When 19-year-old Aaron Coleman, a community college student and dishwasher, won the Democratic primary for a seat in the Kansas Legislature by 14 votes, people initially marveled at how remarkable it was that he'd done so by defeating a seven-term incumbent. Soon, though, the astonishment turned to dismay as it was revealed that Coleman had also come a long way from just seven years ago, when he blackmailed one of his classmates, in an instance of revenge porn.
His victim informed The Kansas Star, “He got one of my nudes and blackmailed me with it and told me if I didn’t send him more he would (send) it to all of my friends and family. And when I didn’t send him more, he sent it to everyone I knew.”
Coleman's vicious behavior didn't end there. Another girl who had the misfortune to know Coleman remarked, “[He] harassed me for months, it got so bad that he found out my family’s home phone and wouldn’t stop calling it until we picked up.”
Still another former classmate claimed that Coleman had bullied her in school, “calling me fat, telling me to kill myself, like I’m never going to find anyone, like I’m worthless, just downgrading me every day.” He sent her texts saying, ““Fuck you you fucking ratchet fat slut. Fuck off whale. Go on a diet and get some braces.” She ultimately attempted suicide.
Following those reports — which Coleman confirms are true — he initially dropped out of the race. Then, he reversed that decision, claiming that “we NEED to focus on the fact that there is hopelessness among our young citizens, especially us men.”
Ok. But, you know who felt really hopeless? The girl Coleman tormented until she wanted to end her life.
But Coleman doesn't think that's important anymore, since it's all in the past. “I obviously did not expect to have my entire personal life, especially what I did in middle school, put under that kind of national microscope,” stated Coleman, who claimed his supporters had told him that “all of us have sinned.”
Not like him we haven’t. Most of us don’t have actions we committed as early teens put under a microscope, true, but that’s not only because most of us aren't running for office. It's actually because most of our actions don’t involve blackmail, or emotional abuse that ends in suicide attempts. When most of us think of dumb things we did as early teens we think of maybe sneaking a beer from our parents' fridge, not sending out nude pictures of our peers after failing to blackmail them successfully. There is not an age where I think someone is both capable of committing the very adult act of blackmail and yet too childlike to understand what blackmail is.
"Kids will be kids" (or, worse, "boys will be boys") has always been an inadequate and unsupportable defense of cruel, bullying behavior, but it seems particularly indefensible when used to support someone's bid for public office.
And yet some people, like leftist Intercept journalists Ryan Grim and Glenn Greenwald, didn’t initially seem to find this behavior disqualifying. Greenwald wrote for The Intercept about Coleman’s “troubled past and promising present,” claiming that “all of this raises profound and important questions about whether adults should be judged by the actions they undertook when they were a child, particularly when they have apologized and expressed remorse.”
When people talk about how we shouldn’t be held accountable for our actions as children, typically more than a mere six years have passed since those actions. Moreover, even at the age of 19, Coleman doesn’t seem to have changed all that much. In fact, he has been accused of assaulting women in the past year. His ex-girlfriend has texts indicating that he hit her this December, and told her that he hoped she got raped. She also claimed that “he even said, ‘If you get pregnant, I will have to kill you and the baby.'” Her mother has claimed that her daughter hasn’t been barely able to function following Coleman’s treatment of her.
In spite of all of this, some people seem willing to chalk any objection to Coleman up to “cancel culture.” And it’s true that the world is changing. More people are able to share their feelings about the actions of others, and those feelings are not always positive. Behaviors that might have seemed funny or acceptable 10 or 20 years are ago, are now, rightly, seen as insensitive. There are a great many ways a typically good hearted person could have, in their past, accidentally blundered into offensive territory without intending serious or lasting harm. Bullying someone until they attempt suicide is not one of those ways. That is intentional, and requires repetition and forethought that repeatedly disregards another human’s intense pain.
All errors of the past are not equal. Blackmailing and emotionally torturing people is not an error at all — it is indicative of someone unable or unwilling to sympathize with others, who chooses, deliberately, to inflict distress. People pointing this out are not trying to ruin a young man’s life. Someone trying to ruin someone’s life does not stop someone from getting elected. Someone trying to ruin someone else’s life behaves the way Aaron Coleman does.
For as much as we are living in a changing world, we’re still living in a world where young women are seen as collateral damage when it comes to young men achieving positions of power. This situation is reminiscent of nothing so much as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford saying that she was hesitant to come forward with accusations against Brett Kavanaugh when he was nominated for the Supreme Court because she felt, “I would just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed anyway.” Women always seem to be expected to jump in front of these trains.
And what is perhaps most depressing about the case of Coleman is that leftist pundits, like Grim and Greenwald, who at least professed to care what was done to Blasey Ford as a teenager, have made it abundantly clear that they only care about assaults on women if the man who committed them doesn’t share their politics. As is often the case, female trauma is reduced to little more than political leverage for the other side. Time and time again women are forced to relive their pain for men who just don’t care if it means stopping a man they like from winning. It’s true that there are cases where we have to vote for the lesser of two evils. However, I’m not sure that a primary race in Kansas is one of those cases where it’s simply impossible to find a candidate who didn’t drive anyone to suicide.
Coleman has said that he’s evolved as a person. If that’s true, rather than forcing his victims to relive these situations all over again, he could step aside to support a female politician. He could just plain step down, and not put his victims on a traumatic roller coaster of emotion. He could speak to women with respect, and do therapy, and realize that apologizing may not be enough to undo the damage of his actions. But he won’t. Because he’s gambling on the fact that, at the end of the day, people just don’t give a shit about the trauma inflicted on girls.