What to do about sexual harassment? I don’t know, but here is my general attempt to reckon with the revelations that have occurred over the past few weeks — longer if you include the allegations against President Trump, and even longer if you tackle the issue of President Clinton, both of which I consider fair game.
The issue is more palpable with Democrats. It shouldn’t be, but ultimately they’re the party which has staked the claim of representing women’s interests broadly and, more acutely, sexual harassment against women.
I, personally, was never under any illusion that the transgression of sexual assault/harassment itself was partisan. I’m well aware, like many (women), that this is an issue that manifests itself across party lines. We can hash out the details about whether it is an issue of power, toxic masculinity, or something else in another post. At this juncture, and with the thoughts forming in my head, I feel as though that is splitting hairs when it comes to government. Men are disproportionately represented in powerful positions, and thus whether it’s power or socialization, we will probably continue seeing men as the perpetrators for the foreseeable future.
This is why I think it’s fair to assess the situation through a gendered lens, but I want to acknowledge beforehand that this issue could, in another universe, show itself through other dynamics. Onwards to Democrats.
The issue: what is the appropriate response by Democrats to Democrats credibly charged with sexual harassment/sexual assault/inappropriate behavior? I envision three scenarios at this juncture:
First option: they resign. I think this is unequivocally the right thing to do, ignoring all institutional motivations otherwise. “Right” here is defined as first and foremost the appropriate response to harming another person, and this is a social harm. Unlike courts of law, where we liberty and life can hang in the balance, being a Senator is both a privilege and a position of trust.
It is fair to say “This person is untrustworthy and has broke the bond he has with fellow Americans.” It is a penalty, but a just one, and as a fan of restorative justice, I think it would behoove them to try and make amends through means outside of public representation. Women are, after all, part of the public, and it’s difficult to square behavior in private lives with public proclamations to help women.
Alternatively, fight the war, not the battle. Roy Moore is accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls from his thirties onward, including his time as District Attorney – yet another position of trust, both as a public official and an officer of the court (i.e., an attorney.) Republicans at large have condemned him, and he’s lost support in the polls, but he nevertheless remains competitive. If this is a litmus test for Republicans and consequential behavior, it doesn’t look as though we will see public ramifications for abuse of authority and sexual assault, at least not with respect to Republicans.
So what happens if Democrats hold their fellow Democrats accountable? They resign. Maybe they are replaced by another Democrat, maybe not. Meanwhile, Republicans condemn in word but maintain their numbers. Democrats have a demonstrable recent history that they are interested in legal reform for sexual assault cases in both Congress and on campuses. So if we diminish their numbers, sure they remain the high ground and credibility, but they lose their ability to meaningfully change outcomes. Thus it’s arguable that the credibility coming with resignation is marginal, but the impact that comes with no resignation is significant.
The other (third) option is for the Senate to deal with this as an institution: refuse to seat Moore; Franken and Conyers resign. At the same time, create a template response for upcoming allegations, of which there will be many, and determine what the Senate response is to credible allegations prior to any others made. This has a non-partisan appearance (and, in my mind, satisfies more due process than the discretionary route of resignation/non-resignation we’re taking now.) McConnell doesn’t want Moore in the Senate anyway, and Democrats maintain credibility.
Credit where it’s due: the majority of the public figures clamoring for reform regarding allegations in Congress and elsewhere are women on both sides. My other, cheeky response was to simply defer to women in the Senate but, like I said, it’s cheeky.
So where do I land? This is hard. I have no belief that Republicans care about this issue; they were more than willing to condemn President Trump in words after the Access Hollywood video, then rally behind him in practice. Democrats don’t get a gold star but they (a) have moved the needle on this conversation far more, and; (b) have more women represented overall. I genuinely believe they can achieve a better outcome.
However, it definitely feels like a historical moment – the kind of time someone 100 years from now would look back and – appropriately – judge harshly. I want badly to win this war, but I feel it’s more important to take a stand on how men in power treat women. Republicans are justifying a Moore election on the basis that an (R) beats a (D) on significant votes. I won’t do the same for Franken and Conyers. They should resign, and ideally younger, more representative (i.e., minority) candidates assume the mantle of reform and take their place.