The shocking and disturbing Trump video fits with a campaign that has appealed to the worst human tendencies, says Peggy Drexler
He's built a following of people who cheer his unwillingness to follow rules of political correctness and the permission he's given them to do the same., says Drexler
Editor’s Note: Peggy Drexler is the author of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family” and “Raising Boys Without Men.” She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Warning: This article contains offensive language.
On Friday, the Washington Post published a video from 2005 in which presidential candidate Donald Trump is heard talking to Access Hollywood then-host Billy Bush about how he would force himself on women and grab them between the legs; how he tried his best to sleep with a certain married woman who later showed up with “phony tits,” telling Bush, “I moved on her like a bitch.” Because “when you’re a star,” he said, “they let you do it.”
Trump has lately danced on the edge of total campaign disaster, bragging about not paying taxes and urging his Twitter followers, at 5 a.m., to check out a former Miss Universe’s sex tape. Will Friday’s revelation be the final blow?
It’s a new low, for sure, but it’s unlikely to be his end.
For those who support Trump because they think he’s a good businessman, because they’re Republicans no matter what, because they don’t like the sound of Hillary Clinton’s voice or think she’ll take away their guns, even this turn of events may not serve to dissuade.
Trump has made a campaign despite his propensity for being crass, arrogant, and entirely off the cuff, appealing along the way to the worst human tendencies, sexism and misogyny not least among them. He’s mocked a disabled reporter, called fat women “disgusting,” claimed a judge born in the U.S. couldn’t do his job because he was of Mexican heritage. He has bungled, and he has been rewarded. Just over one month until the general election, and he is here.
Many, in fact, likely even welcome his bluster. For all the ways that Trump is not like the average American citizen—his flashy real estate career, his (alleged) billions, his celebrity standing—his supporters also seem to enjoy the parts of him that they see as “real” and “honest.” Maybe even relatable.
He’s built a following of people who cheer his unwillingness to follow rules of political correctness and the permission he’s given them to do the same. Consider a sampling of the merchandise on display at the Republican National Convention, as reported by Peter Beinart in this month’s Atlantic: Pins that read, “Don’t be a pussy. Vote for Trump in 2016” and “Trump 2016: Finally someone with balls” as well as T-shirts with slogans like “Trump that bitch” and “Hillary sucks but not like Monica.”
And it’s all in good fun, right? After all, it was only last week that their candidate told KSNV in Las Vegas that “There’s nobody that has more respect for women than I do.” Pinky swear.
It’s not, of course. Although in an early response to the tape Trump dismissed the comments as “locker room banter,” exactly the sort of talk that helps minimize the severity of sexual assault and crimes against women, and perpetuate rape culture—not to mention diminish the role of women in society.
When women are objectified, as Trump put it on tape, as “tits” and “pussy,” they lose their humanity. It is no small thing, and it’s not in good fun. If Trump really did “grab women between the legs,” or kiss them without consent, as he claimed to have done, more than once, that is assault; an offense for which people are fired (see Roger Ailes) and vilified (Bill Cosby) if not jailed (yet).
Trump has specialized in verbal abuse for months if not years, and his remarks could just be boasting about things that never happened. But if true, this kind of behavior is criminal
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For the immediate future, though, what will likely worry Trump the most: At last, the GOP seems to be turning on him. RNC chairman Reince Preibus, who has stood by Trump through previous ill-advised comments, has already issued a statement condemning him, saying, “No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who has also remained in support of Trump, said in a written statement that “His comments are totally inappropriate and offensive.” Sen. Paul Ryan said Trump would no longer appear at an event scheduled for Saturday: “I am sickened by what I heard today.” Trump’s running mate, Gov. Mike Pence said he was offended by Trump’s words and the actions he described.
Meanwhile, late Friday night, Trump released a video statement apologizing, saying that “I’ve never said I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not.” He admitted he was wrong and pledged to be a “better man tomorrow.”
It was, perhaps, the most humbled we have seen Trump to date. And yet, he couldn’t help but make excuses. “Let’s be honest,” he said. “We’re living in the real world. This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we’re facing today.” And “Bill Clinton has actually abused women.”
Relevant? Barely. But, then, neither is Trump, and yet here we still are.