The Enablers of Harvey Weinstein and Xi Jinping
Earlier this week in New York I heard a panel of experts discuss President Xi Jinping's vicious attack on China's human rights lawyers. I was struck with the parallel to Harvey Weinstein's sexual abuse of women in Hollywood. In both cases, powerful executives abused vulnerable victims and were aided by a culture of enablers: people who facilitated the abuses and those who knew but kept silent.
In an article about Harvey Weinstein for the The New York Times, Bret Stephens blames the man himself and the employees who lured victims to his hotel room, but he also highlights the complicity of “the rest of Hollywood.” Weinstein’s bad acts were an open secret yet virtually nobody in the industry spoke up to condemn the abuses. The silence of agents and actors was not only a moral failing. Silence encouraged the predations. “Mr. Weinstein...inhabited a moral universe that did nothing but cheer his golden touch and wink at (or look away from) his transgressions...."
The transgressions of President Xi Jinping of China are no less serious than sexual harassment. Since July 2015 hundreds of lawyers, human rights workers and their families have been arrested, detained, forbidden to leave the country and gone missing. Some lawyers have been tortured and forced to take psychiatric medications. Yet not a single American executive or university president doing business in China has spoken up to protest these abuses or to say that they are wrong. Supporters of silence say that speaking up will make no difference and will invite retribution by the Chinese government. These excuses are even less convincing than those of Hollywood insiders who decided to protect their careers by ignoring sexual harassment. The lives of human rights workers in China are at stake.
Bret Stephens concludes his column by observing that abusers may not be able to help themselves, but it’s the job of a moral society to make sure evil behavior does not become normalized or widespread. Our business and academic leaders, by contrast, have raced to conclude lucrative business deals with President Xi’s government and they boast about the cooperation. The old saying that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing was never truer than it is in the cases of Weinstein and Xi.