Return of the Franken

Because I do not effectively care for myself, I often read about politics on Twitter, and this morning my feed was filled with another round of the Al Franken scandal – that is, the scandal of Al Franken not being as powerful as he and his supporters would like him to be. Supposedly, the villain of this scandal is Kirsten Gillibrand, who said that he should resign because the things he did were bad. Not since Mary Wollstonecraft’s daughter smeared the name of a good doctor has a Franken been laid so low by a prominent feminist. 

It’s an old story, a type of tragedy. Ive seen a few tragedies in my day. In Oedipus Rex, for example, a man murders his father, has sex with his mother, sees her hang herself, and plucks out his eyes in despair. That’s a rough one. This time around the tragedy seems to be that Mr. Franken, who was a US Senator for nine years, isn’t as happy without that job. He misses his staff. They had fun together and got things done. Now, he’s just rich and famous and has family, friends, and sympathizers, but, like a lot of other 68-year-old Americans, does not have fulfilling work every day.

This seems like a personal problem. If it’s a political problem, Jane Mayer, an excellent reporter whose book Dark Money I am still intending to read, does not mention it in her article. There’s no mention of what political work is or isn’t getting done in his absence, and the name of Minnesota’s current junior senator, Tina Smith, never appears. Al Franken seems to bemoan many personal things, but if he mentioned to Mayer any particular causes that had been jumping out at him as needing his support, those quotes didn’t make it into the article. 

Instead, there’s a rehashing of the events that led up to his resignation, with a framing focused on how he felt. That framing doesn’t seem, at a glance, like a great thing, and I expect that in the coming days (or, probably, already today, but I’ve tuned out after breakfast) we’ll see some sharp critical analysis about the ways this story reflects common patterns of minimizing the experience of the people who get in the way of powerful men. But let’s accept, for a minute, that we’re dealing with the feelings of powerful people, because that’s an endless human fascination, and there’s a reason it’s Oedipus Rex not Oedipus Plebe

Does it seem like Mr. Franken is dealing with his feelings well? Okay, okay, so he was one of the very few people to ever be a US Senator, and now, like almost everybody, he isn’t. Some people don’t like him and some people do. He’s got a lot of money and knows a lot of well-connected people and is smart. Is there anything he can do with this?

Just off the top of my head, maybe he could ask around and find if there’s some way he could put the good part of his experience to use for a particular cause or for another generation of candidates. Maybe he could dust off his comedy chops and get back into writing with a new self-critical lens. Maybe he could actually get deep into confronting and understanding the things he actually did to make people uncomfortable, listen to people who were on the other side of his power, and use that intelligence and warmth that his supporters love to try and fix the culture that encouraged his behavior. Or maybe he can just stay retired and use his wealth and resources to focus on self-acceptance and being there for that family he cares about.

What doesn’t seem useful, to him or to anyone, is to fixate on his loss of power, wish he still had it, and rue everyone who didn’t care as much about his power as he did. I don’t begrudge Mr. Franken a redemption, though I agree with people who are critical of how much energy some people are asked to spend on other people’s redemptions when they’re not given the paths to redemptions themselves. I tend to think, like the Christians supposedly do but don’t really seem to in practice, that it’s never too late for someone to better themselves and seek to make a more positive impact on the world. But what Franken’s after - maybe not actively, but in his wishes - isn’t redemption but restoration. Not the chance to do good, but the chance to have what he used to. And I don’t think the powerful are ever entitled to restoration just because they feel like it. 

I guess it’s kind of sad what’s happening to Al Franken – not that he’s not a US Senator, but that he’s still obsessing over it – and I guess it’s kind of sad that nobody seems to be helping him, that even after a deep look into his feelings, people are still indulging his ambitions rather than giving him good advice. It’s not the saddest tragedy, of course, and it’s not a political tragedy, but sometimes it’s arbitrary what stories come across our paths, and today it seems to be a tragedy with Al Franken as the main character. I’m not invested enough to see the series out, to be honest, but it would be nice if it ended well, since there actually is a lot to be learned about how people can accept being in the world with less power than they feel entitled to and how they can grow from mistakes.

It’s also arbitrary that Al Franken’s name reminds everybody of Frankenstein, but we play the cards we’re dealt. I never actually read Frankenstein; or, A Modern Prometheus, but I did skim the Wikipedia entry, and apparently Dr. Victor Frankenstein, in his dying words, tells his almost-rescuer to “seek peace in tranquility and avoid ambition.” I dunno, maybe it’s good advice.


SIDE THOUGHTS

While it’s not really anybody’s problem but Al Franken’s that Al Franken isn’t in power, it is everybody’s problem that Hillary Clinton did not win the 2016 election because now we have to deal with Donald Trump (and the two Supreme Court picks he got through).

What if someone were to publish an article talking about how Hillary Clinton is upset that she isn’t president? How fierce would the backlash be?

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Are potatoes healthy? I have heard that they are extremely unhealthy and that they raise your blood sugar more than eating pure sugar, and I’ve also heard that they are the one food you can eat for your whole diet and still survive. I’ve heard that Irish workers used to eat fourteen pounds of potatoes a day and that when they came to America they were so used to having that volume of food in their stomach that all sorts of problems happened when they ate food that was more calorically and nutritionally dense. I’ve heard that potatoes are called taters, and that you can boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew. Of these things, the last sentence is the only one I know for sure. They’re pretty cheap and you can use ‘em to round out a meal.

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Franken means “of the Franks” (the Germanic people) and stein means “stone.” Etymology means “study of word origins” and entomology means “study of insects.” Entymology isn’t a word, and if you’re looking for a word that means “study of butterflies” lepidopterology is pretty close even though it includes only some subfamilies of butterflies (but all moths).

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Everyone says Frankenstein was the name of the doctor, not the monster, but wouldn’t the monster also be named Frankenstein? What other surname would it have? Also, if Dr. Victor Frankenstein was arrogant enough to create life, he was probably also among the doctors arrogant enough to get mad if people just called him just by his last name so, no, “Frankstein” wasn’t the doctor.

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Less well known is the “Dracula” was actually the name of the vampire’s doctor, Dr. Acula (old joke, I know). The vampire was just “Acula,” or “Acula’s Patient” in some retellings.

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