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Thursday, December 07, 2017


Should Franni file for divorce?

by Tom Sullivan

The Democratic caucus and many others want a divorce from Minnesota's Sen. Al Franken. We are hearing from everyone except his wife. Before he resigns, I'd like to hear from her. Franken credits her testimonial ad with getting him elected, after all.

We are at an important cultural moment in this country in which sexual harassment in the workplace finally is seeing some sanitizing sunlight, and about time too. But I ask about Franni because she just might have insight on whether her husband's misbehavior rises to the level of the divorce for which everyone else is calling.

Dahlia Lithwick wonders aloud what "zero tolerance" means for people who still hold that "good faith and reasonableness are virtues [when] we currently live in a world where it’s also a handicap." It is a world of rampant bad faith in which "Trump stays, Conyers goes, Moore stays, Franken goes." It is a world in which torture is not torture when Republicans do it. It is a world in which Republicans can steal a Supreme Court seat, pass a tax bill written in the margins (with a $289 billion error), and elect to the U.S. Senate a man with credible allegations of child molestation and a documented history of ignoring the rule of law. Lithwick writes at Slate:

You can talk about gradations of harm—what Franken is accused of still pales next to child predation—but even that is a trap. The point is, as Jennifer Rubin notes Tuesday, that “one party has adopted a zero-tolerance position (with Sen. Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, set to go before the ethics committee) and another party opens its arms to people it believes are miscreants.” Rubin feels confident that becoming the party of alleged sexual abusers will harm the GOP in upcoming elections (did she live through last November?). My own larger concern is that becoming the party of high morality will allow Democrats to live with themselves but that the party is also self-neutering in the face of unprecedented threats, in part to do the right thing and in part to take ammunition away from the right—a maneuver that never seems to work out these days.
As a longtime resident of the Bible Belt, I reflexively distrust public piety. Especially from Roy Moore types, but not only. Not for the first time, not for the first time, I'm puzzled when in situations like this friends who ordinarily value the progressive's ability to navigate a world of nuance suddenly begin sounding like "The 700 Club." If for no other reason than in a world of "weaponized outrage" they are amateurs playing against the pros. Ask Sam Seder.

I still recall the torture emails episode and Sen. Dick Durbin:
"If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners."
I wrote about that here three years ago:
After about ten days of epic, right-wing hissy fit, a tearful Durbin apologized to the U.S. Senate. After the release of the SCCI report, doesn't he feel like an idiot?

(I have this image in my head of Bill Frist accepting Durbin's apology, walking solemnly back to his office, closing the door, and doubling over laughing. The Art of the Hissy Fit is simply alpha dog behavior — showing who's boss by barking loudly in the other dog's face until he rolls over on his back and pees in the air. This is called winning.
When it comes to public piety, good faith is not its own reward. At the lizard brain level, voters do not recognize it as virtue, but weakness. Democrats who are counting on them to respond otherwise need to visit Alabama.

In approaching sexual harassment on Capitol Hill, Lithwick is cautious:
This isn’t a call to become tolerant of awful behavior. It is a call for understanding that Democrats honored the blue slip, and Republicans didn’t. Democrats had hearings over the Affordable Care Act; Republicans had none over the tax bill. Democrats decry predators in the media; Republicans give them their own networks. And what do Democrats have to show for it? There is something almost eerily self-regarding in the notion that the only thing that matters is what Democrats do, without considering what the systemic consequences are for everyone.

We are at a moment in this country in which entire institutions that existed to protect women—from the courts, to our criminal statutes, to our workplace protections—have proved not only incapable of protecting us but also to be tools used to shame and silence us. The question we now face is really about which institutions need to be blown apart altogether and recreated to promote justice, and which institutions do not or cannot. The Senate, I would submit, is not about to be blown up and created anew, with greater institutional solicitude for women. Not now. And that means that when it comes to the Senate, we play by the institutional rules and norms as they exist, even as those rules and norms devolve into empty shells. The alternative is a game of righteous ball, in which the object is pride and purity, and Dems are the only ones playing.
Men in the workplace have waged asymmetrical warfare against women for decades. We are experiencing a cultural moment where that hold is breaking. But that moment is still balancing on the edge of a knife. I don't know what Franken will announce this morning, but like Lithwick I worry that betting on people's better angels to respond favorably is risky. That's why my response to "He should resign" is "Should Franni file for divorce?" Before filing for ourselves, we might want to get her opinion.

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