Franken, Moore, and Trump
On the partisanship of sexual assault
In an ideal world we would not have sexual assailants in politics but the world we live in is far from ideal. Politics in the United States is, in the end, less about service than power and those attracted to power are seldom satisfied with the mere institutions of it. Sexual assault, racism, sexism, indeed violence and bigotry of all sorts represent the forceful imposition of a person’s view of what the world ought to be atop the way the world is. Power and its misuse — be it political, financial, or social — provides the means to avoid the consequences of that imposition and to deny justice to those harmed by it.
In business, media, and culture this is harmful enough but in politics the effect is especially pernicious. It is easy for most of us to condemn those like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, or Kevin Spacey, so long as our paychecks don’t depend on us doing otherwise. In making the decision to #BelieveWomen we give up only our view of a distant persona and perhaps a few fond memories of the work they created.
But with politics it is different. We live in a nation divided by partisanship. For good or ill, most Americans define their affiliation, beliefs, and much of their core political identity in just one of two words: Democrat or Republican.
In politics, when we condemn someone like Franken, or Moore, or Trump we admit a degree of complicity, culpability, and error. We admit that we trusted the wrong person or, worse, that we knew and didn’t care. Most of all, we admit that someone from “our side” misused power and, in so doing, tainted the ways in which the power of our collective voice has been used for good. This makes it difficult to condemn the abusers.
In that sense, when it comes to our political compatriots, we are all like the folks in Hollywood whose paychecks depended upon ignoring Weinstein, Cosby, Spacey, and those like them. There is partisan advantage to be gained in choosing not to believe women when the accusations land within one’s own party.
Al Franken is a lion of the Senate: an outspoken voice that has championed causes others have shrunk from. The Democratic Party is inarguably weakened by the accusations against him and his resignation from office. For many Democrats, their political “paycheck” depended upon doubting Franken’s accusers.
Roy Moore is the Republican nominee for Senate in Alabama. If he withdraws from the race a Democrat will certainly win an otherwise “safe” Republican seat, narrowing the Republican Senate majority. If he stays in and wins, even if the Senate rejects him, Alabama’s Republican governor will name his successor, preserving the Republican margin. For many Republicans, their political “paycheck” depends on doubting Moore’s accusers.
At what price?
If the #MeToo movement has done nothing else it has forced us to look at the predominantly white, male power structure that dominates our media and government and wonder what sins lay unseen beneath the grandfatherly veneer. While we might prefer to imagine that those willing to put social justice before partisan advantage will win out in the end, experience and cynicism teach otherwise and yet in matters of conscience it is sometimes better to lose for the right reasons than win for the wrong ones.
All of which creates a perverse situation. Regardless of the truth of the accusations against Al Franken and Roy Moore, the right thing for each of them to do is to step down from their positions of authority — Franken as Senator and Moore as Candidate — but the politically expedient thing is to refuse to do so. From their actions and the actions demanded of them by others in their party, we the people can infer a great deal about the real priorities behind the politics.
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As a white male I felt somewhat unqualified to write this piece. I would like to thank my female friends in the Resistbot volunteer community for lending their critical and editorial expertise to it in order to alleviate my concerns.
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