Personal note: I’ve been mostly absent from blogging because I have cancer. Read all about it here.
[Content note: sexual violence]
Before I begin, I’d like to state for the record: it is Okay to have sad/upset/complicated feelings about the allegations against Al Franken and his subsequent decision to step down. That’s not what this is about. In fact, when it comes to me, it is Okay to have any feelings you want about anything. That’s my promise to you.
However, when we step outside of the realm of feelings and into the territory of attributions, ethical claims, moral reasoning, and outward behavior, it’s no longer anything-goes. Even if feelings underlie it.
I particularly disagree with claims that the political consequences Al Franken is now facing are “unfair.” It think this suggests some very skewed ideas about what fairness means, and under what conditions we can be expected to be our best selves.
In general, fairness means treating people and situations equally or equitably. If we would call upon a Republican with multiple credible allegations of sexual assault to resign, we should do the same to an equivalent Democrat. It would be unfair to call upon Roy Moore to resign, but not Al Franken. (Yes, the allegations against them differ in some significant ways, and sometimes this is important, but I don’t find it particularly important here. Assaulting adults is just as wrong as assaulting children.)
In some cases, fairness also means that if we have a contract with someone, spoken or unspoken, it would be unfair for one person to hold up their end of the contract and for the other to get out of having to do the same.
For instance, if it would be unfair to agree to a haircut at a salon and then refuse to pay even though the stylist has delivered the haircut promised. It would be unfair if you and your roommate have devised a chore schedule, but your roommate never does their share of the chores and you do. It would be unfair for a friend to expect me to listen to their problems, but when I have problems, they’re always mysteriously busy. (However, contrary to popular opinion, the way to make this situation fair is not to try to force the friend to listen to your problems. It’s to scale back or end the friendship until the situation feels fair to you. Consent is a thing.)
It’s weird to hear Al Franken’s resignation referred to as “unfair.” That implies that someone out there is not holding up their end of the bargain.
What people usually mean when they say this is that it’s unfair for Franken to “have” to resign when similar Republican politicians don’t. But rather than laying the blame for this unfairness solely onto Republicans and their constituents, they lay it much more directly onto the Democrats calling for Franken’s resignation even though his counterparts don’t “have” to resign.
To me, this is a backwards and morally bankrupt way of looking at things. It presumes that if Republicans had to resign when facing similar allegations, only then would it be fair for Democrats to have to do the same. Or, on the other hand, it would be fair if Franken’s resignation caused an equivalent Republican to resign as well.
But if you have used your position of power to take advantage of others, you deserve to lose that position—not in order to get anyone else to lose theirs too, and not as a goodwill concession towards those who already have, but because you have committed a crime, and you are not a fit or safe person to serve in this position. Sexual assault is a crime. Workplace sexual harassment is a crime. These things are also morally wrong. That’s why Franken should go. Republicans have nothing to do with it.
Sure, it admittedly does suck that Republicans rarely face consequences (or face them as seriously) as Democrats do in these situations. But that’s not “unfair.” There’s no “double standard.” The reason this pattern happens is because most Democratic voters don’t want to vote for confirmed sexual predators, whereas most Republicans are quite okay with this as long as he’s anti-choice and whatnot. That’s how you get Roy Moore.
I’ve heard folks say that they wouldn’t vote for Al Franken again because it would feel too icky, but they don’t want to see him “ousted.” But the fact that you wouldn’t vote for him again is exactly why he’s leaving.
So no, this isn’t a case of “they go low, we go high.” It’s not a double standard. It’s not “being better” than the Republicans. It’s not “eating our own.” It’s simply reading the fucking room, including the writing on the wall.
And if this is unfair, the only way for us as Democratic voters to make it fair is to commit to voting for candidates whose stance we support even if they are admitted/confirmed sexual predators. Then it would be “equal.”
So there’s no “unfairness” here, but there is an injustice—the injustice of conservative indifference to sexual violence and to human suffering in general. It’s the injustice of the just world fallacy, the injustice of harmful gendered thinking, the injustice of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and everything else in that deplorable bucket.
And while I’m on this topic, I also disagree that Al Franken handled this any differently/better than your average powerful man accused of something terrible. Aside from his decision to resign (presumably for the reasons I discussed above), his response is typical. His resignation announcement comes with no apology, and it comes only after numerous credible accusations (including photographs) have been made. It wasn’t proactive. I don’t sense any genuine regret, remorse, or understanding from him. And I wouldn’t expect it—these men know that what they’re doing is wrong. A child knows it’s wrong.
I believe it’s utterly wrong for us to heap praise on people who have kept their intentional acts of harm towards those less powerful than them hidden for years or decades, continually deny them, deny the first accusations, and finally relent when “proof” appears and everyone clamors for resignation. This isn’t remorse, it’s not “learning and growing,” and it’s not accountability. It is, again, reading the room.
And when you consider the immense risk and labor that the accusers have to take on every single time one of these powerful men is brought down (and especially when they’re not), it’s even more unfair. Aside from surviving multiple incidents of sexual harassment and/or assault, these accusers risk their careers, relationships, privacy, and whatever healing they’ve managed to do every time they speak out. Many of them face serious consequences, much more severe than Al Franken or any other powerful sexual predator. Job loss, death threats, lost friends, reliving what happened to them.
I have yet to see a powerful predator “apologize” or oh-so-graciously decide to step down before detailed accounts of their behavior are posted all over the internet and in major media outlets; before the people whose opinions and bodies they actually respect start to get uncomfortable; before the petitions circulate. That’s because they don’t want to. Al Franken didn’t want to. He doesn’t want to be accountable. He has to, because his base demands it.
I refuse to call this pathetic attempt at faking empathy “remorse.” I do not respect Al Franken. I do not thank him for his “apology.”
Call me when a predator removes himself from a powerful position without dozens of survivors having to cut themselves open and bleed for our satisfaction first. Until then, frankly, I don’t give a damn.
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