Last night, Arizona Republican Trent Franks abruptly announced he was resigning from Congress after female staff members alleged that the conservative had brought up surrogacy with them in a way that made them feel uncomfortable.
In his strange, rambling statement, Franks declared himself, overall, a good dude. Just ask anybody! Ask his wife! She’d had three miscarriages, he volunteered, and for years they’d been trying to get another sibling for their twins. So that’s why he brought up surrogacy with female staffers in a way that made them feel gross. Because having kids was hard for his wife.
But he didn’t stop with Mrs. Franks. He brought his kids into it, too.
“We continued to have a desire to have at least one additional sibling, for which our children had made repeated requests,” Franks added, unhelpfully.
Franks announced today that, because his wife was in the hospital, he was resigning immediately. And then the AP published a story with more details: he allegedly offered one staffer $5 million to carry his child. And he allegedly offered to impregnate her via intercourse.
Here’s one thing that an apology relating to workplace misconduct should include: the words “I’m sorry.” Here are some things it absolutely doesn’t need to include: a declaration that, despite the infraction or harm caused by the act in question, the apologizer is a good guy. A sob story. Invocation of women in his life, as though women’s approval differentiates him from a real monster.
An impressive number of men have found themselves credibly accused of disqualifying sexual misconduct and used their apology to establish themselves as “good” guys despite all of it.
Roy Moore hasn’t apologized, but he has used his vacantly grinning wife as a prop in asserting that he didn’t spend much of his thirties chasing teenagers like a pedophilic Alabaman Pepe Le Pew. He’s a good man, his supporters assert, as though goodness in one area of life (in Roy Moore’s case, footage not found) precludes evil in another. What about all of the teenagers he didn’t molest? Is anybody doing stories on them?
Al Franken’s resignation speech was steeped in defensiveness, and the assertion that the president had done way worse, in much the same way that a person who got caught speeding 8 miles over the speed limit would complain to the cop that pulled him over that other cars were going much faster. And he did the “I’m a good guy” thing, too.
“I am proud that during my time in the Senate,” said the Minnesota Democrat from the Senate floor. “I have used my power to be a champion of women. And that I have earned a reputation as someone who respects the women I work alongside every day.”
It’s true that Al Franken has been a champion for women in the Senate, and it may be true that his female colleagues adore him. But it is also true that six women who are not his colleagues have accused him of groping them.
Michigan Democrat John Conyers, who has been accused by a handful of employees of behavior that ranged from non-sexual but nightmarish to sexually inappropriate, has insisted during all of this that he’s a good dude. His legacy, he said, “can’t be compromised or diminished in any way by what we’re going through now.” As though what the American people are concerned about is John Conyers’ legacy in light of sexual harassment allegations.
The implication in these statements, that outside “good” minimizes bad actions, is puzzling. Are these men implying that doing good by enough people buys them the right to be let off the hook easily for actions that aren’t good? Or that they’re somehow better than the typical sexual harasser, who is a cartoonish Weinstein-esque monster masturbating into potted plants and trapping young actresses in cartoon hallways? If that was the case, rooting these guys out would be easy; just look for the shifty-eyed demon with his dick out in public.
Reality is much more banal, but its banality doesn’t lessen its harm. And while not all sexual misconduct is the same—pretending what Al Franken did is the same thing as what Roy Moore allegedly did is idiotic—it’s all well above the threshold of “bad.” The “typical” harasser probably thinks of himself as an overall good guy. Most people think of themselves as, at least, the protagonists in their own stories. They’ve just screwed up once, or twice, or six times, or 19 times.
“I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t,” Al Franken said during his resignation speech. Roy Moore is riding to his local polling station on horseback, alongside his wife. Trent Franks will return to Arizona, where he will continue to insist that he’s better than the other guys who have done exactly what he has.
Sexual misconduct doesn’t necessarily make somebody an irredeemably bad person. But these men’s refusal to see themselves as what they are, as what they’ve done, certainly won’t help them move toward a place of growth and reconciliation.