To Sexual Abusers: ‘Depart, I Say; And Let Us Have Done With You.’
December 5, 2017

Pro Tip: make your ChrismaKwanzaaRamadanukkah (TM) dinner safe for political discussions again by excluding anyone who voted for Donald Trump and doesn't yet regret it. We did that for Thanksgiving, and we were certainly more candid for it.

And, as a bonus, all the progressives around the table spent an hour arguing (happily? angrily?) whether Al Franken should resign. Mind, this was before the John Conyers harassment scandal erupted, so this debate was entirely about “Oh, no! Another White Guy?!”

The argument did not break cleanly on gender lines. I argued he should resign, for reasons I'll detail below. At least two of my female in-laws argued he shouldn't, on these grounds: "He didn't do anything terrible/criminal, unlike Roy Moore; he's apologized; his accuser forgave him; and he's a steadfast progressive, especially on women's issues."

My spouse agreed with me, as did one young female cousin, who strongly believed he should resign (perhaps indicating a generational divide on this question?). Everyone else - male or female - was undecided and wanted more evidence on Franken's history of misconduct.

Perhaps Franken's defenders at our table and the fence-sitters around them have moved to a more negative position on him now that more women have come forward to accuse him of groping them or kissing them without their consent.

No matter. The first allegations from Ms. Tweeden and the associated photo were enough for me. Senator Franken should resign. And, oh, while I’m here, Representative Conyers should resign.

In fact, whoever has used his power/celebrity/social-status/organizational-status to impose himself on subordinates or fans or innocent bystanders or whomever should resign. And, for the sake of fairness (and to preempt whataboutism), I'll extend that to women and all others, of any gender-identification (or none), who've abused their standing to inflict themselves non-consensually on anyone.

On abusers, I'm in the camp represented by Oliver Cromwell's succinct statement to the Rump Parliament on April 20, 1653: "You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately... Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

I am particularly incensed by the defense that includes this canard expressed by Harvey Weinstein: "I came of age in the 60's and 70's, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then."

That is a demonstrably specious excuse. I know this partly because I'm 68. (Yes, I'm a Male Boomer.) I entered the workforce in the 70s. Over my career, I had professional positions with authority over others in organizations: I was a dean of students in a law school; a professor in a business school; and, finally, a government attorney with supervisory authority over attorneys, paralegals, and secretaries.

I never harassed or assaulted any student, colleague, or subordinate. Why? Because I knew - as a male raised in that period in this country - that I should not harass or assault people.

There are no credible excuses for harassment/abuse by men of my generation or younger raised in the United States. Anyone my age got socialized in the 60s and 70s, when civil liberties movements began to flower. We grew up surrounded by civil-rights movements symbolized, for example, by Selma and Stonewall. Feminism and gender-egalitarianism have been around since at least the '70s or much earlier, if you want to start with, for example, the drive for enactment of the 19th Amendment.

Anyone who invokes the defense of "Too old to know better..." is lying to himself, or the rest of us, or both.

Of course, I care about the political repercussions of losing progressive voices like Franken's and Conyers's. We hear that "We can't afford to lose Mr. X, because he's so good on [insert issues]." I understand that argument, but I respond with "Well, no."

In this time of growing political engagement (evidenced by the results in Virginia and elsewhere in the recent state and local elections), we have a wealth of progressive candidates, including a number of people who aren't WMs, stepping up to run for office and win elections. And, we clearly have lots of energy supporting this wave of new candidates.

Defenders of the status quo ought to get out of their way and let the new folks run and win. Of course, they'll make mistakes when they're in power. Some of them will turn out to be corrupt and/or incompetent. But, some of them will be great public servants (or business leaders or artists or scientists or...).

Also, from a tactical point of view, every moment these progressive-abusers stick around provides more oxygen for the media to pay attention to them in lieu of the destruction of our institutions by this dangerous administration. These abusers also enable the right-wing media to engage in endless whataboutism.

And there's an additional media-related dimension to this. It's been argued that the abusive males in the media who've been booted out recently didn't give Hillary Clinton a fair shake because their misogyny tainted and tilted their coverage and commentary. There's no way to settle this conclusively, but it is true that some of the best political journalism in this country happened at the Washington Post, during Watergate, when the publisher was a woman. As the population of candidates becomes more diverse, it seems reasonable to argue that replacing the feral misogynists in the media with, well, diverse humans, might improve the fairness of coverage.

Generally and usually, in civil and criminal justice, "proportionality" matters: punishment should fit the crime or injury. What Al Franken did is not as repugnant or feloniously criminal as what Roy Moore did. There are important factual distinctions and different public judgments to render on these very different kinds of conduct. In other times, or on other issues, the punishment absolutely and always should fit the crime.

But, on the issue of harassment/abuse, we are confronting "structural misogyny," a term for which I wish I could take credit, but can't. Like structural racism, it's baked into the current asymmetrical power structure in workplaces specifically and society generally, where men (mostly white, but not always) have most of the power. As shown by the difficulty women face in openly talking about abuse, our social institutions still are pervasively tilted toward empowering men (again, mostly, but not only, white men) and protecting them from punishment for misconduct for one or another reason - e.g., their staunchly progressive politics, or their "artistic genius," or their contributions to corporate profits.

So, proportionality should be gauged against the system's institutions, as well as the individuals who populate and operate them. The only way to remedy structural/institutional defects is to replace the abusers, their enablers, and all the managers who don't get it or don't care, as quickly as possible, from top to bottom. Women (especially WOC), other POC, and the LGBTQIA community have waited long enough for the structural aspects of discrimination and abuse to end. We've excused the inexcusable long enough.

All abusers should resign. Perform your penitence publicly and/or privately and exit. Leave us. Just. Go. Away. Thank You.

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