You really can’t talk about powerful men and sexual harassment without, sooner or later, getting around to Donald Trump.
I got there later rather than sooner this morning during an interview with South Dakota Congresswoman Kristi Noem. It was one of those TV-driven reporter clusters following a meeting on much-less-disturbing issues at the U.S. Forest Service office south of Rapid City.
We talked pine beetles and timber industry and forest management, federal tax reform and Noem's planned trip later in the day to Hot Springs for a discussion on VA health care issues and a new call center in the works down there.
Important stuff. But nothing's more important these days than the mind-numbing succession of accounts from women who say they have been sexually harassed and assaulted by well-known men. (Oh, Charlie Rose, say it ain't so...)
All of which, Noem said, was horrifying.
“It’s been horrifying for me to hear those stories,” she said. “So I think this is a very serious time in our history, where we need to change our culture.”
Part of that change should involve meaningful consequences for sexual harassment and assault, Noem said.
So how about Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota? He has been accused of groping and forcibly kissing one woman in 2006 and groping another woman in 2010. Enough for him to resign?
“I think it could be,” Noem said. “I think everything needs to be treated the same. There shouldn’t be people who get a pass on certain situations. I think it’s very serious, what he’s done in the past. And Senate leadership and Sen. Franken really need to evaluate things and see if he can still contribute to the process.”
That's the thing. Franken contributes, especially for those on the left side of things. Yet now it's some on the left who push hardest for him to resign.
And how about former Alabama state Judge Roy Moore and the multiple allegations against him by women who said they were in their teens — one of them only 14 — when the then-30-something Moore came on to them, and worse.
“I feel like if those allegations are true, and I have no reason to doubt them, that he should step aside,” Noem said. “This is serious business and we shouldn’t tolerate it.”
Serious enough to take the discussion right into the White House, and the string of 2016 allegations against Donald Trump? To say nothing of Trump's own words in the past, which seemed to affirm his own penchant for forcible kissing and sexual groping?
That’s more complicated for Noem, a fourth-term U.S. House Republican trying to work with the Republican president on tax reform, reduced federal regulations, Obamacare repeal and other issues. She contends there are some differences in the cases beyond politics, however.
“Well, there was allegations made, but it was also heavily vetted in the last campaign. And I don’t believe that there was any action that was discussed at that time,” she said. “So I think if some of the same allegations came forward they’d have to be evaluated at that time.”
That's not much of an answer, is it? But she’s in a tough spot. I understand that. Like most Republicans who want to continue working with the president, she doesn't want to blow up the team. Nor does she want to get targeted by his napalm-loaded Twitter bomber, or by the most inspired -- in a way that can be intimidating -- parts of his base.
She has a governor's race coming up, after all. And Trump won about two-thirds of South Dakota's votes in the presidential election -- which was after the Access Hollywood video blew up and the abuse allegations rolled in.
So I sympathize with Noem and the spot she's in. Still, this is serious business. She and I agree on that. And things have to change. So sometime Noem and other Republicans might have to say more in regards to the president on this issue. They might have to demand more. They might have to do more.
The same goes for Democrats when one of their power players gets called out for repulsive behavior.
Meanwhile, Noem said she has never been a victim or sexual harassment or assault. Nor has she witnessed it.
“But I’ve got two daughters, and they’re going into the world force,” she said. “And I don’t want them ever to have to face some kind of sexual harassment that I’ve heard so many stories of in the news lately.”
It’s a disturbing time, all right, with new names and new allegations entering the news cycle in stunning succession, prompting utterances of "Ah-ha, I knew it!" or "Oh, no, seriously?" in front of TV sets, computer screens, radio dials and newspapers across the nation. As difficult as it is now, however, Noem says it could be a turning point in the way women are perceived and treated. And that will matter to her daughters and granddaughters, and all of ours, too, of course.
“It's going to take strong leadership to do it,” she said. “I think for too many years people have looked the other way. And there have not been consequences for this kind of actions. So this is going to take bold leadership to say we’re not going to put up with this anymore.”
Imposing real consequences on men who abuse and harass will help create “a new path forward,” she said. She is encouraging congressional leaders to be bold in that regard, and hopes state leaders will be just as bold.
It’s the kind of thing you’d like the president to lead boldy on, too. But that's complicated for this particular president, as it would have been for one in particular president in the past.
It might involve acknowleding misconduct and even issuing an apology, something this president once said he’d never had reason to do.