In his 1954 essay “The Male Prison,” James Baldwin wrote, “It is worth observing, too, that when men can no longer love women they also cease to love or respect or trust each other, which makes their isolation complete. Nothing is more dangerous than this isolation, for men will commit any crimes whatever rather than endure it.”
I sat to reread the essay this morning after calling both of my senators. I began with Sen. Lindsey Graham’s office, to whose staffers I offered the simple message that I would do everything I could to ensure that he was voted out of office. I was counting the days, I told them. The words were hot with anger and sincerity; I had just read the senator’s Sunday comments saying that he supported Judge Brett Kavanaugh no matter what Prof. Christine Blasey Ford said in the testimony she has not yet been allowed to offer. That testimony, of course, involves as serious an accusation as a woman can make against a man: that he sexually assaulted her when she was 15 years old. Sen. Graham’s staffer could barely suppress a yawn. It was clear to me that their office had no interest in representing either the 52 percent of South Carolinians who are women or the additional numbers of us who are men and happen to care about women and take sexual assault and abuse seriously.
I next called Sen. Tim Scott’s office. His staff took a less hard line, putting their fingers to the wind as the senator himself seems to do, waiting for the prevailing politics to determine his principles. There may be some hope for Sen. Scott if enough of us call and express our outrage at the GOP’s reflexive dismissal of women, their stories, concerns, and lives. So I’d invite you to call and express your view to Sen. Scott. No need to bother with Sen. Graham; he’s hopeless.
While expressing my anger to those who are meant to represent all South Carolinians, what I was really expressing was a kind of love. Because if Baldwin was right, that when men no longer love women, they no longer love themselves either, leading to something incredibly dangerous, then a converse logic is true; when men love themselves, they are free to love women and follow a course that is more secure, safe, and healthy for everybody. This should be obvious to anyone who’s turned on the news in the past week.
How many times must we watch insecure, mostly white men circle around one of their own in Judge Kavanaugh, who, at the writing of this column, now stands accused by three different women? Even some of the judge’s defenders now confess that they drank to the point of blacking out on a regular basis. Yet they’re somehow sure they didn’t do anything wrong. Seeing this play out on the news is to see the complete lack of love and self-respect for anybody — women, men, the country as a whole, which deserves better — and to see the dangers to which such debasement leads.
The GOP, our South Carolina senators included, now looks like the men Baldwin described, who will “commit any crimes whatever” because they haven’t got the love required to stop themselves. As a religious person, I find this heartbreaking, and I can say without pretense or condescension that I will say a prayer for the men running the show, that they may come to conscience on how we treat women in this country. Yet as an engaged citizen, I find this outrageous, and I can say with equal conviction that men who do not love women or themselves ought not represent any of us. And we should all call and let them know.
Just because our senators are trapped in a party that sees women as less than and continually demeans and diminishes their stories, doesn’t mean the rest of have to stay with them. The only way to stop the cycle of abuse is to break free. Every man and woman deserves better.
Jeremy Rutledge is Circular Church’s senior minister and the co-president of Charleston Area Justice Ministry.