Take a naive and immature twenty-two year old woman (who has already been preyed upon and misused by a married high school mentor), steer her toward the hyper-sexualized, high-powered halls of our nation’s Capital. Oh, make sure your setting is the 1990s. Make doubly certain the young woman experienced daddy-issues in her formative years. Consider this a sure-fire formula for disaster.
Of course, I’m referencing the foremost scandal of the 1990s, the sexual liaison between President Bill Clinton and intern Monica Lewinsky. (I detest the Wikipedia term Lewinsky Scandal because two people were involved. If anything, it should be renamed the Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal.)
ASIDE: I’m reminded of the John 8:1-11 passage where religious leaders brought a woman to Jesus, saying “this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.” (These Pharisees and scribes asserted the penalty for her sinful act should be stoning.) In response, Jesus uttered these amazing words: “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Because Jesus understood adultery requires two participants.
No, I’m not going to rehash the details of this long-ago scandal. To sufficiently dredge it all back up, Vanity Fair has promoted its Exclusive for tomorrow (digital edition) coming from the very pen of Miss Lewinsky, an item titled Shame and Survival. If you’re like me, you’ve probably already seen plenty of hype publicizing this first-person account.
As I’ve glanced over online coverage, I’ve noticed a repetition that inadvertently highlights the cultural rot of a sinking society. As I see it, the Clinton-Lewinsky story illustrates four milestones of cultural rot that lock us in its stranglehold.
Milestone #1: It’s Just About Sex
Back when information first came out about the President’s Oval Office extra-curricular activities, dozens of reporters, politicos and pundits decried the critics (inferring they were sexually-repressed) and dismissed the story because it was just about sex. To cite the oft-quoted Obi-Wan of Star Wars (Episode 1) fame, “These are not the droids you’re looking for.”
Our culture has embraced what I consider a devastating message: sex is a physical function only, completely divorced from mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual realities. Notions of chastity are outmoded; exclusivity within marriage is old fashioned and … stupid.
Notwithstanding their Latin root meanings, the terms copulation (bound together) and coitus (uniting, coming together) have devolved into the mere act of slipping part A into part B. Human beings have become indistinct from our animal counterparts … we have the right (perhaps even the obligation?) to express our sexuality in the same vein as alley cats and horndogs! How enlightened we are! How absolutely hedonistic!
But ignoring the transcendent quality of sexual intimacy, its definitional and practical transformation into solely a physical act not only cheapens this unique communion, but in my view, dehumanizes the parties involved.
And please don’t suggest intimacy (meaning, very private, closely personal) is even possible for multi-partner serial couplings (or the latest fashion statement, throuplings). Please don’t insult my intelligence (or yours). To be intimate with many is to be intimate with no one.
Milestone #2: Between Consenting Adults
In the Vanity Fair excerpt, Lewinsky emphasizes the affair involved two consenting adults. Therefore, no harm, no foul.
Again, this is a fatuous argument. In what world were Clinton and Lewinsky equals? Fifty-one year old Clinton occupied the highest power position in the Western world. Twenty-two year old Lewinsky was an intern, a low-level government cog. Did Lewinsky consent to be Clinton’s sometime-plaything, his silly rabbit (to borrow the phrase of another, more recent bimbo)? Yes.
Nevertheless, I would argue that in Lewinsky’s case, consent had as much to do with the allure of Clinton’s personality and position of power as with her complex hunger for attention, affection and acceptance from a father-figure. She was not a femme fatale but an emotionally needy and vulnerable young woman, seduced by a serially-abusive and rapacious (but charismatic) boy-man.
Again, please don’t insult my intelligence with this ridiculous justification. I would argue that both parties were grossly presumptuous in their application of “consent.” A married man, Clinton made a solemn vow to his wife; as such, his covenant with his wife nullified “consent” with anyone else. Likewise, Lewinsky knew quite well her dalliance was with a married man. Her involvement was a direct assault on the Clinton marriage. (I know she never considered it to be; I do.)
Milestone #3: Debasing the Language
Few will forget Clinton’s assertion: “It depends on what the meaning of the word is is.” As an uber-example of language debasement, Clinton revealed his finely-tuned instinct to dissemble and resort to semantical distraction whenever the truth didn’t suit his agenda. (This, no doubt, was a skill he learned early in life; when he entered politics in 1977, he began to rely on this artifice and his geniality to cover for multiple deceits.)
A society that loses its language is doomed. (Refer to Milestones #1 and #2 for aforementioned instances of weasel-word bastardizations of language.)
A couple years ago, Richard Brodsky writing in HuffPost Politics said: “… public people are the custodians of the language and when it is debased or manipulated, deeper wrongs are committed than the deeds of the moment. It is always, always a sign of deeper political and social problems when leaders abuse language for their own purposes. Journalists have to point an accusing finger when the language is bent in the service of protecting the powerful.”
Think about that: we are custodians of language, Brodsky says, and when language is bent to protect the powerful, journalists have an obligation to accuse the offenders! Our primary means of communication – our words – must mean precisely what they mean! They should not be subject to our own personal (or political) manipulation!
Milestone #4: A Debased Populace
The political scandal of the late 90s is relevant as a reminder of how cultural rot follows a predictable path to more and worse cultural rot. As long as their horrendous acts don’t cause a disturbance in the force (of our individual worlds) or touch our lives personally, despicable characters like Kermit Gosnell and Jerry Sandusky maintain a pleasant veneer of respectability within our/their communities.
Sandusky’s criminal transgressions extended over a fifteen year period before charges were thoroughly investigated. Gosnell’s community reputation belied the ghoulish acts for which he was eventually convicted.
How many others of their ilk still enjoy a veneer of respectability right in our midst? How would we know?
We should care. Just as the public are custodians of language, we should be cultural caretakers. Barbarians At The Gate may have been a boardroom scandal, but barbarians in our communities threaten far greater harm to our culture. When a debased and ignorant populace looks the other way, it hurts us all.
Many of us may yawn at the Lewinsky piece that debuts tomorrow. Let us not yawn – now or ever again – at the cultural rot that continues its ever-faster downward slide into chaos and savagery.