Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” and co-author with Peter Eisner of “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Asked about E. Jean Carroll’s allegation that he raped her, the president of the United State replied, “Number one, she’s not my type.” Donald Trump quickly added the charge that Carroll is lying, but that argument was, in his words, “Number two.”
Let it sink in.
The President wants us to believe he didn’t rape Carroll because she is not his type.
This means, of course, that there actually is a type that he finds, what – worthy of sexual assault? This is, after all, the same man who was caught on tape bragging about how he was free to grab women by the genitals because “when you are a star … you can do anything.” Are we supposed to ignore the horrible truth his off-the-cuff remark about Carroll implies? How about the fact that he deployed the same tactic against other women alleging abuse, saying his accusers were not attractive enough to merit his aggression?
The bizarre quality of Trump’s reaction to Carroll’s complaint, and to those lodged by many other women who have said he assaulted them, is matched only by the public response to his depraved ways. Nobody seemed to notice that Trump denied raping Carroll with a comment that objectified her. And no one seems to be capable of responding effectively to his depravity. The President talks about sexual assault as if it is the same as consensual sex and not about violence, and much of America goes on about its business.
Four years into our national confrontation with Donald Trump the politician, he can be defined mainly by his aberrance. Spewing insults, courting dictators, and daring Congress to impeach him, Trump has proven to be a grand master of deviance, deploying clever moves to checkmate those who would act against him, and using a combination of audacity and manipulation to avoid responsibility.
“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” said Trump in 2016. “It’s, like, incredible.”
It is, like, incredible, but it is not something new. Throughout his life Trump has abused norms, exploited others, and acted shamelessly, and gotten away with it. The only time he was held truly accountable may have been when his exasperated father sent him away to military school.
At military school, Trump did miss out on the cosseted lifestyle he had enjoyed in the Trump family mansion. He came back a more disciplined version of himself. In short order he displaced his older brother as heir apparent, received a string of questionable medical deferments from military service, and embarked on a career of myth-making and exaggeration. Along the way he developed the techniques that would establish him as a grand master of deviance.
Shamelessness was an early Trump hallmark, expressed as he promoted himself as a man about town and a mogul even before he built his first project. In the 1980s, he hectored Forbes magazine over his rank on its list of the 400 richest people in America even though he was losing about $100 million per year.
In the 1990s, executives at Trump’s casinos warned him about the fallout from a much-publicized sex scandal. Trump told them the headlines were a boon because the men he wanted as customers would admire his sexual conquests. The tabloid headlines were painful for Trump’s family, but he believed that all publicity was good publicity, and so he helped concoct the most lurid headline of them all – “Best Sex I Ever Had” – and put it in his paramour Marla Maples’ mouth.
Marla Maples was, like many, dependent on Trump and, perhaps, a little afraid of him. By the time they met he had grown from the little boy whose father’s money and power could solve most any problem into a stupendously famous man who performed these duties for himself.
In addition to intimidation and dependence, Trump used legally binding nondisclosure agreements to make sure that those who knew his secrets didn’t talk.
If money, fear, and NDAs didn’t work, Trump could also rely on the fact that human beings generally hate to be exposed to criticism and shame. How many close Trump associates would have felt comfortable revealing the truth about him when they were part of the myth-making machinery? I know of only one. John O’Donnell, who did so prior to attorney Michael Cohen’s testimony before Congress. O’Donnell published a book that revealed Trump as profane, bigoted, and impulsive, but it didn’t make a serious dent in his popularity.
Today anyone could find evidence of Trump’s recklessness in his, according to PolitiFact, six big bankruptcies, but the facts of these failures never slowed Trump a bit. Confronted with his bankruptcies, he reacted with pride, not shame. He said, “I have used the laws of this country – just like the greatest people that you read about every day in business have used the laws of this country, the chapter laws, to do a great job for my company, for myself, for my employees, for my family, et cetera.”
Lost in the haze of Trump’s deception about his bankruptcies were the people who lost their jobs, their pensions, and their investments to his failures. These people are real, but Trump supporters don’t seem to care. Even after news outlets described the bankruptcies and a decade of losses totaling $1.1 billion, according to the New York Times, the majority of people responding to pollsters said they thought the President had been a successful businessman.
According to the Washington Post, Trump is approaching the 11,000 mark in its accounting of all his lies, distortions and misrepresentations. As CNN’s Chris Cillizza recently put it, he offers the world an untruth more often each day than most people wash their hands.
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Faced with this volume of outrageousness, with the sheer depravity of so much deception, people feel overwhelmed and, I suspect, start to tune it all out. Which brings us to the point where a woman like E. Jean Carroll, a respected writer and former television host, can accuse the President of rape and the awful reality of what she says fades almost instantaneously.
Coming after nineteen other women have reported that Trump allegedly sexually assaulted them in a period ranging from the late 1970s to 2016, Carroll’s allegation is awful, but as Trump deflects with his horrible “not my type” remark, it already seems like old news. We are no longer shocked to learn of another charge or witness another of his shameless deflections. Worst of all, we’re learning that many of us don’t seem to care.