Roger Ailes resigned from Fox News in a scud of sexual harassment allegations. Michael Oreskes — same problem — left his job last month as head of NPR’s news division. Harvey Weinstein was fired from the film production company he co-founded and ousted from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Just yesterday, U.S. Senator Al Franken issued an apology for groping and kissing a journalist without her consent.
Kevin Spacey, following a stream of sexual assault allegations by more than a dozen people, including victims who were underage at the time, is literally being erased from an upcoming film. And closer to home, Bill Cosby’s photograph no longer hangs in Central High School’s Hall of Fame.
It’s taken far too long, but the entertainment and media worlds are finally waking up: Men in power can’t grab, grope, kiss, demean, threaten or proposition women (or, as in Spacey’s case, young men) and expect to keep their jobs.
So why is the pussy-grabber-in-chief still at his desk, appointing arch-conservative appellate judges and making nice with Vladimir Putin and selling off what’s left of America’s wilderness?
It’s been a long year. We’ve endured such wretched news, wave after chilling wave of it, that it’s hard even to recall life before November 2016, or to tease one strand of Trumpian horror from the tangle.
But in case you’ve forgotten some of the president’s choice words about women, here’s a brief recap:
- In April 2015, he tweeted, “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?”
- That August, after a battering from Fox News’ Megyn Kelly during the first GOP debate (“You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs’ and ‘disgusting animals’ …”), Trump fired back in a CNN interview: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her — wherever.”
- In a September 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, back when Carly Fiorina was still a contender for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump took aim at her appearance: “Look at that face!” he said. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”
- And then, of course, the indelible Access Hollywood tape: “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Remember when we thought that tape was the campaign-killer, the line no man could cross and still enter the Oval Office? Even Republican Rep. Paul Ryan voiced a kind of prudish horror: “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified. I hope Mr. Trump … works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests.”
(Just an aside, Speaker Ryan: Not so interested in a Good Housekeeping sash of approval; how about some radical equity instead — you know, equal pay for equal work, the right to control our reproductive lives, and an end to the “heybabygimmesomeofthat” when we walk past construction zones?)
Trump, naturally, defended those remarks — and his toxic litany of misogynist declarations over the years — as “just talk.” Which would be bad enough. Except he didn’t stop with words.
The Washington Post, in October 2016, recapped accusations from 11 women (yes, by name) who described encounters with Trump in which he kissed them, grabbed their breasts or buttocks, slipped his tongue into their mouths or his hand up their skirts.
In a tweet, Trump called the allegations “100% fabricated and made-up charges, pushed strongly by the media and the Clinton Campaign” and warned that they “may poison the minds of the American Voter.”
I guess the poison wasn’t long-acting. Because three weeks after that article appeared, Donald Trump was elected president. Fifty-two percent of white female voters preferred him to Hillary Clinton.
If Trump were the head of a movie studio, or perhaps a public radio station, his career would be smoke. They’d be scrubbing him out of the videos and yanking the smirky photographs right off the walls.
Instead, he remains perched in a seat of unrivaled power over women’s lives. While our heads have been swiveling, trying to keep up with snaky connections between the Trump team and Russia, or railing at Congress about a tax plan that’s a big wet kiss to the wealthy, Trump has systematically turned his misogyny into action that goes far beyond butt-grabbing.
He rescinded Obama-era guidelines aimed to stem sexual violence on college and university campuses. He reinstated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, which prevents recipients of U.S. foreign aid from providing abortion-related information, referrals or services — even if they use separate funding to do so.
And of Trump’s nominees for lifetime positions on appellate and district courts, 91 percent are white and 81 percent are male, including one judge whose blog posts have compared abortion to slavery — a blow to Democrats’ efforts to diversify the judicial branch and an assurance that conservative views will sway court decisions for decades to come.
We’ve grown accustomed to a president who bloviates and then, just as quickly, changes his tune: China’s bad, except when China’s good. The border wall is going up immediately … except when it’s not. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals —finished! — well, unless Congress writes new legislation to protect young immigrants.
But on the topic of women, Trump has been utterly consistent. Is that the reason he hasn’t suffered any real consequences for boasting of sexual assault — because we’re neither surprised nor betrayed, not in the same way we felt jarred when Bill “family values” Cosby or Harvey “I joined the Women’s March” Weinstein were revealed to be abusive, misogynist sleazebags? Is it that our expectations of Trump were so bargain-basement-low to start with that the candidate, now president, really had nowhere to fall?
What they have in common — Trump and Spacey and Oreskes and Roy Moore and the rest of the sorry list — is that they didn’t misread a situation or flirt a little too far. These men wielded power—their gender, age, size, fame, wealth or authority — to secure not only sexual gratification, but silence.
Except that the women (and men) they hurt are speaking out, and the perpetrators are losing their jobs. Well, all but one of them. Shouldn’t the standard of decency be a titch higher for the president of the United States?
You should care about Trump’s disparagement of women, if you’re a woman. Or if you’re a man partnered with a woman. Or if you have daughters. Or a mother. Which means — you got it — everybody. Because when someone in power treats one group of people as expendable objects, you know it’s not an exclusive designation. Black women understood that (only 4 percent of female black voters pulled the lever for Trump), but those white female Trump supporters must have believed their skin would save them, that this rich white man was somehow on their side.
He’s not. He never will be.
In an episode of “The West Wing,” a lancet-sharp women’s rights activist played by Mary-Louise Parker rails against “gag rules and old men who think women’s issues should be the subject of PTA meetings … I’m not fine with it … it’s really something, every two years we get to overthrow a government.”
Three hundred fifty-three days until the next revolution: Nov. 6, 2018. I’m counting.