He’d of helped build up the country.” Yet another American tragedy

Near the end of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby there’s a particularly poignant moment when the title character’s father arrives for Gatsby’s funeral. The atmosphere is grim—a drizzly day on Long Island—and for all Gatsby’s wealth and fame, the attendance is sparse. As readers we are surprised he even has a father—Gatsby, the man who appears to have sprung full-blown from nowhere, and then disappears just as quickly.

Mr. Gatz (for that’s the name that transmuted into Gatsby) is intensely proud of his son, and even boasts of that almost obsessiveness that drove the young man, the Franklin-esque approach to self-improvement in every detail of his life. Gatz summarizes:

“He had a big future before him, you know. He was only a young man but he had a lot of brain power here.”

And then:

“If he’d of lived he’d of been a great man. A man like James J. Hill. He’d of helped build up the country.”

Henry C. Gatz was not wrong about his son, but he was unaware of Gatsby’s moral weakness—that one insurmountable flaw—that rendered all superficial opinions worthless.

And so it is today.

Gatsby and Al Franken share only their association with Minnesota, but most of us were wrong about Franken also.

Not that he could not have done great things, even “build up the country,” even (and his history shows it) have made America a better place for women. But none of that counts because, on his way to improving women’s situations, he made it worse for some of them. As progressive as he is, as much as his philosophy aligns with ours, he has to go.

Believe me, I see the gross unfairness—that while Franken is castigated by his own party, Donald Trump, whose serial abuse is the stuff of legend, sits smugly in the White House untouched by the same rules that bring down everyone else. I feel the outrage of Mitch McConnell calling for Franken’s resignation while supporting a Republican pedophile who will foul McConnell’s own senate.

None of this is fair to Al Franken, but it may just be right anyway. Not only today in the current atmosphere, but right.

None of this “unvictimizes” the victims, but doing nothing victimizes them further.

No reader comes away from The Great Gatsby without a feeling of inequity: the promising Gatsby is dead, as is the hapless Myrtle Wilson and her chivalric but misguided husband, while the dissolute and unprincipled Tom and Daisy Buchanan continue on to their next debacle, unconcerned about the ashes they’ve left in their wake. The reader wishes it would all even out, but it doesn’t.

It may not even out this time either, certainly not for Al Franken. Yes, history will look more kindly upon him than upon Trump and Moore; after all, Franken has admitted his abuse and apologized for it.

But as with Gatsby, whatever light the future shines on him, the present cannot save him.

 

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