Sigmund Freud would be smiling. Many days this election season, allegations of what Bill Clinton did with his private parts decades ago or whose genitals Donald Trump allegedly grabbed decades ago have had the power to dislodge job creation, tax structure, fighting terrorism or deterring North Korean aggression as the lead story of our national news. With the future of our country and the future of the world at stake, Americans and the news media can’t help talking mostly about sex.
This presidential election proves Freud was right: Sex is a drive so powerful that just talking about it — never mind having it — can eclipse all rational thought. And for this reason, reporting on the sexual behavior of anyone in public life, especially anyone seeking or holding public office, should be strictly beyond the pale, unless it has led to a criminal conviction.
Let me say that again: Reporting on the sexual behavior of any public figure, especially our leaders, should be off-limits, unless the person has been convicted of a crime.
We can’t outlaw headlines about the sex lives of our leaders, of course, but we could resolve to consciously shame and shun those who sell them to us, like lines of cocaine on mirrors that reflect our primitive and irresistible drives. Why should the media not be held to account for getting the country so high off our animal instincts as men and women that we ignore our loftier ambitions as a people?
Sexual behavior is not a reliable measure of character.
We could also consciously hold ourselves to account for being distracted by sex to the extent that we have been this election season (and others). Just because there are drug dealers on lots of street corners in the world, that doesn’t mean we have to stop and do the drug deals that, ultimately, disable our intellect and debase our discourse. Newspapers can be thrown away. Televisions and radios can be turned off. And if we can’t do those things, then we are sex addicts, as surely as that clichéd fellow who used to sit alone, all day long, watching adult flicks in a darkened theater.
As for those who would argue that we should know about the sexual behaviors of our leaders in order to know how they would lead the nation, no position could be less well-grounded. There is not a shred of evidence that exists, anywhere in the world, that proves that a man who is a satyr, or a woman who has a prolific sex life, marked by every manner of perversion, will be a poor steward of the nation. Sexual behavior is not a reliable measure of character.
Let me say that, again, too: Sexual behavior is not a reliable measure of character.
A man who brags that he could touch lots of women, if he wanted to, could be the one to save the free world from tyranny. The same is true for a woman who chose to stay married to her husband after he had oral sex with his intern in the home they shared with his teenage daughter. One has nothing to do with the other. Nothing.
We’re snorting lines and pixels of sex and getting high off them when we face grave challenges at home and abroad. That might be transfixing now, but it is no different from any other addiction: It has the power to transform us into a people enslaved not only by our instincts, but by more strategic and less intoxicated individuals with agendas other than freedom.