5 Questions for . . .
2. President Trump mocked Al Franken for folding “like a wet rag” after allegations of sexual misconduct were brought against him. Is there a standard we can apply to determine when someone – in the public or private sector – needs to step down or be removed due to alleged or proven sexual misconduct?
Anyone—male or female—who violates the dignity of another person by engaging in unwanted assault by word or deed, sexual or otherwise, should be removed from any position he/she holds. This goes for friends, classmates, co-workers, bosses, and anyone else, wherever such unacceptable behavior takes place, and no matter who is involved.
Proven sexual misconduct would certainly seem to require that the miscreant must be removed or step down from a position in either the public or private sector. I say this and then remember how reluctant I was to have Bill Clinton impeached. What is egregious in the behavior of figures like Harvey Weinstein is not simply sexual behavior, which could be consensual even if immoral by some codes, but the use of a position of power to force others to engage in or be made part of that behavior. In the case of alleged misconduct, the standard must be different: mere allegations of misconduct of any sort cannot be treated as the fault or responsibility or evidence of guilt of the accused. An important caveat in connection with the Kavanaugh hearings is that what was at stake was not his guilt or innocence in regard to the allegations, but his character as part of his overall fitness for a uniquely high office. It seems to me that there was ample evidence of unfitness that was admitted that had no bearing on whether the specific claims of abuse were true or not.
To mock Senator Franken for folding “like a wet rag” after allegations of sexual misconduct proves we do not have equal standards. Who resigns and who stays in office has become arbitrary. The President, credibly accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women, should also consider doing what Senator Franken did. This will not happen in our current hyper partisan political climate. We should not see one elected representative lose his or her career over credible accusations while another, also credibly accused, remains in office. Standards have to be in place and we must also take into account the nature of the offense. Is the misstep so heinous that there’s no chance of redemption? If so, the accused must resign and face due process. Is the misstep minor, a lack of judgment perhaps? Is remorse enough, a promise to do better after being held accountable? In the case of our elected officials, responsible for their constituents, governance and legislation, the people should have a say as well.
Looking back at Senator Franken, the troubling aspect of his resignation is that it occurred while Roy Moore, credibly accused of far worse crimes, was running for Senate in Alabama. Moore barely lost to Doug Jones. He could very easily have become a member of the U.S. Senate while Senator Franken was back in Minnesota picking up the pieces. Yes, we need standards, applied to all equally.
I’ve always considered this question of standards as having two components, whether in the context of public office and political figures, or the conduct of anyone working in the private sector. First, in the event of proven misconduct of any kind, it behooves the political office, the party or the employer to remove you from your position, period, otherwise that agency can be credibly considered to endorse the behavior. That’s the easy part.
Secondly, and more contextually speaking, if a given agency considers that you may have forfeited the trust and the faith of the cause or the corporation, there’s a decision to be made whether or not to cut you loose, and there is no easy way to set a hard fast standard for this. It is necessarily a judgment call and therefore subject to interpretation and the varying nature of public faces.
My own employment with various entities (none of them political) over the past twenty-plus years has been entirely “at will,” meaning that I understand that I may be terminated from work at any time for any reason, and I choose to work under these conditions. Political figures, whose agency is governmental, also serve “at will,” obviously meaning at the will of the people who elect them. This is the less easy component of standards, as the “will” gets variously interpreted by leaders we did not ourselves vote for, outside agencies, polls, and private dealings that “we the people” may not be privy to. Party leaders will drop a hot potato to make a point to their shareholders and to the other side, and in Franken’s case it seems to have been We will not tolerate this in our own ranks, why do you tolerate it in yours?
The context of Franken’s “folding” was the current event setting this country ablaze with anger, and those images of him were damning. People vote as emotionally as they react to hashtags and headlines; perhaps Franken himself originally won the narrow margin of his office by voters motivated by indignation and emotion. The question of Franken’s experience, qualifications and insights becomes irrelevant in light of his headlines following not too far behind Harvey Weinstein’s in that particular news cycle, and the current “public face” of his party.
As a writer, I feel obligated to respect the narrative context even when it leads to an unsatisfactory conclusion. As a voter, that particular decision wasn’t mine to vote on, though I’m free to express my disappointment or approval in other formats. As a human being, I make a point of never accepting character references from the current administration either way.