Minnesota Senator Al Franken has announced that he is resigning his seat in the Senate. We're about to be flooded with stories about the political ramifications and the 2018 Minnesota special election; hopefully we'll also be revisiting the many accusations against Donald Trump and Roy Moore. But, first, with so many Democrats upset that Franken is leaving, let's remember this one thing: The reason to get a serial sexual harasser out of a position of power is to get a serial sexual harasser out of a position of power.
Al Franken is, or was, my senator. As I wrote about in Pacific Standard, my family moved from Illinois to Minnesota this summer, looking for a state that basically functioned. I was looking forward to voting for Franken in 2020, but thought there was a chance it might be as a presidential candidate rather than as a senator. When news broke of the first allegation, I immediately knew (and tweeted) that he was done, at least for me.
It's hard, I know, to believe that the likable, smart Franken could be a serial groper and non-consensual kisser. Each individual allegation (there are eight) seems so trivial, especially in light of the accusations of assault and rape linked to Republican lawmakers and powerful media figures alike. Still, as the incidents piled up, doubling in number every couple of days, even the angriest defenders (I've received a lot of hate mail) have gone silent. We all know that he has to go.
There are some lessons to learn here. One: Believe women. Believe victims.
It's clear that so far only Democrats are treating sexual assault and misconduct as a problem mandating consequences. The right wing, in contrast, is trying to game the #MeToo movement for political advantage. Journalists need to keep doing good journalism when allegations surface. Bosses and management should follow transparent procedures. But that doesn't mean Democrats should skate by when the allegations are credible. In the case of Franken, there was a picture. Moreover, Franken's first accuser, media personality LeAnn Tweeden, told a story that fell into a far-too-familiar pattern. Had there been only this one incident, Franken might have weathered it. But there's rarely just one incident.
Besides, if only one side is going to try to impose consequences for sexual misconduct and assault, isn't that the side you want to be on?
Second: Restoration cannot happen while denying or minimizing guilt and clinging to power.
With someone like Franken, it's possible to envision a return to public life of some sort. It would take acknowledging harm (he has not really done so) and, from a place of honesty and humility, seeking to restore the trust he's shattered. I hope it happens. We are going to have to think hard about what restorative justice and reparations mean in the context of more open speech about sexual harassment. I want harassers to understand that, if they come clean, there might be a long pathway forward in which they return to polite society. Maybe. If the victims agree. And the journey better be damn hard.
In the meantime, though, Minnesota needs two senators who can help govern. It's time for Governor Mark Dayton to appoint a successor. There are plenty of great women in Minnesota who are ready to step up if called to serve.