Al Franken’s Resignation and the Selective Force of #MeToo (New Yorker)

Al Franken’s Resignation and the Selective Force of #MeToo

On what he called the worst day of his political life, Senator Al Franken articulated two points that are central to understanding what
has become known as the #MeToo moment. In an eleven-minute speech, in which Franken announced his intention to resign from the Senate, he
made this much clear: the force that is ending his political career is
greater than the truth, and this force operates on only roughly half of
this country’s population—those who voted for Hillary Clinton and who
consume what we still refer to as mainstream media.

There was one notable absence in his speech: Franken did not apologize.
In fact, he made it clear that he disagreed with his accusers. “Some of
the allegations against me are simply not true,” he said. “Others I
remember very differently.” Earlier, Franken had in fact apologized to
his accusers, and he didn’t take his apologies back now, but he made it
plain that they had been issued in the hopes of facilitating a
conversation and an investigation that would clear him. He had, it
seems, been attempting to buy calm time to work while a Senate ethics
committee looked into the accusations. But, by Thursday morning,
thirty-two Democratic senators had called on Franken to resign.
The force of the #MeToo moment leaves no room for due process, or,
indeed, for Franken’s own constituents to consider their choice.

Still, the force works selectively. “I, of all people, am aware that
there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has
bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval
Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for
the Senate with the full support of his party,” said Franken, referring
to Donald Trump and the Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. Trump and Moore are immune because the blunt irresistible force works only on the other half of the country.

That half is cleaning its ranks in the face of—and in clear reaction
to—genuine moral depravity on the other side. The Trump era is one of
deep and open immorality in politics. Moore is merely one example.
Consider Greg Gianforte, the Montana Republican who won his
congressional race earlier this year after not only being captured on
tape shoving a newspaper reporter but then also lying to police about it. Consider the tax bill,
which is stitched together from shameless greed and boldface lies.
Consider the series of racist travel bans.
Consider the withdrawal from a series of international agreements aimed
at bettering the future of humanity, from migration to climate change to
cultural preservation. These are men who proclaim their allegiance to
the Christian faith while acting in openly hateful, duplicitous, and
plainly murderous ways. In response to this unbearable spectacle, the
roughly half of Americans who are actually deeply invested in thinking
of themselves as good people are trying to claim a moral high ground.
The urge to do so by policing sex is not surprising. As Susan Sontag
pointed out more than half a century ago, Christianity has “concentrated
on sexual behavior as the root of virtue” and, consequently, “everything
pertaining to sex has been a ‘special case’ in our culture.”

The case of Franken makes it all that much more clear that this
conversation is, in fact, about sex, not about power, violence, or
illegal acts. The accusations against him, which involve groping and
forcible kissing, arguably fall into the emergent, undefined, and most
likely undefinable category of “sexual misconduct.” Put more simply,
Franken stands accused of acting repeatedly like a jerk, and he denies
that he acted this way. The entire sequence of events, from the initial
accusations to Franken’s resignation, is based on the premise that
Americans, as a society, or at least half of a society, should be
policing non-criminal behavior related to sex.

While this half (roughly) of American society is morally superior and
also just bigger than the other half (roughly), it is not the half that
holds power in either of the houses of Congress or in the majority of
the state houses, and not the half that is handing out lifetime
appointments to federal courts at record-setting speed. And while the
two halves of this divided country may disagree on the limits of
acceptable sexual behavior, they increasingly agree on the underlying
premise that sexual behavior must be policed. As I wrote in an earlier column, drawing on the work of the pioneering feminist scholar Gayle Rubin, we seem
to be in a period of renegotiating sexual norms. Rubin has warned that
such renegotiations tend to produce ever more restrictive regimes of
closely regulating sexuality. While policing such unpleasant behavior as
groping or wet kisses landed on an unwilling recipient may seem to fall
outside the realm of sexuality, it is precisely this behavior’s
relationship to sex that makes it a “special case”—and lands us in the
trap of policing sexuality.

Outside the #MeToo bubble, the renegotiation of the sexual regime is
happening right now in the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the Court heard arguments in the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. Justice Anthony Kennedy surprised many observers with his seeming sympathy for the baker’s argument. “Suppose he says: ‘Look, I
have nothing against gay people,’ ” said Kennedy. “ ‘But I just don’t think they should have a marriage because that’s contrary to my
beliefs.’ It’s not their identity; it’s what they’re doing.” It was
an oddly refracted expression of the understanding that our behavior
toward others may be based—perhaps ought to be based—on the way they
conduct themselves in areas related to sex.

There are many differences between the case of the senator who lost his
job and the same-sex couple who couldn’t get a cake; undoubtedly, there is a
difference between acting like a jerk and getting married (though the
plaintiff in the cake case claims to have been offended by the gay
couple’s intention to get married). Oddly, though, these cases stem from
a common root. If only Franken’s heartbreakingly articulate expression
of his loss were capable of focussing our attention on this root, and on
the dangers of the drive to police sex.


via New Yorker

December 7, 2017 at 03:20PM