Good Guys Don’t Get a Pass to Do Bad Things

Soon-to-be-Former Senator Al Franken (photo by Lorie Shaull)

Last week Senator Al Franken (D-MN) announced that he would leave the Senate following accusations from several women of sexual harassment and nonconsensual sexual contact. While Franken wasn’t exactly apologetic or even understanding about the horrible situation he had created for himself and his victims, pressure from fellow Democrats led to his resignation. In fact, in his resignation speech Franken cast doubt on the accusers and made the whole ordeal about himself. Nevertheless, he did one thing right and left the office he no longer had the power or legitimacy to hold.

In response to this news, the American Humanist Association (AHA) posted our support for his decision to resign, as we believe it was the most fair and responsible action he could have taken. We received an overwhelmingly negative response from our social media following to our position and Franken’s move to resign. Often, when we as an organization discuss issues of social conflict involving women, there is an increase of aggression, hypocrisy, and a knee-jerk refusal to support. We, the AHA, become an immediate “liberal extremist” enemy for even mentioning injustice and women in the same sentence. This isn’t as surprising as it is frustrating.

As the social media coordinator, it’s confusing to see familiar names posting very reasonable and rationale comments one day yet such illogical and insensitive remarks the next. “[Franken] didn’t repeatedly sexually predate [sic] on 14 year olds like Roy Moore,” one commenter wrote, insisting the whole situation was blown out of proportion. This same sentiment was echoed throughout the comments section.

 

To think that it is the opinion of a “humanist” that a morally superior group of people should lower themselves to the standards of the corrupt and unjust in order to beat them worries me. And, to address comments like “C”’s above (there were a lot), Franken resigning doesn’t equate to “handing the country over” to the Republicans. First, liberals and Democrats were already blamed for this by not voting and putting Trump into office last year. Now apparently the Democrats are doing it again because Al Franken resigned. Spoiler: the GOP has quite a bit of power as it is, but Minnesota is a decidedly blue state and the likelihood that Franken’s successor will be a fellow Dem is pretty high. Perhaps our commenter is afraid the new senator will be a woman?

Let’s take a step back and think about what would have happened if Franken hadn’t decided to resign. How could you, in good conscience, criticize Republican representatives for any sexual impropriety? Calling for Roy Moore not to be seated or for the impeachment of Donald Trump would be off the table for you. Is it fair that they get to stay and Franken had to go? No. But remember, Franken willingly left office. It wasn’t the women he victimized who made him resign, nor the Democrats. Franken’s actions made him resign, and if the GOP actually cared about people (we know they don’t), they would insist on the same from their members and representatives.

 

This is an overwhelming trend in the majority of the comments. The victims have nearly been removed from the equation altogether; the victim has become Franken and the enemy the Democrats, “liberals,” and even the AHA. Still others see a Republican conspiracy to pluck out our influential democratic leaders.

Then there were the few who made sure to blame the victims.

 

Victim blaming, especially victims of sexual aggression, is becoming less tolerated in most circles, yet the AHA social media landscape still can’t seem to get a grip on it.

The truth is no one likes to see their hero’s ugly side. It would be naive to assume any person is perfect, yet devoted Franken followers refuse to see any flaw in him, including big ones like his past treatment of women. Did I like Franken? Of course I did. But liking someone or sharing similar values with them doesn’t excuse horrible behavior. It is not humanist to accept or disregard the abusive behavior of a man simply because he holds a position of power that may benefit us.

On the plus side, Franken’s resignation has inspired others, including Senators Corey Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), to actively call for the resignation of Trump due to accusations of sexual harassment and assault (including his own personal statement that he freely assaulted women because he could). Humanists should view Franken’s decision to resign as a lesson. Regardless of the irrational reasons you’ve made up to justify him remaining in office, the only facts that matter are that Franken is a political figure whose job is to represent the people, all the people, in his community, state, and the Democratic party. Franken hurt women by humiliating them and compromising their trust and positions, and by treating them and their bodies inappropriately without their permission. It is not the decision of disapproving men to decide how these women should have felt or how they should have handled it. Franken made mistakes and paid for them appropriately, just as any of you would expect any Republican to.