What Now, Democrats?

Any and all men who’ve ever engaged in sexual harassment or assault should absolutely be held accountable, and no amount of saintly deeds is enough to give a man a pass. That’s always been a part of the problem: men of power and prestige leveraging that power to use and get what they want from women — an evil of a most insidious nature, and now we’re seeing a great many heroes come forward to share their stories and further upend this unjust social hierarchy. It is far time our system of sexism, misogyny, and the subjugation of women be upended. We’re starting to see that happen at a speed faster than we’ve seen in the past, and I’d like to see it keep going.

That said, I’m admittedly torn on the Franken situation, not in regards to culpability but to the punitive reaction. Clearly, there’s a distinction to be made between Franken’s case and, say, a case like Roy Moore’s or Harvey Weinstein’s, or even Louis C.K.’s for that matter, but is it a distinction without a difference? Should the consequences be the same?

It’s not that I like Al Franken that I would come to his defense, although it’s true Franken seems to be a generally likable guy. I’ve never had a problem, or so I’d like to think, with setting aside my biases when it comes to making a moral judgment. (My philosophy professors taught me better than that.) Rather, my defense of Franken comes from a place of strategic awareness.

Before I get into that argument, I want to reiterate that I strongly believe men should absolutely always be held accountable for sexual assault and harassment. My question is whether, in the realm of politics and holding public office, the differences in various cases should matter.

On the one hand, a message of zero tolerance for any kind of sexual harassment, assault, or history thereof sends a clear message to men everywhere: it will not be tolerated. Period. In holding such a view, it definitely demonstrates a greater degree of moral consistency and helps to set a precedent that if you engage in any sort of sexual harassment or assault, you are not qualified to hold public office. Such a view implies Senator Franken should probably resign.

However, by not acknowledging the differences in individual cases (again, for example, pointing to the difference between a case such as Franken’s and a case such as Moore’s), we set ourselves up for some pretty painful and uncompromising situations, though maybe such pains are necessary in an ever evolving moral zeitgeist. And maybe are such pains not only necessary but desired in order to demonstrate our moral commitment as a society.

If Senator Franken resigns, as I’ve seen some call for, we (Democrats, liberals, and progressives) lose a stalwart and competent champion in the fight against Trump and Republicans, a fight in which Democrats barely hold any power to stop an extremist Republican agenda, particularly in the Senate.

One could argue strongly we’re only a few senate seats away from Republicans running completely roughshod over the Constitution and scaling back the rights of every minority that has made gains over the past few years, including women, not to mention the ability to take action in the event Mueller’s investigation bears fruit.

If we lose Franken, I assume that means his seat will be open to a special election in Minnesota, unless I’m mistaken (not certain on this). Minnesota tends to vote Democrat, but it’s worrisome to leave such things to chance in the current political landscape when the stakes are so high.

On the other hand, if Democrats allow Senator Franken to go unpunished, it may be Republicans’ golden opportunity to take an example of sexual harassment by a high-profile Democrat and accuse Democrats of being no better than Republicans on this issue, and—with Republicans’ seemingly inconsistent, perverse system of values—build a stronger case for why any criticism of Republicans such as Roy Moore shouldn’t be taken seriously. Such a scenario would therefore diminish the seriousness with which future allegations made against members of either party are taken and do all women a tremendous disservice.

Regardless, news of sexual harassment having been committed by Franken might already be enough to mire him in enough controversy to severely damage his political capital, if that is ultimately how Republicans choose to spin this, and I’m guessing they will. Franken has been one of few elected Democrats (of note) with any credibility on both sides or, indeed, an elected Democrat with enough influence for which progressives can place at least a tiny slither of hope.

He’s been an integral part in drilling Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other administration officials on the Trump campaign’s relationship with the Kremlin, as well as strongly taking to task any of Trump’s nominees for appointed positions. But if his effectiveness in this regard is eroded due to scandal, he may become more of a liability for women and Democrats anyway. In this case, it might be better for him to fall on his own sword.

In any case, whether news of Franken’s sexual harassment has a major impact in the game that is US politics, progressives are still left with deciding how to handle situations such as these in the future when the stakes are so very high.

3 Replies to “What Now, Democrats?”

  1. Despite the good he has done for the progressive movement, Senator Franken is an arrogant asshole who doesn’t deserve a free pass. Fuck him.

    If he hadn’t been such a jerk about kicking Kathy Griffin off of his book tour for her faux pas with the pussy grabber in chief, I might have some sympathy for him.

  2. Very well-written, Josiah. Just a couple of points that stick in my craw regarding this situation overall. Men are not the only perpetrators of sexual harrassment, and I say “any and all persons who’ve ever engaged in sexual harassment or assault should absolutely be held accountable…” Women are just as guilty of this as men, which I know from personal experience, during my first position after college. The other thing that bothers me is that everyone who has been accussed, in this recent sweep, has been treated, both in the press and in the court of public opinion, with derision. Multiple accusations of harrassment were made against Trump long before, and we have yet to see Mitch McConnell or Linsdaybelle Graham tar and feather their POTUS as they have Moore–same with the news media. Trump’s harrassment has been kept on the downlow since the election, and his refusal to directly respond to the Moore allegations should have the media calling for justice for Trumps accusers. But so far, disgusting silence.

  3. I do not fear our bent toward righteous moralism, that is a welcomed constant. Unfortunately that often rigid moralism has come at the expense of our sense of fairness. We seem to have lost our ability to recognize sincere repentance in a person and accord them the grace they deserve when they request it. We are right to be outraged at these offenses, we are truly wrong to be unforgiving and judgmental to the point of absurdity.

    The recent parsing of differences between offender’s offenses is to me unnecessary. Do any of Roy Moore’s accusers feel any different than any of Al Franken’s accusers? They all report feeling disgusted, violated, and above all else disrespected. How we view each of these men should not center on the degree of difference in their actions, but in their commitment to changing that behavior. While you are correct that no amount of good deeds can overcome the harm that they have and or may have done, I am not quite sure that that is how we ought to weigh them. I believe that when we view these deeds we ought to look to the whole of the persons resume to give us perspective and accord them fairness and balance in how we judge them. We acknowledge the wrong, but meet out condemnation in light of all of what the person has done. In short, grace, or restoration becomes the end goal.

    For years victims of sexual predation have been forced to remain silent for myriad reasons, but now we have afforded them safe space to be open by announcing that “every victim is to be believed”. That is a nice sentiment, but much like the “colorblind” campaign of the 90’s that sought to remedy racism by claiming that we do not see color, this is a paradigm that was bound to create problems as it attempted to resolve others. The reason why this position as practiced reads right but feels wrong is that at its core it upends fundamental notions of due process. Our societies notions of justice tell us that when a person is accused it is the obligation of the accuser to prove the claim and we as a society to judge the veracity of the claim asserted. That responsibility to us is to be carried out objectively and with an eye toward fairness. When we say that every victim is to be believed then we have in essence adopted a position that causes us to shirk that responsibility. Instead, as an SA/DV advocate I argue that every victim’s claim is to be taken seriously, not believed. This allows us to judge the veracity of the claim while not tilting in one person’s favor. This allow us room to be skeptical without being convinced, and ultimately to question both accuser and accused without violating any of our principled positions.

    James Madison remarked that ‘our constitution is the greatest reflection on our human nature’. It is no wonder then that what follows from serious claims like these grieves us and causes us to wrestle with these issues. Due process, fairness, justice, grace, and restoration are all values at the core of who we are as civilized people but living them out, even in the most perilous of circumstances, is key. I would dare say if we lose them or our ability to recognize them, we lose ourselves.

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