When I shook hands with Eric Greitens following the 2016 debate for Missouri Governor, none of us on the Green team imagined that, a year before, he had tied a woman up, blindfolded her, undressed her, photographed her and warned that he would release the photo if she ever said what happened. The story made local and US news on January 11, 2018 when the now-Governor Greitens followed his “State of the State” address with an admission that he had had an affair, that he and his wife had come to terms with it, and they wanted to get on with their lives.
He failed to mention whether the “affair” included bondage and sexual blackmail. During and following Donald Trump’s ascendency to the White House, there had been a year of non-stop sex scandals in the US and a story had to be beyond the pale to make the headlines in early 2018. The Missouri governor’s scandal hit that mark.
The woman was Greiten’s hair stylist in 2015, when he asked her to his home. After an erotic chit-chat he invited her to his basement for a “real thrill.” There, he allegedly taped her wrists to exercise equipment and began undressing her. In a report from her husband, who secretly taped her confession, she had not objected to anything at that point. But she said she became terrified when seeing a camera flash from edges of the tape covering her eyes and heard the threat “You’re never going to mention my name, otherwise this picture will be everywhere.”
The next month Greitens announced his interest in running for state-wide office. As the campaign for governor intensified, the woman texted him to not come to her hair salon any more. The Republican Greitens was elected on the Trump wave that swept Democrats out of Missouri’s capitol.
During the campaign Greitens had condemned the practice of having secret financial contributors and promised that people would always know where his money came from. In office, Greiten’s demeanor turned on a dime and the press turned on him. The new governor had stashed away millions in “dark money” from unidentified sources and reporters pressed him to specify its origins. He responded by avoiding them and refusing to release his daily schedules so reporters would not know where to find him.
Outraged by his secrecy and condescending treatment, local press was not about to let him keep running away when they heard of the tie-blindfold-photograph episode. The press was not the only group who the Republican had antagonized.
Though not covered in recent TV and print media, Greitens had led the charge against labor. The new legislature passed the bogus “right to work” law, allowing people to benefit from union gains without paying union dues. The other barrel of his anti-labor shotgun took aim at the recently won increase in wages in the City of St. Louis with a law prohibiting municipalities from having minimum wages above the state minimum. (The anti-labor cabal, incidentally, has yet to explain why local control by municipalities is bad if local control by states is so wonderful.)
Greitens was associated with Trump’s racism since his exposure happened the same day that Trump sneered at immigrants from Africa and “shithole countries” like Haiti, preferring white immigrants from countries like Norway. But political reality can be very different in Missouri.
In September 2014, Michael Brown was killed with his “Hands Up!” by cop Darren Wilson, The very next month Democratic Governor Jay Nixon reflected the state’s racism by refusing clemency for death row inmate Earl Ringo. Ringo was sentenced to death because his robbery partner testified against him in exchange for a life sentence. Despite hostility ripping through the St. Louis community, Nixon never considered the possibility of easing tension by commuting the death sentence of a black man convicted by an all-white jury before a white prosecutor and a white judge.
As the death sentence was being carried out, another Democrat, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch massaged the grand jury system to ensure that the white cop would face no charges for murdering a black man, Michael Brown.
Fast forward three years to August 2017. Greitens had been in office for less than a year when he granted a stay of execution to Marcellus Williams, a black man convicted of killing a white reporter. There was no physical evidence that Williams was involved in the murder and unidentified DNA was found on the weapon, suggesting another potential perpetrator. Ignoring the fact that testimony was from two felons – a previous girlfriend and a cellmate – who would each receive a $10,000 reward, the same Prosecutor Bob McCulloch publicly denounced Greitens’ stay.
The Democrat who made sure there would be no consequences for a white cop killing an unarmed black man expressed outrage that a black man would have his case reopened instead of being killed. So, take your pick of which atrocity was more atrocious – a Republican degrading a women or a Democrat’s death wish toward black men.
Nor is Greitens’ hatred of unions so unambiguously distinct from attacks by Democrats. Without question, Greitens is doing everything possible to undermine working people’s ability to defend themselves. But in 2015, his future Democratic Party opponent, Chris Koster, was key in advocating the “Right to Farm” Missouri constitutional amendment. Its definition of “farmer” included big agricultural companies from across the globe, which would find it easier to edge out small farmers. Meanwhile, Monsanto’s friend Hillary was pushing the Trans Pacific Partnership, which convinced huge numbers of Missouri farmers to vote for Trump.
Farmers saw Democrats chasing them with a finely tuned stiletto at the same time workers felt Greitens coming at them with a meat cleaver. Again, take your pick. A Democrat destroying the livelihood of farmers or a union-bashing Republican.
This is not to say that the two big money candidates were always on different sides of critical issues. Both felt that guns were a vital part of TV ads during the 2016 campaign for Missouri Governor. Greitens never let viewers forget that he was a former Navy SEAL and appeared with an automatic weapon just to make it clear that the best way to solve problems was to be ready to kill someone.
Would you think that a Republican showing his gun fetish daily on TV would be a shoo-in to get the endorsement of the National Rifle Association (NRA)? If so, you would be wrong. The Democrat Koster got the NRA nod, both due to his desire to expand “Stand Your Ground” laws (which allowed the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman in Florida) and because he supported laws permitting gun ownership without any training in how to use them.
The Democratic and Republican candidates had something else in common. They both like to put a wet finger in the air to find out which way the wind is blowing. Greitens was a Democrat who turned Republican and Koster is a former Republican who blossomed into a Democrat. The party they choose depends on which group of people they feel they can manipulate votes from at what point in time.
Beneath the surface of meanness by the political elite are the needs of corporate masters who anoint them to be our leaders. An essential characteristic of twenty-first century capitalism is unending war to complete the pillaging of resources from every corner of the Earth. Those wars are best carried out by politicians who hate not just their opponents but everyone around them. An economically destructive system encourages, molds and rewards those individuals who are most vile to their fellow humans.
Though Greitens is currently being investigated by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, it is not clear if criminal charges will be filed. While local press are on his trail like a hound dog, the still unidentified woman who reports being tied up, photographed and blackmailed is currently protecting her identity by not pressing charges. Missouri Republicans are saying it is “too early” to tell if the entire affair will blow over. Greitens, who admits to an extramarital affair while denying taking a photo for blackmail, is going to each GOP legislator and personally apologizing for the Trump-like insults that he hurled at them during the first year of his reign.
Also disturbing is the revelation that before his election Greitens had reserved “Greitens for President” websites, revealing the ego-maniacal core of his soul. Before the bondage scandal, Republicans across the country were eyeing Greitens. They could still end up thinking that someone who could escape prosecution for terrorizing a woman and glorify gun-toting and union-smashing would, in fact, have what it takes to be their man for the White House.
What could be more frightening? It’s the possibility that Greitens would lose a presidential race to a Democrat who was worse. Isn’t it time to put aside the fantasy that demonstrating the contemptible nature of a Republican somehow proves that a Democrat is “better?”
Don Fitz, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, was the 2016 candidate of the Missouri Green Party for Governor. He is on the Editorial Board of Green Social Thought, in which a previous version of the article appeared, and is Outreach Coordinator for the Green Party of St. Louis.