A time of reckoning: the Democratic Party and sexual abuse

Breaking news today that Al Franken kissed and groped a woman without her consent.  Franken has long been a minor hero of mine. An ideologically passionate but intensely pragmatic politician, who took advantage of his celebrity to move into public service and took the responsibility seriously. So, of course, I am deeply disappointed to hear this. But I’m not surprised.

I had no particular reason to think Franken had done wrong. But I was certain that prominent men in the Democratic Party were guilty, and that a reckoning was coming. Now, the time is here, and the question that faces us is simple: will the Democratic Party honor its commitment to be a servant of the vulnerable and an agent for justice? Or will it reveal itself to be just as craven as its critics have always claimed?

It’s not enough to simply mouth the words. Now is the time for action. Franken needs to resign. He needs to be made to resign. And that should only be the beginning. It’s time for the Democratic Party to open its doors, to invite victims to speak, to protect them, to listen to them.

We are near a tipping point, a moment when it’s possible to see something new on the horizon. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Senator, a President, a Democrat, a political ally, or a friend. It’s doesn’t matter if you ‘meant it as a joke.’ It doesn’t matter if you have worked for good policies. If you use your power to demean and diminish, if you harass and threaten, if you degrade and humiliate, you are working against everything that this party ought to stand for.

This has been a long time coming, and few of us are free from the guilt. We had a chance, when faced with clear and convincing evidence of Bill Clinton’s wrongdoing, to believe his victims. Instead, we chose expediency. We made excuses. We dissembled. We pointed to partisan motivations for impeachment, complained about hypocrisy, or simply shrugged our shoulders and pointed to the economic numbers. We distinguished between public and private actions.

It was wrong.

I made many of these arguments myself, and for that all I can do is apologize and promise to be better.

None of us are angels, and we shouldn’t expect perfect moral character in our leaders, any more than we can expect perfect moral character in ourselves. But this is far beyond a matter of simple mistakes or misunderstandings. This is a systemic and pervasive social practice, one that pollutes every promise made to serve principles like equality and justice.

Enough is enough. It’s time to become the people that we have promised to be. It’s time to open our ears to those who have suffered, to be better than we have been. We will not retreat into whataboutism. We will not point our fingers at Trump and Moore and so many others to excuse the misdeeds or our own side. We will not shrug our shoulders and get on with our lives. We will not make excuses for our heroes that become caught up in this maelstrom.

Because they were never heroes, even if we allowed ourselves to believe it.

When history looks back, they’re going to see a lot of terrible things in 2017. But maybe, just maybe, it will be a significant marker of the date when men finally started suffering consequences for the evil that they do.

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