DSK saga is not just a French thing
By Maureen Tkacik
Whatever transpired in Suite 2806 of the Midtown Sofitel early Saturday afternoon, it seems clearer with each passing hour that being accused of sexual assault is far from a “Black Swan” event in the life of DSK. In 2007, the journalist Tristane Banon told a TV talk show host he had wrestled her to the ground and torn off her clothes during an interview a few years earlier; the talk show host in turn allowed that he knew “fourteen” separate women with similar tales. DSK’s name was eventually edited out of the broadcast for largely legal reasons, but it surfaced the next year when the IMF was forced to launch an investigation into his affair with a subordinate.
Indeed, on Monday the phrase “Who hasn’t been groped by Dominique Strauss-Kahn?” gained wide currency, even though it was first uttered (albeit in French) years ago by the actress Danièle Evenou.
But for once, there was a perfectly obvious explanation to the vexing mystery of how such a towering public figure might have got away with such prolific predation for so many years — but of course, c’est France vee are talking about! Zee French media do not pry into zee “sex life” of politicians zee vay vee repressed Puritanical Americans feel so compelled to do.
And, okay, sure, there does seem to be a French tendency to look the other way. Banone’s own mother, a family friend and fellow Socialist party member of DSK’s, now admits, she advised her daughter against turning in the assailant (call it laissez faire parenting).
But we kid ourselves if we try to confine either the sexual behavior, or the culture that supports it, to France. Commentators seem to have missed, for example, echoes of the “loudly American” bestselling novel Freedom, in which the main character holds a decades-long grudge against her mother for essentially dispensing the same advice as Banone’s under near-identical circumstances.
In truth the DSK alleged-rape saga is as international as the bastion of the ”New Global Elite” he helmed for so long, another powerful testament to the alarming growth in the impunity accorded the typical “Davos Man” with membership in the reigning Plutocracy Without Borders. That media on both sides of the Atlantic persist in covering DSK as a uniquely “French” phenomenon — even as it competes for page views with the “shocking” new revelations of a Mitterand-esque 10-year-old love a certain serial groper managed to conceal from the press for two straight terms as California governator — simply betrays a multilateral cognitive dissonance that underscores this depressing truth.
Now, our information society has made admirable progress learning to appreciate the behaviors and pathologies of the New Global Elite over the last few years (and adjust our expectations accordingly). We have given up our naive belief that laws will be used to prosecute “fraud” and made our peace with their brazen tax avoidance schemes, and we have, for the most part, come to recognize that whatever “rage against the machine” we harbor is best targeted at unionized sanitation workers, public school teachers and the like.
What we have not fully come to terms with is how the unstoppable rise of the New Global Elite has ravaged gender relations — namely because the New Global Elite essentially comprises one gender. Also for this reason, attempts like American Prospect editor Robert Kuttner’s to place DSK’s crimes in a broader moral context and extrapolate their larger meaning for “the left” and “the progressive cause” and so on have … seemingly fallen prey to some of the failings they hope to indict:
The apparent self-destruction of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in a New York hotel is emblematic of a European left that has ceased to be much of a progressive alternative, either in terms of lifestyle or policy alternatives.
Ladies, do yourselves a favor and try not to fixate on the deranged imbalance in authorial empathy that moved this man to describe an alleged violent sexual assault as an act of “self-destruction.” There’s also the curious suggestion that DSK’s primary victim is the progressive “lifestyle” brand, apt to turn off consumers who seek “alternatives” to prevailing social norms.
Because Kuttner eventually fixes his tortured verbiage on what seems to be the main talking point of the left-“leaning” consensus-seeking pundit class: DSK is a bad socialist. Too many $3,000-a-night hotel suites, his logic seems to follow, and even the most committed leftist is bound to want to help himself to a maid in one of them! (In the sharper version of this metaphor, DSK’s day job inflicting economic BDSM on developing economies spills out into his off-hours, or as Jon Stewart put it, “it’s like the guy was posing for his own political cartoon!”) But whatever his political hypocrisies, it seems clear that DSK’s prodigious libido exists in a raceless, classless utopia. Before an African-born hotel maid turned him into the NYPD, at least two affluent blonde Europeans made their own attempts to blow the whistle on him. And the most illuminating case for understanding the degenerate mindset and mores of the New Global Elite involves a titular member of the New Global Elite who worked as an economist for the IMF and famously took up with DSK at Davos itself.
Piroska Nagy’s brief dalliance with DSK at the 2008 World Economic Forum, widely publicized in Europe, had, prior to last weekend, marked his closest brush with jeopardizing his career. Press accounts at the time depicted the affair as a hot-and-heavy if short-lived Davos fling that had abruptly gone sour when Nagy’s estranged husband discovered “steamy” emails between the two “lovebirds.” Nagy had to hastily resign and the IMF had to launch an internal investigation into whether DSK’s affections had unfairly bestowed upon Nagy any sort of special treatment during her tenure at the organization.
This week brought a startlingly different narrative of that liason: Nagy’s, as told in a 2008 letter to IMF lawyers in which she described her old boss as a ruthless predator who briefly got in her pants via a combination of relentlessness and brazen abuse of power. “I felt I was ‘damned if I did and damned if I didn’t’,” she wrote, describing him as “a man with a problem that may make him ill-equipped to lead an institution where women work under his command.”
If women mattered in the global elite, this would have been a serious allegation. But they do not. Only about 15% of the attendees at Davos are women, and when quotas were introduced earlier this year mandating that all delegations bring along at least one women for every four men they sent to the conference, organizers tellingly estimated the new rule would raise female attendance to exactly 20% of the total — suggesting that exactly zero delegations could be expected to exceed this quota (and further, with just the tiniest bit of conjecture, that approximately zero of the individuals charged with doing the inviting were women. It’s probably safe to say that all women at Davos are, as Nagy was in 2008, invited by men.
The challenge of navigating the ersatz “meritocracy” dominated by men like this can often to a woman appear like a never-ending series of negative-sum “damned if I do/don’t” decisions. If I were an economist, I could design a theoretical model to plot the self-perpetuating feedback loop mechanism by which the ever-expanding concentration of wealth and power within the global financial elite perpetuates and intensifies the marginalization of women by some function of corporate profit growth, global capital flows and the spot price of an average evening’s bottle service at a trendy West Village nightclub.
But I’m a woman, and no one would listen anyway.