Former U.S. President Bill Clinton had a conniption fit on NBC's Today Show this Monday when prodded over the #MeToo movement. He surprised, I imagine, no one in declaring he's never been able to summon enough strength for even the most bare-minimum apology to his disgraced former intern, Monica Lewinsky—adding that he wouldn't have done a damn thing differently. Um, in this economy? Wild.
Lewinsky became the punchline for "slut" jokes and "fat" jokes around family dinner tables, in professional reporter's daily newscasts, and in late-night talk shows. There was constant chatter about a story of a blowjob in the Oval Office, which, if you don't know by now, is a normal sex act people tend to engage in at least a few times in their lifetime. But because it was Lewinsky, of all people, I guess it was different. Because it was Lewinsky, it was offensive. She didn't meet the vision of who America wanted the President to cheat on his wife (who, by the way, also regularly and publicly reigned hellfire down on the intern instead of her husband). I don't think America cared at all that Clinton cheated on his wife, or believed that it would make him a "bad president." The people just wanted it to be with someone who wasn’t Lewinsky, who wasn’t unabashedly intelligent or heavier than America wanted her to be. Rather, perhaps, they would’ve preferred someone with bleach-blonde, highlighted and lowlighted hair (the look at the time, folks).
I have foundational memories of my dad—at one point a wicked sexist—vehemently exclaiming, "Her? Why her? He's the President of the United States, he could have chosen anybody. But her?!" As a chubby, half-Iranian girl with a hook nose and teeth that jutted out at bizarre 90-degree angles, the damage comments like this did to my fragile, tender psyche were pretty intense. I can still hear my dad calling Lewinsky fat and ugly. (And by the way, by conventional standards, and otherwise, my dad is objectively not attractive. It's a running joke in my family at this point. He somewhat resembles a LOTR dwarf from the Mines of Moria.) So at 7 years old, I reasoned, if someone like my father could look at a woman like Monica and think, "Wow. Well, god damn, I'm just absolutely revolted," than was there any hope for me?
I remember no one in the '90s—utterly no one—bestowing compassion to Lewinsky, even in private. I don’t recall anyone bringing up the distressing, gross power-dynamic in her and Clinton's sexual relationship—as she was an intern and he was the fucking President of the United States. There was no larger conversation around the dinner table about how men in positions of power often take advantage of, control, and rape young women, just because they can. Mr. Clinton then, somehow, became a martyr for the universal angry, white man who had cheated and been "found out" by his significant other. And women spewed hatred toward Monica, too, misdirecting rage and despair over the affairs of their boyfriends and husbands onto Lewinsky, who, before the scandal, was a truly encouraging, fresh figure in politics and, really, a model of what all parents should want concerning their daughters.
Women in politics are few and far between even today, though ol' braggart Clinton claimed in his interview Monday that "women were overrepresented in the attorney general’s office in the ’70s for their percentage in the bar," to which the Washington Post fact checked that only 22 percent of law licenses were held by women by 1998. Yet, in the mid-'90s, Monica's poise and aptitude had led her to the White House straight out of college, where she went from intern to full-time employee in about a year's time, and, dare I say, would have achieved that with or without Clinton's "help." She was spunky, fearless and clever. She didn't "make a mistake" by engaging in an affair with Clinton—she was preyed on by someone who knew better, deceived by a female friend recording her conversation about the relationship and intimidated by the FBI to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. She was then fed to the wolves by America's erroneously self-righteous collective conscious.
Can you imagine this happening in 2018? Monica became the ideal distraction to America's personal problems. The men and women of the U.S. finally had a direction to point their finger in, a place to direct blame outward rather than inward. She was America's Scapegoat and, quite plainly, she was the victim. Clinton lied to the nation, still has a long record of sexual harassment and assault accusations stacked against him and was not, and has never been, a victim. Ever.
Clinton attempted to rectify his 71-year-old-white-man-insipidity on Tuesday—precisely one day after he screeched on Today about how he'd done enough apologizing—on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He told Colbert he was mad at himself concerning recent remarks, following up with, “Here is what I want to say: It wasn’t my finest hour." I didn't think less than the absolute bare-minimum was possible, but here it is, people. He was given a second chance again. He was given a do-over again. How did he fuck this interview up so badly, too? Clinton did not just destroy someone's life, career and mental health, but he once again set the stage for young women to be disgraced, depreciated and shunned in the internet age for their moments of vulnerability.
Lewinsky didn't 'ruin' Clinton's presidency. Instead, he has proven, time and time again, that he was wholly capable of doing that all on his lonesome.
And still, Lewinsky, who rarely gives interviews, has become an extraordinary advocate for bullying in the internet age. I'd suggest reading about her journey in her March essay for Vanity Fair, and her 2016 interview with The Guardian, where she asserts that the shame of the incident still sticks to her "like tar." And once you read these, you will inevitably realize we all owe Lewinsky an apology. So, say it aloud. Text it to your friends. Slack it to your coworkers. Email it to your grandparents: “I'm sorry, Monica. You deserved better. We let you down. We really, really fucking let you down.”
Of course, this 20-year-old case is substantial. It matters, a lot, and helps us see the root of what caused 20-plus years of people successfully and happily publicly disgracing women for men's wrongdoings. Without the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal paving the way—thereby giving men the okay to just all-out fuck up women's lives—I'm not certain the idea of revenge porn would have taken off the way it did in the mid-2000s, or that Tucker Max-style writing and blogging would have ever been even remotely revered (or normalized). Thankfully, that type of anti-woman speech usually only happens in the dark recesses of Twitter and on what they're calling the "Dark Intellectual Web." And I know Ryan Murphy will do Monica justice as best he can à la Marcia Clark in the upcoming season of American Crime Story.
I also can't say for sure that our nation's oddly candid acceptance of women being demoralized and diminished to oblivion in the 1990s could have prevented the all-too-powerful alleged rapist, Donald Trump, from becoming POTUS. However, the media scrutiny Americans put Lewinsky through in 1998 actually has a lot to do with the 2016 election, too. The woman who openly blamed and degraded Lewinsky, Hillary Clinton, was supposedly our best bet and only real chance against Trump, another wretched man with a laundry list of sexual assault allegations (even by his own ex-wife) against him. Debating between the two of them running our country was objectively unfair.
Bill Clinton is blatant proof that a U.S. President truly can assault women, that men actually can "grab 'em by the pussy" and still become the most powerful leader in the free world. He later told White House aides if he hadn't had sex with Lewinsky "she'd tell people that they did anyway" (talk about "locker room talk,"), and paid other women—like Paula Jones—850,000 dollars to keep quiet about exposing himself years before his candidacy. Is this sounding familiar, yet?
He is evidence that the most powerful man in the world can lie to their nation, for years—that he can be a fraud, even a charming, saxophone-playing wolf in sheep's clothing-type fraud, and just... get away with it. We like to act like Trump and Clinton are different—were different—that Clinton was progressive, and Trump is conservative at best (and a National Socialist at worst).
But make no mistake: These men are not dissimilar. They're equally cunning, convincing, articulative and unquestionably anti-women. And the former president set the gold standard for getting away with murder (okay, not literally but... hey, I'm sure he has some secrets), and now the current president has been able to take that standard and persevere with it. Maybe Clinton walked so that Trump could run.