December 16, 2017

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Editorial

Trump's taunts turn spotlight on himself

Alex Brandon / The Associated Press files</p><p>Democratic Sen. Al Franken</p>

Alex Brandon / The Associated Press files

Democratic Sen. Al Franken

Even for someone who proves almost daily that he delights in confrontation, prefers combative language and apparently believes there’s no connection between words and consequences, U.S. President Donald Trump has veered into decidedly dangerous conversational territory.

With his Twitter outburst on Thursday night in response to sexual harassment charges aimed at Democratic Sen. Al Franken, Mr. Trump achieved a momentary gloating victory, but immediately turned the intense media spotlight currently focused on the subject of sexual harassment and assault directly back on himself.

Mr. Franken, a senator from Minnesota whose life before politics was spent in television and comedy — most notably as a writer and occasional performer on Saturday Night Live — is the subject of sexual harassment claims by a woman who was part of a 2006 USO tour on which Mr. Franken, then a comedian, was the headliner.

The woman, sports broadcaster Leeann Tweeden, says Mr. Franken made unwelcome sexual advances during the rehearsal of a skit, forcibly kissing her after she had indicated she did not wish to be kissed. Also, a photograph taken during the tour’s flight home to the U.S. shows a smirking Mr. Franken gesturing as if he’s about to fondle the flak-jacketed breasts of a sleeping Ms. Tweeden.

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Even for someone who proves almost daily that he delights in confrontation, prefers combative language and apparently believes there’s no connection between words and consequences, U.S. President Donald Trump has veered into decidedly dangerous conversational territory.

With his Twitter outburst on Thursday night in response to sexual harassment charges aimed at Democratic Sen. Al Franken, Mr. Trump achieved a momentary gloating victory, but immediately turned the intense media spotlight currently focused on the subject of sexual harassment and assault directly back on himself.

Mr. Franken, a senator from Minnesota whose life before politics was spent in television and comedy — most notably as a writer and occasional performer on Saturday Night Live — is the subject of sexual harassment claims by a woman who was part of a 2006 USO tour on which Mr. Franken, then a comedian, was the headliner.

The woman, sports broadcaster Leeann Tweeden, says Mr. Franken made unwelcome sexual advances during the rehearsal of a skit, forcibly kissing her after she had indicated she did not wish to be kissed. Also, a photograph taken during the tour’s flight home to the U.S. shows a smirking Mr. Franken gesturing as if he’s about to fondle the flak-jacketed breasts of a sleeping Ms. Tweeden.

Mr. Franken has issued an apology and volunteered to take part in an ethics investigation of his behaviour.

On Thursday, the president issued another of his signature social-media fusillades, this time tweeting, "The Al Frankenstien (sic) picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?"

The jab undoubtedly played well with Mr. Trump’s supporters, who are surely tired with the outspoken Minnesotan’s frequent anti-Trump rants. But those inclined to be critical of the president’s frequently unpresidential behaviour were immediately reminded of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which Mr. Trump explained in graphic detail where he believes a "star" can put his hands on a woman’s body.

The tweeted effort to capitalize on an allegation that the Democrat had sexually harassed and/or assaulted a woman also reminded the president’s critics that there are no fewer than 16 women who have gone on the record with accusations that Mr. Trump sexually violated them.

That unseemly history is probably part of the reason — that, and pure partisan politics — that the president has to date been reluctant to offer any criticism or comments about embattled Alabama Republican Roy Moore, whose senatorial campaign has been imperilled by a wave of charges that he made inappropriate sexual advances on teenage girls — including one who was 14 years old — when he was a district attorney in the 1970s and ’80s.

Mr. Moore has dismissed the allegations in general terms, but has been vague when discussing specifics; last week, he told a Fox News host he did not "generally" date teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Despite the increasing number of women who have gone public with complaints about his past behaviour, Mr. Moore remains defiant in his determination to continue his run for the U.S. Senate.

It seemed clear during his silence that the president steered clear of the Moore campaign controversy because he realized — or his advisers warned him — that commenting in any way about it was fraught with personal peril. It seems equally clear that Mr. Trump was unable to exercise similar restraint when faced with such a glorious opportunity to tweet-taunt a Democrat foe.

And now, as a result, the spotlight has been turned back on Mr. Trump.

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