Orchestra conductors are leaders who conduct. Can they misconduct?
The floodgates have opened on the question of a certain apparently endemic form of misconduct on the part of persons in a position of authority, in particular celebrities, whatever their field of work. On the same day that the media reported the verdict of a noted psychiatrist who analyzed Donald Trump’s public behavior and concluded that “this is a very sick man. He is truly very sick,” another item in the news recounted the story, carefully hidden for 17 years, of celebrated Stanford Professor Jay Fliegelman’s misconduct.
Here is today’s 3D definition:
The description of a variety of abusive behaviors considered unbecoming of persons in a position of authority. More particularly, a polite term for sexual assault applied by the media when the perpetrator belongs to a superior social or professional class and exercises a form of authority designed to shield the perpetrator’s reputation from accusations.
The US president, noted for his own history of sexual misconduct, has repeatedly demonstrated clearly worrying behavior that the media take delight in highlighting, while the nation’s democratic institutions and media appear to be incapable of dealing with it other than to express their shock and consternation. For the media, a president’s misconduct is a godsend, as it was in the final years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. For politicians of both parties, it’s a quandary of the highest order. Republicans are obliged to own Trump as the leader of their party. Democrats have shown themselves incapable of exercising any kind of moral authority because of their own compromises.
Whether it’s a president, a candidate for senator in Alabama, a popular TV host or a prestigious Stanford academic like the late Jay Fliegelman, the entire nation is grappling in the dark with the possible strategies and tactics for contesting the impunity attached to their authority. Calling their acts “misconduct” shows a great deal of respect for their class, a deference to their former personal prestige.
The Weinstein effect has sent shock waves through American culture, releasing energies built up for at least a century, marked by the rise and apparent triumph of celebrity culture, in which, as Cole Porter wrote, “Anything Goes.” John Kennedy got away with it because the media took no interest. Bill Clinton escaped through indulgence as a president who seemed to give some life to the economy. Between the two, Gary Hart was eliminated from presidential contention because of his “misconduct,” which this time the press began to notice as a means of attracting eyeballs.
The clash between undefined set of “traditional values” and the cult of celebrity success, with its implicit male libertinism, is under way. How it will be reconciled or how much damage it will do nobody knows. And how Trump fits into the unfolding narrative is the greatest mystery of all. It’s a time of deep cultural confusion.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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