In newly unearthed audio from 2005, Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for president, brags about forcing himself on women, kissing them without permission, grabbing them “by the pussy,” and getting away with it because of his power and fame. Since then, several women have come forward with allegations that match Trump’s boasts perfectly. The scandal has fractured the Republican Party as never before and seems to have all but done in Trump’s chances of winning the presidency.
Trump’s surrogates are following a precise interview formula in response to the charges: first, equate Trump’s sexual predation with Bill Clinton’s and declare it a wash; then, after getting in that political cheap shot, insist that the media move onto covering issues. For once, they have a point – though not about Clinton. Even if the worst claims about Hillary Clinton attacking her husband’s accusers is true, her behavior doesn’t hold a candle to things Trump has not only been accused of, but openly bragged about.
What is fair is trying to turn the media’s attention to serious issues. Of course, this tactic coming from the Trump camp is ridiculous. Trump has never been an issues-oriented candidate, relying on showmanship and the perception that he’s rich to win voters. If the election were on issues he would still lose, and probably by a lot worse than he is now.
Of course, having a committed sexual predator running for president is an issue. Character does count. Here, Democrats must own up to a bit of hypocrisy. Many liberals felt Clinton’s presidency was good enough to overlook his indiscretions, the most high-profile of which was a consensual affair. That revelation also came after he’d already been elected to a second term – voting for a person with full knowledge of their predatory behavior is a different matter.
And these Trump revelations are nothing new. Much of the ongoing scandal is being spurred by old appearances on Howard Stern, who has millions of listeners and whose Trump interviews have long been proliferated on YouTube. Bloggers have been compiling and reposting misogynistic Trump clips from Stern’s show since he announced his candidacy. Trump is his own worst defender – a big argument he’s given against the current crop of allegations is that the accusers aren’t hot enough to assault.
But it’s only now that Trump’s mouth is getting him in trouble of any real consequence. This is the biggest scandal of all. His remarks about sexual aggression are disqualifying, but they’re not the only ones. He announced his candidacy by disparaging Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists (pot, kettle). He has advocated war crimes, including killing the families of terrorists and torturing even if it doesn’t work. He thinks it would be good if Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia obtained nuclear weapons.
When Trump’s surrogates implore the media to stick to issues and drop this salacious sex story, they surely don’t mean to shift the conversation to Trump’s thoughts on leaving the UN and opting out of the Geneva Conventions, or to ask for specifics on how women who have abortions should be punished. They mean to talk about Hillary Clinton’s emails and declare everything a disaster without offering any realistic or humane solutions.
They’re not wrong, though, that issues-oriented coverage is what’s needed, and that mainstream media is pitiful about providing it. If Trump’s surrogates got their wish and the media focused on issues, climate change would feature prominently in coverage and at presidential debates – and Trump, who thinks it’s a hoax, would see his margin of defeat would grow even wider. Same with foreign policy, the one issue on which many Republicans could run to the left of Clinton. Trump’s remarks about torture, nuclear weapons and murdering civilians would bury his campaign.
The Trump tapes are also an important reflection on a very big issue, which is violence against women and a culture of rape. Trump is perfectly emblematic of an institutionalized tendency to be lenient on men accused of sex crimes, as well as the ubiquity of such behavior in the military, in business, on police forces, and in society generally. Needless to say, if this were treated as a serious political issue and not a salacious sex story, Trump would lose big-league on it, too.
It’s hard not to feel relieved that something finally stuck to Teflon Don. But it’s also sad that Americans didn’t know better long ago, that the media doesn’t hold Trump accountable for his terroristic foreign policy, and that supporters are only bothered when Trump attacks people they can relate to. All the signs that this man is a dangerous, demagogic, incompetent, predatory, self-interested con artist have been visible since the very beginning.