Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why I Hope Al Franken Resigns

Kate Harding has an opinion piece up for the Washington Post explaining why she doesn't think Al Franken should resign amid allegations that he sexually assaulted Leeann Tweeden. She says plenty of smart things, and she is positioning herself as a voice of pragmatic reason in a sea of knee-jerk reactionaries with short-term thinking:
When you combine these things — an awareness that the Democratic Party is no more or less than best of two, and an understanding that men in power frequently exploit women — it becomes difficult to believe that Franken is the only sitting Democrat with a history of harassment, abuse or assault. The recent #metoo campaign demonstrated how normalized unwanted kissing and groping are in our culture. Donald Trump was caught on tape crudely admitting to both of those transgressions, and we made him our president. According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 1 in 3 women experiences some sort of contact sexual violence in her life. Sexual harassment and assault are simply too widespread for Democrats to respond to Franken’s offense with only Franken in mind: We need to respond in a way that helps us develop a protocol for meaningful change.
She's making a very similar argument to the one that Nate Silver makes to explain why he thinks Democrats are punting on what could be a politically safe move for them:
Of course, what might be politically expedient for Democrats isn’t necessarily expedient for Schumer — or for McConnell, or for the White House, all of whom may be acting out of a sense of institutional self-preservation. If there’s a precedent that sexual harassment is grounds for removal or resignation from office, then a lot of members of Congress — including some of Schumer’s colleagues and friends — could have to resign once more allegations come to light, as they almost certainly will. President Trump’s conduct could also come under renewed scrutiny, as could the conduct of former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. Politics is a male-dominated institution, and a conservative institution, and conservative, male-dominated institutions have pretty much no interest in flipping over the sexual harassment rock and seeing what comes crawling out from underneath it.
Both of these writers are making the same basic claim that Franken's response will be precedent-setting, and that politicians might need to be careful in setting the precedent that former sexual misconduct should lead to present resignation. The whole system, it seems, could come crashing down.

Let. It. Crash. 

I'm serious. Donald Trump is president of the United States. This is a man who is grossly unqualified to play the mayor in a school performance, let alone lead our country. He ran on a ticket of, basically, promising to blow shit up, and a lot of people across the country said, "We're with you on that." Obviously, the discontent is running deep already.

If our system is so fragile that it can't handle having an actual process of accountability and value-based standards for its participants, then it needs to crash because--and this is important--it isn't working anyway!

I have been involved in approximately 11,000 debates about Al Franken since the story broke, and the vast majority of my liberal friends seem to be taking this wishy-washy "pragmatic" view that wants to preserve the party's effectiveness rather than hold a member of it accountable.

The bottom line for me is this: either we meant what we said or we didn't.

Here, I'll let Al Franken explain it:

At the end of his Facebook post, he quotes from the Gretchen Carlson piece and says this: 
[Gretchen writes,] 'I encourage victims to stand up and tell their stories, which I know requires immense bravery. And I’m hopeful that we’ll see changes in our laws and our culture that will allow them to do so without being victimized yet again.' I couldn’t agree more."
He encourages women to stand up and tell their stories. If they do so, even though it "requires immense bravery" we will see changes in our laws and our culture. CHANGES IN OUR LAWS AND OUR CULTURE! It doesn't get to return to normal. It doesn't get to be business as usual. The system doesn't get to continue running merrily along its patriarchal, violence-laden track. We (including Franken himself) collectively asked for women to come forward. And they did, and they keep coming, and they're going to keep coming.

I am not on a "witch hunt." I do completely recognize the difference between the accusations against Franken and those against, say, Roy Moore. They differ in severity, number of victims/repetition, and age of victim. All of those things matter. It matters, too, that Franken's victim says she accepts his apology and isn't trying to force him out of office. It all matters.

But none of it changes the fact that Franken needs to hold himself up to the standard he set. (I am also not interested in arguments that he wasn't really touching her, it was trick photography, it was a thick coat, the military escort says it didn't happen, blah, blah, blah. Both Franken and Tweeden say it happened. The man doing the action and the woman having the action done to her both say it was wrong. We don't need to play mental gymnastics on this one).

I think that this piece from The Establishment titled "So You've Sexually Harassed or Abused Someone: What Now?" does an excellent job of laying out what the next steps should be. It lays out steps for accepting responsibility, avoiding re-victimizing victims, and moving forward in a way that transforms the cultural landscape for the future.

Here's the thing, I like Al Franken. I support his work in the Senate. I think he means it when he says he's an ally who wants this world to change. But now I need him to walk the walk and demonstrate what taking responsibility for those past actions means. Are there other ways to do that besides resigning? Perhaps. Are there other ways to do that besides resigning that don't become a huge distraction and road block for the momentum building against actually changing the culture surrounding sexual assault? I don't think so.

The chorus of "it's not as bad" that people are using to defend Franken in comparison to Moore, Weinstein, Louis C.K., etc. runs the risk of morphing. "It's not as bad" can easily become "it's not that bad," and that's a risk we cannot take at this moment. That's a risk we cannot afford at this potential tipping point.

There are lots and lots and lots of people out there right now desperate to hear "it's not that bad." They are coming to terms with the fact that all of those #MeToo posts mean that some of the behavior they passed off as "just a joke" or "boys being boys" or "I got a little tipsy" was actually incredibly damaging and weighed on the women in their lives. They feel guilty, confused, and frustrated. They don't want to be labeled as sexual harassers, assailants, or sometimes even rapists. The fact is that if 1 in every 6 women reports having been raped, there are a lot of rapists out there. There are even more sexual harassers. And many of them have never thought of themselves in those terms. Many of them have never considered that the acts they took could have long-lasting damage. But now that they see people they love and respect coming forward to say how harmed they've been, they're pausing, reflecting, and recognizing.

This is important. This is necessary. This is the step we have been missing! 

Al Franken demonstrating true remorse while simultaneously displaying the seriousness of committing to doing better is the symbolic response we need right now. That isn't short-term thinking. It's long-term thinking. It's hoping for a better future where we no longer accept sexual harassment and assault as the natural side effects of being human. If Franken really wants to be an ally, the easiest way to do it is to resign.

I hope he will do the right thing.