Republicans have been twisting themselves into knots trying to find a way to justify supporting senatorial candidate Roy Moore. On the one hand, he stands accused of sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old when he was 32. (Moore has denied the allegations, albeit not very convincingly.) On the other hand, he seems to really dislike gay people, and he’s not too fond of Muslims either. It’s a real pickle, at least for people who put any of these facts about Roy Moore in the “pro” column. But one common tactic to minimize the damage in a scandal like this has been taken off the table: the argument that a 14-year-old, any 14-year-old, is capable of meaningful consent. Some of the Alabama Republicans contacted by Toronto Star correspondent Daniel Dale inched toward this talking point:
"Other than being with an underage person - he didn't really force himself," Alabama Geneva County GOP chairman Riley Seibenhener tells me. "I know that's bad enough, but I don't know. If he withdraws, it's five weeks to the election...that would concede it to the Democrat."— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) November 10, 2017
Alabama Geneva County GOP chairman Riley Seibenhener, who called me back, says he doesn't believe the allegations are true, but if they're true he won't support him - but, at the same time, it's not "forcible rape."— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) November 10, 2017
"I know that 14-year-olds don't make good decisions," he adds.
"It was 40 years ago," Alabama Marion County GOP chair David Hall tells me. "I really don't see the relevance of it. He was 32. She was supposedly 14. She's not saying that anything happened other than they kissed."— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) November 9, 2017
But even before Alabama Republicans started this disgusting sputtering, North Carolina lawyer Catherine R. L. Lawson tweeted a reminder of just what 14 looked like in her case, with the hashtag #MeAt14:
On Saturday, the hashtag took off, helped along by a tweet from Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead that quickly went viral:
This is me at 14. I was on the gymnastics team and sang in the choir. I was not dating a 32 year old man. Who were you at 14? Tweet a pic, tell us who you were and pic to the top of your page #MeAt14 #NoMoore pic.twitter.com/HPVzMgaD8h— Lizz Winstead (@lizzwinstead) November 12, 2017
Soon, women and men from around the country were sharing photos of themselves at age 14, including some bold-faced names:
You know what all of those people look like as adults. Did any of them look like they were ready to date a 32-year-old assistant D.A. at the age of 14? And the cumulative effect of #MeAt14 is even more poignant and troubling. Scroll through the hashtag a little, past long-ago school portraits and faded snapshots, and ask yourself if that looks like a healthy dating pool for an adult. Apparently, to some Republicans, it does.
It seems unlikely that, having stomached Trump, the Republican party is going to put up much meaningful resistance to electing another alleged sexual predator, and early responses have not been encouraging. But it’s important to remember the exact terms of the deal whereby so many of our fellow citizens are selling their souls, and the #MeAt14 hashtag is a powerful documentation of one part of that bargain. It turns out people will give up quite a lot of themselves, for spite and for tax cuts.