Tornadoes are disorienting as well as destructive, but let’s try to keep our bearings here. As you surely know, Minnesota Senator Al Franken has apologized after a Los Angeles radio host complained that he had forced a kiss on her while practicing a USO skit he wrote 11 years ago. While she was asleep on the flight home, he also staged a photo that made it look like he was groping her breasts over her flak jacket.
Funny, right? Then and now, no. Even Franken himself asked for an ethics investigation. His fellow Democrat Claire McCaskill tweeted, “I’m shocked and concerned. The behavior described is completely unacceptable. Comedy is no excuse for inappropriate conduct, and I believe there should be an ethics investigation.”
Missouri’s Republican attorney general Josh Hawley, her competition in next year’s tough Senate race, found this too weak and waffly a response: “This is not enough. Senator McCaskill, join me in calling on @alfranken to resign. Return the money he gave you.” She then said she would return the donations, but has not called for his resignation.
Hawley, meanwhile, has sort of said that Alabama Republican Roy Moore, who has been accused by nine women of assaulting, grabbing, or pursuing them, in 8 cases while they were teenagers and he was a practicing attorney, should withdraw from his Senate race — unless he can supply “rock solid evidence” to the contrary.
You know where all of this is going, don’t you? Straight to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, as it must.
The predicate for this cascade of allegations was not just the news that Harvey Weinstein had preyed on women for decades. It was also the fury that many women felt as they watched Donald Trump be accused by 16 women of grabbing, groping, and kissing them out of nowhere over the decades — behavior he himself bragged about in that “Access Hollywood” tape. Then, of course, he got elected president anyway, after calling those women “horrible, horrible liars.” Elected with the enthusiastic support of evangelical Christians and the pro-life movement. How could they condone the actions of a man whose behavior undercut everything they’d ever said they cared about?
Well, the predicate for that, in turn, goes back to the ‘90s, when Trump was still just a developer known for trying to plant items about himself in the New York tabloids. And to the fury that Republicans have felt ever since over the way women who accused Bill Clinton of harassment, assault and rape were treated by feminists. How could they condone the actions of a man whose behavior undercut everything they’d ever said they cared about? I can’t tell you how many Republicans have told me, both before and after the election, that they saw no reason to disqualify Trump for behavior that progressives had defended.
We are a nation of extremes, routinely unwilling even to seek, much less find, any middle ground on taxes, guns, health care, abortion and more. So it’s not altogether surprising that we seem similarly unable to distinguish between allegations of rape or assault and of equally indefensible but obviously lesser infractions.
Yet — and I know I sound a little like Rudy Giuiliani talking about the squeegee men and the turnstile jumpers here — those lesser transgressions do tend to escalate. And if we don’t put an end to the rationalizing and the whataboutism now, we never will.
That’s why I think the Florida Democratic party chair had to resign, as he did, for routinely spending office hours making hey-hey comments and using the “breast-shaped stress squeeze-ball he has been known to keep on his desk.” (If this is the pro-woman party, you boob, then I don’t want to hear another word about the “Mad Men-era” mentality on the right.)
That’s also why I think Franken should resign. To reset the conversation from, “But at least my guy didn’t do what yours did,” to “wrong is wrong.” I can’t imagine anything he could do in the U.S. Senate that would be better for women and men than ending the race to a bottom we never seem to locate. Then, onto the White House.