I find myself perplexed and angry over the reaction to the latest presidential campaign news. Not at Donald Trump, or at least not more than I was before—he had bragged about his mistresses on the Howard Stern show, and been accused of pretty much exactly what he bragged about on that bus. I can’t say I was surprised. Nothing I have read about him led me to believe he understands anything about consent, or is in the slightest worried about whether women agree to his advances or not. So mostly I am perplexed that people are reacting in shock and dismay to information that was out there already, if not in such an obvious and boiled-down form. And I do know that rhetoric works like that, but still. If you supported Donald Trump yesterday, even reluctantly, how could this be the final straw?
And I’m angry about the denial that the kinds of attacks Donald Trump was bragging about are common, and certainly used to be incredibly common. In fact, getting away with grabbing a woman’s ass was one of the understood perks of business success. Fame and money meant, until very recently, that you could grope women with impunity, and we should really admit that about our culture—perhaps rape would get a person in trouble, but slapping a waitress’ ass or tearing a secretary’s stockings would not. And we all know that, right? We have seen movies and read books written in the middle of the twentieth century, right? Or even later—the most popular movie when Your Humble Blogger was in sixth grade was Porky’s, a movie whose understanding of consent is not significantly different from Donald Trump’s. That example is just dredged up out of my memory; I’m sure there are plenty of others. Benny Hill made a fairly frequent joke of attractive woman getting semi-accidentally stripped and then chased around; this was assault. Our culture is sick with it; if I grew up with it, so did we all.
I don’t mean to suggest that I have ever heard anyone flat-out bragging about assaulting women and getting away with it, but then, I don’t travel in such exalted circles. And then also, I’m notoriously liberal, and if a fellow were looking to score status off me, bragging about being such a big star that he could get away with assaulting women would not have the effect he was looking for. But I absolutely believe that men still brag about what they can get away with because of their fame and power and money, and that sexual assault is just one of those possible topics. (I’ll add here that Mr. Trump bragging that owning the Miss Universe pageant entitled him to bust into dressing rooms and see the contestants naked is a trope; there are too many whoops-through-the-dressing-room scenes in mid-twentieth-century movies to enumerate.) Maybe, perhaps, there’s a chance we could take this very strange cultural moment and point out that it isn’t just Donald Trump, and it isn’t just one instance.
The Hartford Courant’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton begins: The problem with this election isn’t that Donald Trump is racist. The problem is that we are. This seems to me exactly correct. Were we not living in a racist and misogynist culture, Donald Trump would not have been a celebrity, much less a major-party candidate for the Presidency. And without taking away his agency or his personal responsibility for what he says and does, in truth he is a symptom of our culture, not a cause. It’s important to remember that, because it’s important to remember that defeating him in November is a necessary but not even close to a sufficient condition for dealing with the poisonous water we are all swimming in.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,