While anyone who believes in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIPS, food stamps, public schools, cheap public universities, abortion rights and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants should rejoice in the victory of Democrat Doug Jones over the truly deplorable Roy Moore for the U.S. Senator from Alabama, we should only do so with caution.
Trump and the Republicans are still in charge. The GOP is still upsetting decades of Congressional protocols pushing through a tax bill that represents the largest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy in U.S. history, a tax bill opposed by more than 70% of all Americans. The current administration is still overturning regulations that address climate change and protect Americans on the job site and in the marketplace. The appointment of a young generation of ultra-right, pro-corporate judges continues.
Moreover, democracy in America is still threatened, not just by the Republicans in Congress and the White House, but by the voters themselves. Only 32% of registered voters participated in the Alabama special election, a total that all the news media is labelling as high or heavy. A majority of voters stayed home and that’s a good turnout? No wonder Congress so often thwarts the will of the people and acts against the best interests of most Americans to favor a wealthy few. The people often don’t speak loudly enough.
More dangerous to American democracy than the lack of voter participation is the fact that more than 650,000 voted for a child molester. Even if every one of the Alabama voters who stayed home had voted against Moore on the principle that a child molester should not represent a state in the U.S. Senate, that doesn’t mitigate the fact that more than 15% of the total electorate either didn’t care or took the word of a man over a large number of very credible women and supporting witnesses. Either these voters are morally bankrupt or irredeemably misogynist. The low turnout magnifies the power of this 15%, just as it did in the 2016 Republican primary races in which Donald Trump never exceeded 25% of the total of eligible Republican voters. When voters stay home, a motivated minority can turn the country in an ugly direction—in this case, almost electing a child molester.
Which brings us to Senator Al Franken, a good guy and leading liberal light. On the scale of sexual offenses that men can perpetrate against women, Franken’s is much less offensive than Roy Moore’s. But still not acceptable. And they occurred multiple times. He made at least eight women feel uncomfortable with his frat boy antics. Why didn’t he learn from his mistakes?
I’m fairly certain that someone said something to him about the inappropriateness of his behavior at least once over the years. Back in 1973 when I was teaching my first university-level French course at the University of Washington—Introduction to French Literature—I was prone to making salacious puns and sexual innuendos in my lectures. I was just a 22-year-old doofus trying to be funny and clever—I was and am an incorrigible punster with a vivid imagination and a love of jokes about sex. After about three weeks, one of my female students took me out for a coffee and told me the jokes made the women feel uncomfortable. I was as embarrassed as I have ever been, completely humiliated. I stopped the sexual joking immediately. I never had another complaint. I am still grateful that my student sent me in the right direction so early in my career and adulthood.
That was 45 frigging years ago!!! Don’t you think that along the way some outspoken woman would have done the same favor for Franken, who as a liberal must have hung out with a number of sensitive, sensible and assertive women? Keep in mind, too, that some of Franken’s antics took place in public “on the job,” typically working for large organizations. Every large organization has had a sexual harassment policy in effect and given training to supervisors on identifying and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace since about the mid-1990s. Many seem routinely to ignore the policy especially as it applies to powerful men, but that doesn’t let the liberal feminist Franken off the hook.
It therefore shocks me to see so many comments on Facebook asking Franken to remain a Senator, petitions pleading he reconsider and nasty notes to New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, leader of those demanding Franken resign. These well-meaning liberals and progressives risk giving up their ideals for political expediency—exactly what we accuse the other side of doing. If being accused of molesting a 14-year-old, assaulting a 16-year-old and pestering a bunch of young girls when he was in his thirties disqualifies Roy Moore from elected office, how can we exempt Al Franken for his overly aggressive and sexual touching and feeling? The case of Trump is even more apt. If we disqualify Trump for his 18 instances of harassment, we must qualify Franken for his eight. When it comes to the discomfort it could cause a woman or the assertion of a prerogative of power over a woman, I can’t see much difference between touching a woman’s breast and slipping fingers underneath her panties. Both equally heinous.
Franken has to go. Otherwise there is no moral ground on which to accuse Trump, Moore and other Republicans. Otherwise, we send a message that in certain cases it is alright to harass women, and even perpetrate a mild, good-natured, we’re all-just-having-a-good-time sexual assault.