Trump's tape won't sway his base, but will it change our culture?

Trump's uncensored lewd comments about women from 2005
Trump's uncensored lewd comments about women from 2005

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Story highlights

  • Lemmon: Gayle Lemmon says the way powerful men abuse women is an open and not at all well-kept secret.
  • The only question now is whether the Trump tapes will help make it stop, she writes

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the New York Times best-seller, "Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield." The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)"I am shocked, shocked to find that there is gambling going on here."

Casablanca is the film of our time, filled with the threat of fascism, the perils of refugee life and the ideal of America, the promised land, at its center.
    But it is Capt. Renault who is the character of the Trump tapes story. Because the most recent revelations about the Republican candidate come at the end of a long line of stories that should have shocked us, but didn't: Mexicans as rapists. Hoosier judges as un-American. A war hero ridiculed. American Muslims as the enemy. Gold Star families as suspects. Exonerated men as guilty. PTSD survivors as weak.
    And then there is the question of women.
    For Trump's treatment of women has not even been a poorly kept secret; it has been an openly acknowledged fact. And for lots of folks now condemning it, it is indeed a world they know well -- expressions of shock and outrage to the contrary.
    Trump: Leaked footage nothing more than a distraction
    Trump: Leaked footage nothing more than a distraction

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    Trump: Leaked footage nothing more than a distraction 07:23
    And that is why this controversy is likely to make little difference. The tape of Trump talking to Billy Bush published this weekend may decouple some in the GOP elite from their presidential standard-bearer, but it is not likely to split Trump supporters from the candidate himself. Many already feel they know what they are getting.
    "This whole campaign been about his persona ... at a certain point you start to become immune to it," pollster Frank Luntz told the BBC. "You've heard it all already and you assume the worst ... People are voting for Donald Trump despite his reprehensible behavior."
    So even if there are more tapes, would they make a difference? When shock is extinguished and the gambling is out on the front porch, what else is left?
    Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
    For women, or at least for me personally, there's little surprise that "locker room" talk, as Trump termed the tape's contents, does little to incite widespread outrage. It's not as if Trump has the market on such conversation cornered. Or as if its existence has been widely unknown until his tapes spilled them out into the open.
    When I was just months out of college, I had one of my first gigs in network TV. Not long into the role, one of the senior executives in charge -- down from New York for a meeting -- stepped up to my desk and said something so lewd to me that I actually thought it a joke. The idea that he had meant what he said was so absurd that I found it equal parts shocking and preposterous at the same time -- after all, the guy was at least 60 (ancient to me at that time) and probably had daughters my age. He couldn't possibly be serious, could he? I laughed it off and told no one then.
    I write about that story now not because it is at all exceptional, but precisely because it isn't -- at all. It was just my first encounter with some who held power saying ridiculous things that reminded you who was in charge and how they saw you. Everyone I know, each woman I've worked with, has a story. Or a half-dozen stories.
    Trump: Leaked footage nothing more than a distraction
    Trump: Leaked footage nothing more than a distraction

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      Trump: Leaked footage nothing more than a distraction

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    Trump: Leaked footage nothing more than a distraction 07:23
    Friends who plan to leave holiday parties early because they know of senior leaders' penchant for grabbing for their backsides three cocktails in. Or who avoid certain colleagues at work events because getting groped by your boss isn't good for your career. Well-known executives quietly settling sexual harassment lawsuits. Powerful bosses keen to talk about how attractive their women workers are, but far less eager to promote them come review time. It's all an open and not at all well-kept secret.
    The only question now is whether the Trump tapes will help make it stop. Or at least curb the openness of the lowness of some in positions of power. Will the shove of the grab-assery culture into the spotlight make any difference? Will it make behavior that had been ignored or overlooked or avoided by all of us suddenly seem obscene and deviant -- and stoppable?
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    I don't know the answer to that. But I do know that it's all connected: how we see women; how we treat women; how we promote women; and whether or not we see them as people we respect or people we lunge for.
    It's hard to see how these revelations about Trump will change much of anything. And even harder to see how they will stop his base from voting for him.