COMMENT:

We have come through the second year of madness, there may be six more to go. It doesn't bear thinking how much damage he might do before he's finished, especially now that the last of his minders has given up and left the White House. But the interesting thing about this year, in the democratic world anyway, is how little impact he is having on the big trend of our time.

In fact the big trend may be in large part a reaction to Trump's constant bluster and bullying. Let's call it the gentrification, or maybe the feminisation, of leadership and public discussion.

It is not just that more women are coming to the fore in politics but the wider influence of that, in business, the media and the way people are now supposed to think, speak and behave. It has changed quite rapidly, mostly for the better, but I think it is getting excessive.

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In New Zealand this year we've seen a Government minister, Meka Whaitiri, suspended for seizing her press secretary by the arm in a moment of anger. We've read of "bullying" accusations against an Opposition MP, Maggie Barry, by former staff who claimed she swore and yelled at them, called one stupid, used terms like "nutter" for people who probably were, and discussed someone's sexuality in the workplace. Dear me.

Last week we got the results of an inquiry into bullying claims against Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha by two women from the Justice Department and one from Corrections. He had asserted his authority "aggressively" in an argument with one by putting his leg on a chair in front of her, which she found intimidating. The Prime Minister was "very disappointed" at this "inappropriate behaviour" and made it known she had sought advice from the Solicitor General but the conduct did not meet the threshold for dismissal. Small mercies.

Poor Haumaha has had a hell of a year since his promotion. He looks like an average man caught in changing times. He'd put in a good word for three former colleagues accused of sexual abuse of Louise Nicholas in the 1980s. Nicholas said she did not want a "witch-hunt" but that is what it resembled in the hands of a rising Opposition MP, Chris Bishop.

The gentrification of politics is not confined to women. Its ultimate expression came from a man I would have counted among the last converts, Trevor Mallard. As Speaker of the House he has commissioned an independent inquiry into bullying and sexual harassment at Parliament. National, meanwhile, commissioned a review of its own culture after complaints against its ejected MP Jami-Lee Ross. Paula Bennett referred to them publicly and was criticised for it by Winston Peters who would have you believe Parliament is a hotbed of hidden scandal.

But these excesses are a small price to pay for the civilising influence of women in politics and the professions, and the progress they are making against sexual harassment. Few large law firms would have read the report of the inquiry into Russell McVeagh without looking hard in a mirror and making changes. All over the Western world, men who take advantage of power and position are being forced to take another look at themselves.

The #MeToo movement may have started with Harvey Weinstein just over a year ago but I think it goes back a year earlier to the election of Donald Trump. In the final weeks of the 2016 presidential election when women were coming forward with some insights to his character even he thought he would lose. He set about trying to discredit the election result in advance. When he won, he was as surprised as anybody.

Women were dismayed. Many demonstrated in Washington on the days after the election. It was not just that Americans had spurned their first chance to elect a woman, they had elected a gross, ignorant pig.

This year, they witnessed the elevation of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court after an injudicious televised performance of self-pity and partisan resentment in response to the testimony of a woman who said he sexually assaulted her in their teens. She couldn't prove it, she just sounded credible, so Kavanaugh was confirmed by Republican senators.

I felt sure they'd want to bury the issue before the mid-term election six weeks later but on the contrary, Trump and many Republicans made Kavanaugh's confirmation one of their campaign boasts. America is a strange place these days.

Women, though, did well in the mid-terms, comprising more than half the newly elected Democrats who will have a House majority next year. Time is on their side, not Trump's, and the world will be better for it.