Politix Update: Trump’s Predations Are Redefining The Presidential Race. How About Society?
We owe Donald Trump an enormous debt. Seriously. Beyond him assuring a Hillary Clinton presidency when another Republican might have beaten her, his own repellent grab-and-brag behavior has forced a long overdue national discussion on the objectification and sexual debasement of women.
It is not that women do not talk about such things. Of course they do, and sometimes they talk about such things with men. But usually they grit their teeth, suppress their anger, go numb and then flee in horror when they’re hit on and groped like The Donald does. This is because societal views have changed slowly — and norms hardly at all — since the days when Bill Clinton was accused of preying on women but his presidency survived and Clarence Thomas’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice was slowed although never really jeopardized by Anita Hill’s testimony about his sexual harassment of her.
But fast forward 25 years and Trump’s videotaped assertion that his star power gives him the right to force himself upon women is dominating public discourse, as well as the closing weeks of the president campaign, and has snuffed out what little chance he had of winning, let alone making the race close.
Hillary Clinton, walking a fine line between the shadow of her husband’s sordid past and her feminist present, asserts in stump speeches that every sexual assault victim has “the right to be believed.”
Which takes Trump into uncharted territory even for a hypocrite of his high station when he claims that the increasing number of women who have come forward in the wake of the Access Hollywood hot-mic video to say he sexual assaulted them are not to be believed and are “horrible,” “sick,” “phony” and unattractive, but the women he displayed like carnival freaks before the second debate who say Bill Clinton assaulted them are credible.
Trump’s misogynistic cluelessness, to which we can add his recent body shaming of Clinton, is amplified by the surrogates who have rushed to mansplain him in a flurry of excuse-making that would be comical if the subject wasn’t so serious.
They are middle-aged or older men like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Congressman Newt Gingrich, both career adulterers, who brush off Trump’s lewd remarks and imply that women should just put up with sexist “talk.”
The reliably vile Senator Jeff Sessions declares that grabbing a woman by the genitals as Trump repeatedly has done is not sexual assault. Ben Carson says the women Trump has assaulted “are willing to come out and say something, so we’ll give you fame.” Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson says he couldn’t have groped a woman on a flight because first-class seats have fixed armrests, while tone-deaf actor Scott Baio was especially helpful on Fox News in declaring that “Ladies out there, this is what guys talk about when you’re not around. So if you’re offender by it, grow up. Okay?”
And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Donald Trump Jr., the eldest son of the Republican obergropenführer, dismisses sexual harassment as a byproduct of the workplace.
“[I]f you can’t handle some of the basic stuff that’s become a problem in the workforce today, then you don’t belong in the workforce,” he says. “Like, you should go maybe teach kindergarten.”
Trump’s history of repellent behavior is redefining the presidential race and is the public discourse flavor of the moment, but will it have a major impact on society? Although Hill’s testimony in 1991 did fundamentally change the way we look at sexual harassment and paved the way for Trump’s accusers to come forward, my answer is “no.”
This is because while Trump may have destroyed whatever shred of moral standing that Christian conservatives like running mate Mike Pence and hack preacher Jerry Falwell Jr. had in standing by him, society as a whole remains determinedly man driven and deeply chauvinistic. After all, a very big reason that Hillary Clinton is so disliked is not Benghazi, private email servers, Wall Street speeches and family foundations. It’s good old sexism.
(I add parenthetically that if Bill Clinton was running for president today with his history, he wouldn’t be electable even if he is a pro-choice progressive.)
Some pundits have suggested that Michelle Obama, that tremendously popular pillar of integrity, can begin to repair the damage Trump has done through the powerful cry-from-the-heart speeches she is giving on Clinton’s behalf, and Clinton herself cannot give because of her own baggage.
I wish it were only that simple, but the election has not become a referendum on sexual harassment. And while Trump’s predations have helped assured his crushing defeat, the military continues to promote officers who rape, universities look the other way when their athletes assault women, judges often give lenient sentences to offenders, getting patted on your ass by your boss is routine, many men still believe women lie about sexual assault or “asked for it,” and the workplace is only a marginally more comfortable environment judging from the high number of sexual harassment complaints. In other words, men continue to get away with it despite demands for greater accountability.
The hard truth is that a quarter century after Bubba and Anita, we really haven’t come very far at all.
© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF BLACK CHRISTIAN NEWS NETWORK