Go back, for a moment, to the crowds and cheers and celebrations of Saturday, November 7, after the news broke that Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election. New York City came alive with cars honking and people cheering out of their apartment windows; people sang with joy in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Austin, and many other cities throughout the country. Even in other countries, spontaneous celebrations came after the major networks called the election for the former Vice President. The celebration in Atlanta, where he gave his acceptance speech that night, was compared to the Super Bowl in its size and fervor. Video after video after video after video show the fact that America celebrated that day.
Another moment in political history: the largest single day of protest in United States history. The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration to the office of the presidency was met with the Women’s March on Washington, along with unprecedentedly large protests in hundreds of cities across America, and across the world. In Portland, tens of thousands marched against the President. The Portland Mercury described the march as a “show [of] support for women’s rights in the face of a serial sex-offender … entering the White House.”
Many reasons were cited for the hundreds of marches that occurred that day—from racial injustice to climate change to LGBTQ rights—but the main reason was Trump’s history of sexual assault allegations, as well as his comments on sexual assault, with the Access Hollywood tape of course being the most prominent example. The tape featured then-reality star Trump making lude comments about the ease of committing sexual assault.
“I moved on her like a bitch. I couldn’t get there and she was married. Then all-of-a-sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look … I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful … I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
The release of this tape was thought by many to be the end of the Trump campaign. It came out October of 2016, a week before the election, and had many questioning their support of Trump, who had a history of disrespecting women, along with several sexual misconduct allegations against him. The fact that he was running against a woman also lent itself to the narrative of the pro-women candidate and anti-women candidate. All this led to the massive protests across the country, many featuring “pussy hats,” after “grab ‘em by the pussy” became a common phrase used to attack Trump.
This article is not about Donald Trump’s comments, or about the allegations made against him by dozens of women. It is about Joe Biden’s alleged history of sexual assault, and the double standard shown by progressive members of the Democratic Party.
Joe Biden has long been known to be a little … weird when it comes to physical space. Before he announced his 2020 presidential bid, a series of allegations surfaced about him touching, kissing, or smelling women in a way that made them uncomfortable. However, these instances were all in public, and most of the women never claimed that he had harmful intentions. In a video posted to social media a few weeks before he officially began running, he addressed the “gestures of support and encouragement that I’ve made to women and some men that have made them uncomfortable.” In his non-apology, he said “the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset, and I get it … I’ll be much more mindful.”
Biden’s proclivity for invasion of personal space, especially for smelling women’s hair, has been widely known for years and begrudgingly accepted by his supporters. For others, it serves as an almost covfefe-like running joke. On Amazon, you can buy a t-shirt that says “I’d Sniff That,” with a picture of Biden and a description that reads “Joe Biden likes to smell and sniff people so its perfect for a joke … Trump 2020.”
However, one allegation that arose in 2019 was different from the others. Tara Reade, a former Biden staffer, told the New York Times last year that Biden had created a culture of sexual harassment, commenting on her appearance in front of others, and punishing her when she spoke up. Lisa Lerer, who reported on the allegations against Biden and spoke about the reporting process on The Daily, couldn’t corroborate Reade’s story at the time and didn’t include it in her story on the subject.
One year later, Reade’s allegations gained a new life when she went on the Katie Halper Show to discuss her time working for Biden. This interview, however, featured a new allegation. Reade told a story of Joe Biden sexually assaulting her, which she had never disclosed to the New York Times. She claimed that he pinned her against a wall, reached under her shirt and grabbed her breast, forced apart her knees and penetrated her vagina with his fingers. She recounts him saying “You’re nothing to me. Nothing,” after she didn’t reciprocate his sexual advance.
These allegations have been repeatedly denied by Biden. They have never been corroborated by a source other than Reade’s friend, whom she told at the time. She did not go to the police, and when she made a complaint to Biden’s office and then the Senate Personnel Office, it was for sexual harassment, with no mention of anything like the story told on the Katie Halper Show.
To be clear, I don’t believe this story. Joe Biden had a wife and kids at the time (1993), and it goes against everything I know about him. There’s no other story like it about him—no malicious pattern is being presented. Everyone he’s ever worked with, Democrats and Republicans, have said that this allegation can’t be true. He’s denied it unequivocally, unlike the instances of invasion of personal space. But really, I don’t believe it because no trustworthy source has ever said that it was true.
But many, especially on the far left of the Democratic Party, did believe Reade. This came at a time when the race was between just Biden and Bernie Sanders, and many Sanders supporters saw it as the ultimate sign of Biden’s unfitness for office. Many comparisons were made between Biden and Trump, all along the lines of we shouldn’t choose between one racist sexual assaulter and another. It was a hayday for groundless claims, stoked by the fury and energy of the long primary campaign.
I remember seeing posts on people’s Instagram stories showing Trump and Biden as a false dichotomy. One piece in Bitch by Aya de Leon describes the choice as “the lesser of two rapists.” The article maligns people who removed #TimesUp from their social media among the scandal, saying “Some of us are antirape regardless of who is accused … and we will not be scrubbing our accounts or softening our stances or stanning for that man, no matter how much the thought of four more years of Trump terrifies us. Because our values are consistent.” Leon’s current Twitter username is Aya “#LetsFlipGeorgia” Leon, and she shows no lack of support for Biden.
There’s been an unwillingness to talk about this topic, a purposeful forgetfulness, in the progressive wing of the Democratic party over the past several months. Kamala Harris, Biden’s VP, who said that she believed the allegations of inappropriate touch, has denied the claims of Tara Reade. Those who ruthlessly attacked Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation (including myself, first through the door) now have to consider: what if he were liberal? What if we would have supported him otherwise?
Because the Tara Reade allegations have proven that “believe women” is too simplistic a stance. For years, Democrats have been able to bombard Republicans who have had allegations levied against them, branding them as rapists and criminals. But once our own figurehead has been accused of a heinous crime, we have to face the fact that every case has shades of gray. You can’t accept an allegation because it fits with what you think about the candidate. It has to be up to journalists, then judges and juries, to determine which stories are credible and which are not. If your mother says she loves you, make her prove it, as the old journalism adage tells us.
And then, after our reckoning with how we approach allegations of sexual assault in the public discourse, let’s acknowledge a misdeed we did to Trump voters. This isn’t something you’ll hear me—the writer of “Trump is King” and creator of the Franklin Post’s unofficial Trump-bad section—say very often. But really, let’s admit that we were unfair to Trump’s supporters, whom we berated constantly in 2016 and beyond about how they could possibly vote for a rapist. While there are obviously other reasons that we can disagree with his candidacy and presidency—and there’s a stark difference between one allegation toward Biden and many towards Trump—we should admit that after finding ourselves in a similar situation four years later, they’re support wasn’t malicious.
People supported Trump for many reasons. They liked how he talked, they thought he would be good for the economy, maybe they were really big fans of The Apprentice. No one voted for Trump because he has 26 allegations of sexual misconduct against him, and no one will vote for Biden because he has one. In a world where pink pussy hats and “I’d sniff that” t-shirts are how we engage with politics, there needs to be room for complexity and nuance. Admitting we were wrong is as good a place as any to start.