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It appears to this Ozarks native a strange power shift may be unfolding in our nation’s capital. Courts of law are being replaced by the court of public opinion where words and accusations become evidence.

Many elected senators and congressman certainly are feeling the influence of those who publicly accuse them of sexual and other abuse. A presumption of guilt rather than innocence often prevails based on alleged victim interviews with the media rather than the burdensome need for actual evidence presented in a courtroom.

As someone whose name I don’t recall once exclaimed: “Who’s your daddy now?” And to think, all that’s required is an allegation for a juicy headline, even after several decades have passed.

It’s downright shocking, isn’t it, just how many women have long suffered in silence (until election time) about such alleged sexual affronts they say they received at the hands of politicians? Then they emerge simultaneously to complain not to authorities (even at the time) but to one sector of the politicized mainstream media. Some cynics might see a larger hidden hand behind much of what’s transpiring.

Under this new paradigm, the professed victim can attain a unique power to make elected legislators dance to their tune by simply threatening a public allegation. For example, I can visualize this possible scenario: “Hello, Mr. Congressman/Senator (pick one). Remember me? It’s been such a long time since our encounter. As I recall, you molested me in 1971 and I know the phone number for a reporter at the Daily Demonizer.

“So here’s what I need from you in order for me to lose his number. And by the way, there are several others like me.”

What’s the defense if hard evidence is not necessary for such fast-food convictions in the court of public opinion? Talk about an easy political hammer to use in bludgeoning opponents!

Far-fetched? I really don’t think so. My late uncle, 3rd District Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt, once told me that during his 26 years in office, he could have attended a lobbyist-sponsored cocktail party every night if he’d cared to (with select staffers).

More than anything, this casual yet destructive approach to embracing accusations above hard evidence does a terrible disservice to every bona fide victim of abuse, especially when those actions are not reported to proper authorities at the time they occurred.

It’s certainly no secret that money, power and sex pervade the swamp and most state capitals.

JFK was notorious for his philandering but had protective friends in the national press such as the late Benjamin Bradlee, later the Washington Post executive editor. I’ll not even dive into Bill Clinton’s gawd-awful sexual indiscretions with the intern in our Oval Office and the host of other accusations.

Sexual bullying and misconduct made big headlines in 1992 when nearly a dozen women told a Post reporter their horror stories about GOP Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon. He finally resigned in disgrace in 1995.

Today we are watching multiple females accusing everyone from Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore to Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (his gropings caught on camera and admitted) to President Donald Trump and his various accusers.

And the list of ugly accusations and denials from former dalliances and even allegedly abused staffers grows daily, just ask former CBS newsman Charlie Rose and Democrat Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan who settled a sexual allegation he denied and now faces others. I expect much more to come. Don’t you?

And to think, some media types openly ridicule Vice President Mike Pence for never going anywhere in D.C. without his wife alongside. He clearly knows how the nasty “gotcha” game is played.

I’m beyond certain this sort of taking unethical advantage of power and position for personal gratification has gone on for as long as we’ve had a government convening in the swamp.

Breitbart has reported some state legislatures have used taxpayer funds to settle sexual harassment suits, and the U.S. Congress over 20 years used $17 million from the public treasury to quietly settle with 264 people who alleged various forms of abuse and discrimination. They were forced to sign nondisclosure agreements keeping the grimy details a secret. In a criminal setting, I’d call that hush money.

Now a mix of Democrat and Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation that would shed future transparency on a lot of good-ol’-boy misdeeds that traditionally have been hidden from public view.

Among other things, this bill would require the congressional Office of Compliance to publicly identify which agencies have paid settlements for discrimination violations, the individual allegations lodged against each official, and the settlement amounts.

With very few exceptions, even members of Congress have not been able to access such information even though tax monies are involved. These secretive settlements come from a Treasury Department account dedicated to court judgments and legal settlements involving the federal government, the McClatchy D.C. bureau reports.

Oh, what tangled webs are weaved when lawmakers practice to abuse and deceive.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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