Opinion

The “me too” pendulum swings, but is it too far?

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For nearly a year now, we’ve been living in a different era.

That era is the “me too” era, where women across this country are standing up and making their voices heard, taking some power back after generations of silent abuse that women all over America have experienced.

This is undeniably a good thing. No one in this country should experience violence, harassment or the violation of their body in any way without consequences on those perpetrating those things. I have two daughters, and if anyone ever lays a single finger on them without their permission, or forces them to do anything they do not consent to, I will want the person responsible to face scathing retribution.

I think we all agree that this is a good thing.

But, any time society corrects itself in any way significant, it often experiences an over-correction. The pendulum swings, but sometimes — often times, actually — it swings too far in both directions.
I believe we are living in such a time right now. Society has become so outraged at the stories involving a never-ending parade of predator men who have abused women — from Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer — that it has developed an insatiable appetite to punish.

Again, this is a good thing. That mass outrage has given accusers a tremendous amount of power, and with good cause. Most people generally believe accusers and assume they are telling the truth, and that has a major impact on the people who are accused.

But with that power comes a dangerous, dark side.

Any amount of power like this that can be wielded with devastating consequence can be abused. People all over this country right now know that a “me too” accusation is very likely to destroy lives, end careers, and leave someone completely unable to recover.

When those accusations are true, that is great. When those accusations are made by people who lie and are interested in destroying people, whatever their reasons, it is very very bad.

Bad first because it takes credibility away from genuine victims who are telling the truth. If craven, hate-filled liars start making use of this tremendous power to destroy people with untruths, it will naturally fill the public with a skepticism and doubt that will leave many truthful revelations discounted. The pendulum swings the other direction.

But also because lives can be utterly destroyed, and seemingly with ease. Make an accusation, destroy a career. By their very nature, many of these stories — both the true ones and the untrue ones — are impossible to prove in either direction, and rely on the personal testimony of two people, dueling for credibility.

Because we tend to believe accusers, that is usually a face-off lost by the men involved. And to be very clear, the vast majority of those accusations are legitimate and truthful, justifying our tendency to believe accusers. While this is understandable, and good, it means that if a man is accused by a liar, it is very likely that his life will be obliterated.

So what are we, the general public, to do?

I think virtually every single one of us wants to see victims and accusers obtain justice. I think we all want to see abusers punished, and punished harshly and severely.

I think, too, that most of us do not want innocent people destroyed by people who aren’t telling the truth. And I think most of us understand that the public mood about these issues may result in some people trying to take advantage of that mood to hurt people they don’t like.

So again, what do we do? How do we deal with those competing desires, which in my mind are both rational and logical?

I’m asking you because I don’t know.

Obviously right now the country is living through a conversation about an accusation made about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The accusation, by Christine Blasey Ford, is made about an incident when he was a teenager in high school. It is vague, not terribly descriptive, and there is no contemporary corroboration or witnesses who may have some knowledge of the interaction.

Yet, the mere accusation seems to have derailed Kavanaugh’s potential appointment to a position at the apex of his profession. He might not be confirmed, just for this.

Is that right? Is that enough? How are we to judge?

I hope you have some answers, because I sure don’t.

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.

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