The feminist Jacobin in me thinks: Who cares? Replace them all with women! But I doubt this frenzied moment ends with the collapse of patriarchy. Like Rebecca Traister, a New York magazine writer, I worry that there will be overreach and then a fierce and ugly backlash, as men — but not only men — decide we can’t just go around ruining people’s lives and careers by retroactively imposing today’s sexual standards on past actions. Besides, as more and more men get swept up in this moment of reckoning, we’re going to have to figure out some mechanism by which those accused of offenses that fall short of assault can make amends and get their lives back.
So my first instinct is to say that Franken deserves a chance to go through an ethics investigation but remain in the Senate, where he should redouble his efforts on behalf of abuse and harassment victims. But if that happens, the current movement toward unprecedented accountability for sexual harassers will probably start to peter out. Republicans, never particularly eager to hold their own to account, will use Franken to deflect from more egregious abuse on their own side, like what Trump and Roy Moore are accused of. Women with stories about other members of Congress might hesitate to come forward. That horrifying photo of Franken will confront feminists every time they decry Trump’s boasts of grabbing women by the genitals. Democrats will have to worry about whether more damaging information will come out, and given the way scandals like this tend to unfold, it probably will.