News with Nuance: April 28, 2023
Your Friday dose of News with Nuance: the week's biggest stories, unpacked + more ..
Every Thursday I come back to this space and look through the list of stories that I’ve compiled for the week to share with you. Often, I find that these stories share common themes, relating as well to my broader research on Christian Nationalism and the role it plays in our world - as well as its impact on the stories told by American media that, at first glance, aren’t stories that have to do with religion.
As I looked back at this week’s stories, I was struck by a common theme of trust verses mistrust - and the gap in America between those who are afforded trust automatically, and those who are required to “earn” trust; those whose voices are mistrusted and/or ignored until proven otherwise.
As I delved deeper into this idea, I couldn’t ignore the racial and gender bias when it comes to trust in America, and in our broader media landscape. Despite much attempted progress to the contrary, it’s still true that American society and media at-large tends to privilege and inordinately trust white men of means (those same folks initially granted voting status in the U.S. Constitution, unsurprisingly).
Black and brown Americans, women and transgender Americans, poor Americans - those of us in these groups often take for granted the idea that we must earn the trust of others around us. We have no idea what it’s like to be automatically trusted; to assume that our words and witness will be granted gravitas and relevancy and reliability.
There are obvious costs for those of us whose words are not heard; not to mention the hours and years wasted just trying to be heard and listened to, often to no avail. But this week’s stories also make clear a perhaps less-obvious cost of America’s reflexive trust of privileged white men: it enables abusers and liars to build platforms and prominence, and it hurts vulnerable people in their midst, especially children.
Let’s read on …
Former advice columnist and “Saturday Night Live” writer E. Jean Carroll, second from right, told jurors, “I’m here because Donald Trump raped me, and when I wrote about it, he said it didn’t happen.”
Photo by Seth Wenig, Associated Press
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The Headline: ‘Donald Trump raped me,’ writer tells jury in lawsuit trial
Isn’t it sad that I was initially hesitant to lead with this story in this newsletter, because at first glance it seems like, oh no, not another Trump lawsuit story. Not another sexual abuse case.
Even typing those last two sentences speaks to the incredible desensitization of Americans since first hearing Trump’s comments about women on the bus with Billy Bush.
As much as I didn’t want to lead with Trump in this newsletter, what I do want to do instead is lead with E. Jean. Carroll, the courageous rape survivor at the center of this lawsuit.
And it speaks to what I was talking about above, about America’s reflexive trust of wealthy white men, that I hesitated for a second to call Carroll a “survivor” in the previous sentence.
As you read this article, it’s immensely clear that Carroll is confident, gifted with words, and also traumatized by something that happened nearly 30 years ago in a New York City department store.
Like Trump, Carroll was a member of New York City society, and she too had a degree of celebrity. None of that mattered once Trump chose to assault her in a dressing room. He was physically larger than her, and when she told friends what happened, they mentioned his legendary cast of lawyers and record in the courtroom.
So she kept silent.
That’s what women have done for a very long time. Sometimes it’s your only choice when you know your words will not be trusted.
Carroll, who’s now 79 years old, said that the #MeToo movement inspired her decision to come forward. Despite its limitations, that movement offered women and abuse survivors a glimmer of hope - that they might finally earn the trust that their abusers had enjoyed for generations.
Carroll reminds me of many senior women I’ve known: women who measure their words, and women who have carefully honed the wisdom of lives well-lived. I cherish these women. I have prayed with them and studied with them and laughed with them and cried with them. These women are sometimes perceived as weak: maybe they need an arm to guide them as they walk on icy sidewalks, or push open heavy doors. But I see in them a formidable, unshakeable strength and truth.
The Quote: Carroll, a 79-year-old former advice columnist, was largely matter-of-fact on the witness stand — so much so that after she wept while telling jurors that “being able to get my day in court is everything to me,” she rapidly composed herself and declined to take a break.
“I’m not going to sit here and cry and waste everybody’s time,” she said.
Story by Jennifer Peltz and Michael R. Sisak, Associated Press
The Headline: A Santa Monica police employee molested more than 200 kids. Warnings of abuse were ignored
From the story of a woman whose words were so mistrusted that it took almost 30 years to bring her rape case to court, to the story of a man who was so trusted that the city of Santa Monica and its police department enabled his abuse and molestation of more than 200 kids.
Content warning: This story relates cases of child sexual abuse and molestation, including grooming and an instance of child pornography.
Eric Uller, who notably came from a wealthy “medical” family in the area, worked for the Santa Monica Police Department as a civilian employee for almost 30 years. During that time, several people, including a female police sergeant who launched an investigation in the early 90s, were suspicious of Uller’s conduct with kids, and raised concerns to the department.
Heartbreakingly for the kids whose lives he destroyed, those who raised concerns were reflexively mistrusted and ignored; Uller, on the other hand, was reflexively trusted and given chance after chance after chance to abuse and molest vulnerable children in his care.
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