After weeks of speculation, Senator Al Franken publicly resigned due to growing allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior to women. Immediately this called into question why Donald Trump has not resigned in the wake of even worse accusations of sexual assault by numerous women. It was also in stark contrast to the Republican’s continued support for Senate candidate Roy Moore who women claim assaulted them when they were underage.
Perhaps more importantly Franken’s announcement drew a line in the political sand as to what would now be tolerated by public officials. The era of simply sweeping sexism and violence against women under the rug appears thankfully to be coming to an end. Indeed, this seems to be the just the start of a wider wake up call for politicians of all ideological persuasions.
These resignations also point to the possibilities of even more radical challenges to the status quo. They reveal the potential to hold politicians to account for their actions rather then simply accept them as cynically part of an irredeemably corrupted system. It holds the promise of truly “draining the swamp” and creating a more vibrant, responsive, and progressive democracy.
From Political Resignations to a Politics of Resignation
Political resignations have played a significant role in modern American politics. Most famously, Richard Nixon stepped down from the presidency due to Watergate. More than just the lost of a commander in chief, it shattered for many citizens their “innocence” about the US politics generally.
For this reason, these initial waves of resignations reflected the rising cynicism of that period. Politicians and politics were a dirty business and not to be trusted. It paved the way for the everyman image of Carter and later Reagan’s promise to “Let’s Make America Great Again” (one not so subtly repackaged by current President Trump).
Despite such official optimism, ultimately cynicism became a fundamental part of our modern political DNA. Even more so, as it was repeatedly claimed “there is no alternative” to the free market, a growing number of Americans fell prey to political resignation. It was impossible to reform the system, to truly hold politicians to account. Our democracy would always be bought and sold to the highest corporate bidder. There was nothing that could be done accept to resign ourselves to the sad fact that our system was broken perhaps beyond repair.
A Radical cure to Political Resignation
This politics of resignation has been profoundly challenged by the feminist movement to expose and seek justice for pervasive sexual harassment and assault. The #metoo campaign has refused to simply accept such violence anymore. Rather, it is bringing these acts out of the shadows and forcing their once safe perpetrators to answer for their alleged crimes.
It represents a critical turning point for the nation and perhaps the world. It is a bold strike against the powerlessness of everyday oppression. Instead, it is a demand that those who have power and are privileged be held accountable. Moreover, it is a 21st century declaration, that these crime will not simply be accepted anymore.
In this respect, it reflects a new revolutionary spirit infecting and overturning political cynicism. If the populism of Trump and Brexit were in part a desperate cry – however dangerous and nihilistic - to bring down the current order, this nascent movement is a progressive demand for radical accountability and change.
It is crucial that the focus of this campaign does not deviate from attacking the patriarchy, sexism, and predatory nature of those with power that those who have been victimized are so fearlessly pursuing. Yet the ramifications of these events could be as expansive as they are profound. By forcing, those responsible to resign, it is making clear that the politics of resigned acceptance to oppression and injustice will simply no longer be tolerated.
There are of course obvious and not completely unjustifiable fears that this will backfire, leaving Democrats to suffer while their less shamed Republicans triumph. This “circular firing squad” could come back to haunt those on the Left but only if they refuse to use these resignations to create a more vibrant and less cynical political alternative. By cleaning their own house of its years of tolerated immorality, by refusing to anymore turn a blind eye to its own Clinton, Weinstein, and Franken skeletons in the closet, will the Party emerge victorious as a genuine hope for a truly empowering and just democracy.
It is why #metoo should be enlarged to encompass #thistoo. It means extending what is unacceptable to the wider violence inflicted on communities at home and abroad everyday by US politicians. If you vote against funding a school district, we should be calling for your resignation. If you support an unnecessary and deadly military invasion, we should be demanding for you to stepdown. We need a culture that is not afraid to call out the wrongdoing of their politicians at every level – from local city councils to the highest office of the land. In doing so we can start building a civic and political culture that is beyond mere tragic resignation of all the injustices done in our name.