“Should Al Franken Resign?” Is the Wrong Question opines Masha Gessen in The New Yorker.
Should Senator Al Franken resign following revelations of sexual harassment? Michelle Goldberg, writing in the Times, says yes, in order to preserve the momentum of “the current movement toward unprecedented accountability for sexual harassers.” Writing in the Washington Post, Kate Harding says no: as a legislator, Franken has done good things for women, and, as a repentant sexual harasser in politics, he could do even more. Both arguments clearly have merit, and both of the writers acknowledge that the opposing view is compelling. But maybe “Should Al Franken resign?” is the wrong question.
Former Franken female staffers speak out: ‘He treated us with the utmost respect’ reminds (or informs) us of those “good things for women” Franken has done and might yet still do.
The statement is co-signed by eight former Franken staffers who have worked for him since he was elected to the Senate in 2008. It reads, “Many of us spent years working for Senator Franken in Minnesota and Washington. In our time working for the Senator, he treated us with the utmost respect. He valued our work and our opinions and was a champion for women both in the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our offices.”
The question frames the conversation in terms of retribution, but it is not possible to hold to account every man who has ever behaved disrespectfully and disgustingly toward a woman. Nor even every senator, or every comedian. And, even if it were possible to punish every single one of them, what would be accomplished? Punishment, especially when it is delayed, is not a very effective deterrent.
As for Franken, there is something particularly disquieting about the similarity of his alleged actions, as described by Leeann Tweeden and acknowledged by him, to the behavior Donald Trump described in the “Access Hollywood” recording. But the more disturbing charges against Trump concerned women whose careers he controlled, such as the former Miss Utah Temple Taggart and the “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos.
Those cases illustrate the real issue here: the power imbalance that allows some men to take women hostage using sex. Franken, from what we know, was not such a man. When he kissed Tweeden without her consent, during a rehearsal on a U.S.O. tour, she was able to, according to her description, push her assailant away, tell him, “Don’t ever do that to me again,” and walk away—hurt and disgusted, to be sure, but not in fear for her future. She wrote that she didn’t go public at the time because she “didn’t want to cause trouble,” and didn’t feel that she needed protection from Franken. On the way back from the tour, Franken posed for a picture in which he pretended to grope Tweeden’s breasts when she fell asleep on a plane. More than a decade later, when Tweeden decided to go public, he apologized. “The apology, sure, I accept it,” Tweeden said in a press conference. “People make mistakes.” She sounded less magnanimous than annoyed. She explained that she had decided to go public in order to encourage other women to speak up without fear. That matters. Whether Franken resigns does not.
It is instructional to consider how the “disquieting similarity” between Franken’s admitted and Trump’s alleged actions is treated by liberals and conservatives alike. The Post reporter observes that “The senator faced swift condemnation and bipartisan calls for an ethics investigation Thursday after he was accused of forcibly kissing and groping Tweeden, a KABC radio host and former Fox Sports correspondent and host.”
So what about Roy Moore who is accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls. He quite possibly could be the newest US senator if enough Alabamans choose to ignore that. And what about Trump? The nation elected president a guy who admits on tape to doing arguably quantitatively and qualitatively worse things. The Difference Between Franken and Trump is That Franken ‘Admitted Wrongdoing’. That’s according to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who’s not wrong reports Esquire magazine. (That’s also, by the way, a difference between Moore and Franken.)
Every now and then, members of the Trump administration catch the world (and probably themselves) by surprise by saying something that’s actually true. Case in point: The unflappable White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. When pressed by reporters Friday, Huckabee Sanders admitted that the difference between Senator Al Franken and President Trump, who both stand accused of sexual assault, is that “Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn’t.”
This is the same person who confirmed last month that the White House’s official position on the 16 women who’ve accused Trump of sexual harassment is that they’re all liars. So it looks like she’s making some real progress!
I’ll let Tweeden have the next-to-last word (from the Post article):
“I’m not calling for his resignation, nor am I calling for his career to end. I just want to shine a light and stand on the shoulders of these other women to say, ‘This is not right, and this is not what should be happening in our society.’”
That Franken is granted culpability equal to that of Moore and Trump also should not be happening in our society.