A Good Person Should Have Stopped Matt Gaetz

A well-reported Politico article about Rep. Matt Gaetz’s catastrophic scandal is headlined “Trump and His Allies Abandon Gaetz.” The story checks in on the MAGA crowd Gaetz rode to a high-profile political presence on cable news and social media, and why virtually none of them have stepped forward to defend Gaetz in recent weeks.

He’s a man in dire need of defenders. Allegations that Gaetz is being investigated for sex with a minor, paying for sex with women and showing nude photos of women he’d slept with to colleagues have sent his upward trajectory into a tailspin. Gaetz has denied the allegations in studiously worded statements, saying he did not do anything illegal while conceding that he was “generous as a partner.” And while Gaetz’s wing of the GOP has spent the last half decade almost reflexively dismissing any bad press as “fake news” and “witch hunts,” the lack of Republican officials leaping to shield their colleague is telling. “Not a lot of people are surprised,” an unnamed associate of Trump’s told Politico. Even Tucker Carlson, the Fox News firebrand who brought Gaetz on to share his side of the story, was uncharacteristically rattled by Gaetz’s bizarre behavior. “That was one of the weirdest interviews I have ever conducted,” he told viewers afterward. Gaetz hasn’t been back to Fox News since.

Gaetz’s erratic defenses and history of despicable behavior (inviting a Holocaust denier to the State of the Union, blaming the January 6 insurrection on “antifa,” storming a secure room during the impeachment inquiry) have indeed alienated most of his potential allies. But the Politico headline is wrong on one point. Trump and his allies aren’t abandoning Gaetz. Gaetz was abandoned long ago. If he had any real friends on Capitol Hill, they wouldn’t be chattering to the press now about Gaetz’s actions. They would have called him out at the time. A good man could have stopped Gaetz. A good man should have.

Nobody is under any delusions about the moral purity of U.S. politics. There have always been men like Gaetz, who allegedly boasted about his sexual conquests along with sharing the nude photos and videos. But ideally, there are also other men in the room who shut men like Gaetz down. Who tell him that what he is doing is not only illegal, but morally wrong and profoundly inhuman. They tell their superiors (and perhaps the police) about what happened. They do this not only because bad behavior demands consequences, but because the women in those photos and videos deserve better. They bring a light to dark places, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable it is. A good man could have done this. A good man should have.

This isn’t to say that a good woman couldn’t have either. In fact, almost all instances of real justice that has come for sex predators over the last few years has come from women who shared their stories about the men who preyed on them. They had to do this because nobody was defending them. Good men who worked with these predators could have done this to save the women themselves the shame and embarrassment of publicly telling their stories in hopes that someone would listen. Good men could have stopped all of it. Good men should have.

But I’m addressing the men here because it is, in all likelihood, the men who had the front row seats to Gaetz’s behavior, which means men are the ones who are most culpable in what he did. All too often, men have instead reached for the “locker room” excuse, deflecting obviously bad behavior by alluding to some broader context that makes it permissible. They “assure” women that this is just how men talk and these are the sorts of things men do. They defend the predators, not their prey. They defend the victimizers, not their victims. They do this for a lot of reasons — maybe as an attempt to cling to power, maybe a misplaced sense of loyalty, maybe out of fear, maybe simple apathy — but their doing it means that bad men continue to bad things to other people and good men don’t stop it. They could. They should. They just don’t.

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And if a good man refuses to stop bad things, then how good can he really be?

There is a good man in 2 Samuel 11 named Nathaniel, who storms into the palace of a king to get him a piece of his mind. King David, feeling confident that he’d gotten away with knocking Bathsheba up and having her husband killed, is suddenly on the royal hotseat as a prophet sticks a finger in his face, seething “You are the man!” David had done terrible things, but he was not abandoned to them. Nathaniel didn’t whisper about the king’s indiscretions behind David’s back. He told him to his face. He put an end to David’s secret life. That’s what a good man does.

But instead, we seem to be stuck with mostly bad men, whose predatory actions only come to light through their own buffoonery or when the coverup gets too unwieldy for one guy to competently manage. This is more or less how things have always gone in Washington D.C., from Bill Clinton to Anthony Weiner to Donald Trump to, now, Gaetz (to say nothing of the men whose abuses have never been confirmed or even reported). Sorry to say, maybe there just aren’t enough good men in D.C. to stop them all. Let’s hope there are enough in our own personal lives.

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