate of 1960s liberal reformism.
The basic formula of Democratic Party identity politics was to separate certain issues involving basic democratic rights—such as, for example, the fight against discrimination on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation, or for the right to an abortion—from social inequality and class. This type of politics based on identity, divorced from any orientation to the working class and the struggle against capitalism, passed through a long period of decline and decay. The claims to oppose discrimination against minorities became more and more infused with open hostility to the working-class majority, which was held responsible for racism and bigotry. Identity politics now takes on entirely anti-democratic forms such as the #MeToo campaign, even as the Democrats continue to accommodate themselves to the Republicans on issues such as abortion rights, police brutality, domestic surveillance, the separation of church and state, and other vital issues of democratic rights.
The Democratic Party has made #MeToo one of its central political themes, together with anti-Russia hysteria and censorship of left-wing and anti-war views (under the fraudulent cover of combating “fake news”) on the Internet. It has done nothing to oppose the Trump administration’s attacks on immigrants and democratic rights in general, its preparations for nuclear war, its tax cuts for the rich, or its assault on health care, food stamps and other social programs. At the recent 2018 Women’s March, the slogans of #MeToo were prominently merged with calls to vote for Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections.
The #MeToo campaign does nothing to elevate consciousness or advance the cause of equality. On the contrary, like many similar moral panics over the past century, it is quite compatible with a right-wing regime. The formula “guilty because accused,” with the targeted person shamed and erased from public view without charges or trial, can and will be used to intimidate and discredit dissent, whistle-blowing, and other non-conforming conduct.