Another man down in Washington
White House staff secretary Rob Porter is out after multiple allegations of domestic abuse made the news this week. The White House has known about these allegations for months, but they kept Porter on until the accusations became public. Now they claim they didn’t really know.
In a Washington Post article about the mess, a White House spokesman said Chief of Staff John Kelly felt “misled by Porter, saying he downplayed his ex-wives’ accusations in conversations with them.”
Honestly, is there any wife abuser in the world who raises his hand and admits the full extent of his crimes? Denial and downplaying the abuse are key moves in the abuser’s playbook. I’m really a nice guy is the abuser’s mantra.
As we watched this story unfold, my husband said, “Where do they find these men?” I told him they find these men everywhere and that he probably knows men like this, men who work hard and do a good job, men who seem charming and funny and kind, men who go home at night and punch their wives. All of us know such men. The quiet guy from accounting, the life of the party from marketing, the CEO, the marine, the delivery guy: abusers come in all shapes, sizes, religions, and political affiliations.
Part of the reason abusers are so successful at hiding their abuse from the rest of the world is that people like John Kelly say, “but he seems like such a nice guy.” They shore up the abusers narrative by lending him respectability. When faced with multiple accusations from credible women, they choose to believe the man. Why? Because a clean-cut, all American, Ivy-leaguer doesn’t seem like the sort of man who would beat his wives? Because women are crazy and vindictive? Because everyone makes mistakes? Because who hasn’t lost his temper with a woman?
I don’t know the reasons, but I suspect they are numerous and complicated. And it’s not just men who make these excuses. White House communications director Hope Hicks was in a romantic relationship with Porter. Maybe she still is. What did she know about the accusations from Porter’s ex-wives? Did no one warn her? Or did she decide to believe the man over the women too? Did she imagine she could be the one to make him happy enough to keep his hands from turning into fists? She wouldn’t be the first woman to make that mistake.
This story is old and familiar. It is not a partisan issue. Abusers exist across the political spectrum, and the people who make excuses for them do too. Over the past few months, we’ve learned that John Kelly isn’t exactly the honorable man everyone made him out to be when he first took the job as Chief of Staff. He is tragically flawed and the more he speaks, the less he shines. But in this situation, Kelly is nothing special. He was duped by a charming monster and now he doesn’t want to admit it, because the monster looks so much like the man in the mirror.
Look, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly 1 in 3 women experience violent abuse by a partner at some point in their adult life. Do you know more than three women? Then you probably know an abuser. Maybe you’ve had him over for dinner. Maybe you’ve written him a letter of recommendation. Maybe you’ve introduced him to your daughter, or to the communications director in your office.
Part of the reason these men are able to continue working and rising through the ranks of society, is that we continue to give them cover. When their victims speak out, we dismiss them or silence them or ridicule them. We give the man a new job and we give the woman an eye roll as we push her out the door. Surely we can do better.
Do me a favor, if one of those abusers is brought to your attention in the course of a job interview, don’t make excuses for him and don’t hire him. I don’t care if he’s the most qualified candidate. I don’t care if he looks like Prince Valiant. I don’t care if you think the woman accusing him sounds “kind of hysterical.” Don’t give him the job and don’t introduce him to his next victim. I don’t know if Porter has turned his rage on Hope Hicks. I hope not. But if he does, John Kelly and every person who looked the other way to give Rob Porter his job in the White House, might as well be striking the blows themselves.