Entangled in the Errors of Our Leaders

The wave of sexual assault accusations following the Harvey Weinstein scandal has found its way into politics, with Senate candidate Roy Moore, a Republican from Alabama, and Senator Al Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota, both facing assault allegations. Several women have reported that Moore made inappropriate advances when they were high schoolers; one reported him doing so when she was only 14. Franken faces a powerfully written accusation from a female comedian, who shared a photograph of Franken grabbing her breasts while she slept.

Cartoon by Lo Wall

As I toss these stories over and over in my mind, I find myself struggling to separate which part of my revulsion is political and which is unique to the incidents described. Franken smiling for the camera as he gropes a sleeping woman’s breasts is viscerally awful. But Franken does not subscribe to a worldview in which denying women equal pay, restricting access to birth control, forcing sexual assault victims to carry unwanted children, and cutting welfare for single mothers characterizes some form of social good. Franken does not support corporate tax cuts at the expense of the poor and middle-class. He does not vote to ensure health insurance remains unaffordable to millions of American citizens.

Meanwhile, Moore was suspended from sitting on the judge’s bench in Alabama for refusing to enforce the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage. He has suggested that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress and has called Islam a “false religion.” He had no idea what the Dream Act was or who it protected in an interview last July. He has suggested 9/11 was punishment for “distancing ourselves from God.” He compared homosexuality to bestiality and said it should be illegal. He wrote this poem for a campaign rally: “Babies piled in dumpsters, abortion on demand/Oh, sweet land of liberty, your house is on the sand.”

Since the allegations surfaced, some Congressional Republicans, including Jeff Flake and Mitch McConnell, have said publicly that Moore should not serve in office. Most have said something along the lines of “if it’s proven true, then he shouldn’t serve,” while President Trump tweeted support for Moore as recently as last Sunday. Yet I can’t help but focus on his  candidacy in the first place—the fact  that establishment Republicans who opposed him in the primary were then willing to support him against a Democrat, because being blatantly anti-Muslim, defying the Supreme Court, and suggesting homosexuality should be outlawed makes someone less unfit for office than being liberal. And I can’t help but read the words “if it’s true” and think that most Congressional Republicans would only truly oppose Moore’s election if a legal decision made it impossible to justify.

We’ve said the slew of sexual assault accusations over the past few months show the professional world has reached a breaking point, where groping, rape, offensive comments, and other inappropriate sexual conduct are no longer okay, ever. Even the seemingly infallible—the Hollywood celebrities, Senators, high-level editors, CEOs—can be held accountable for their actions. But when establishment Republicans do anything other than unequivocally oppose Moore’s campaign—and use the money and power of their party to do it—they tell today’s young women otherwise. They tell us not only that sexual harassment is okay, but that the rest of Moore’s platform is okay; that discrimination based on sexuality, religion, gender, race, and income is okay; that the law can be used to affirm the goals of the powerful at the expense of the less so.

Establishment Republicans have done this before when they elected Trump. The Moore case is not partisan politics disguised as legal doubt. Moore and Trump, Obamacare repeal, and the defunding of Planned Parenthood is bigotry under the guise of partisan politics.

Does that excuse Franken? Of course not. What Franken did was sexual harassment, and he should bear the consequences of it. But sexual assault stems from systems of oppression that Moore strives to uphold. What upsets me most isn’t even the smiling photograph of Franken or the vivid descriptions of Harvey Weinstein’s harassment of young actresses; it’s the fact that even as these stories surface, our own Congress is reinforcing a part of what gives rise to them—and I feel powerless to stop it.

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