If you came of age during the 1960s and ‘70s, you certainly were like likely to form a negative sense of our country, how the ideas and expectations in our Constitution were ignored, violated and contradicted by people in positions of power.
But most of us have matured with a better understanding of the imperfections of our national life. Government is not perfect. Neither are the people who make it up.
There are five tenants in our Constitution, more specifically in our Constitutional Amendments that capture the essence of what it is to be “American.” They are free speech, free press, freedom of religion, equal protection under the law and due process.
In our country today, the approach for dealing with unacceptable behavior of any kind is addressed with “proportionality;” a sanction or punishment that reflects the severity of the wrongdoing.
Indeed, it is hard to find an exception to that — for example, theft, driving while intoxicated, embezzlement, murder. All result in punishments that vary according to the circumstances surrounding the act and the harm done. By combining due process with proportional punishment we have evolved a functional system of dealing with bad conduct, certainly not always perfect, not always just, but workable and always improving.
Today, proportionality is the universal norm except for one area of our national life; sexual harassment.
For anything that remotely comes under the label of sexual harassment, the standard is suddenly, inexplicably “zero tolerance.” The zero-tolerance juggernaut is now immediately applied, mostly by Democrats, to any allegation of sexual harassment.
Zero tolerance mandates that women should always be believed, that their allegations should not be disputed, their motives not looked at, the context of their lives deemed irrelevant and most disturbingly, that any semblance of due process employed by the accused is not acceptable.
The problem is that zero tolerance is un-American.
Zero tolerance for anything, but certainly as the basis for removing anyone from elected office for any alleged act, is not compatible with our history or our Constitutional ideals. Zero tolerance is best described as a Banana Republic approach to enforcement of national norms, ignoring due process and delivering arbitrary consequences.
Originally when charges of sexual harassment were leveled against Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., he apologized and requested a full Senate Ethics investigation.
However, he was eventually forced to announce a resignation date mostly because of the efforts of Sen Kristen Gillibrand of New York, the chief national enforcer of the zero-tolerance orthodoxy.
Al Franken should not resign in January. He should reconsider. He should rescind his resignation and demand that the Senate Ethics Committee deal with the allegations against him.
Sen. Franken is our senator. The people of Minnesota are entitled to have our system of due process and proportionality applied to the people we elect.
The fact that Al Franken was elected twice by the people of this state doesn’t absolve him of responsibility for anything he may have done. But certainly we are entitled to a process that objectively looks at the allegations against him and renders a judgment based on the existing norm of proportionality for unacceptable behavior, the same norm that all of us live with every day.
My former colleague in the Minnesota House, Rep Tina Liebling, recently put it well:
“Even as we encourage victims to come forward, we must not treat all transgressions the same. We should be able to distinguish between childishly inappropriate behavior, abuse of a position of authority, and predatory acts.
“The credible allegations against Franken are much less serious than those against Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Roy Moore or Clarence Thomas.”
Indeed, the allegations against Sen. Franken are filled with questionable motives, Right-wing political affiliations and disputed “facts.” A formal Senate Ethics investigation is the venue to sort all this out.
Al Franken is our U.S. senator. He deserves this due process and so do the people of Minnesota.