On Friday (or rather, Saturday around here) two scandals broke. One was the much-signposted release by Wikileaks of 2000 hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta. Some of these emails appear to contain excerpts from a series of Hillary Clinton’s paid, private speeches. Wikileaks had been saying for some time that they had documents which could upend the US election… and although they didn’t initially point the finger in either direction, anyone who knows much about Wikileaks could safely assume that they weren’t going to release Trump’s tax returns. The other scandal was an avalanche of smut which pretty much buried the leaked emails in the media. Dear Wikileaks, no one cares about you when they have tape of a presidential candidate using the sentence “Grab ’em by the pussy!”
From across the other side of the Pacific Ocean, I think I can hear every intelligent person in America release a deep sigh as they put their heads in their hands. Just when this election didn’t look like it could get any worse, or any more farcical. This was supposed to be a democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people. Where did things go so wrong? Even I miss Reagan by now. At least the worst thing he ever said into a live mic was a joke about World War III… which I guess, upon reflection, is much much worse but also quite obviously a joke.
Like so many of the scandals surrounding this election, each of these stories seemed to inspire a completely undue amount of screaming and gnashing of teeth. So Donald Trump thinks that being famous means he can get away with groping women… well color me surprised! Did we actually just learn anything about him that we didn’t already know? So Hillary Clinton is a centrist who supports the global market and who things Wall Street should have a say in its own future… blink. Blink. Really if anyone is shocked by either of these two “scandals” they clearly haven’t been paying attention to, well, anything over the past 25 years or so.
This is the part that I understand the least about the frothing madness of the US news media. It’s as if they are massively underestimating the intellect and awareness of the American public. How are either of these stories even classed as scandals in the first place? Neither shows the candidate behaving out of character. Neither actually displays a massive break between their public and private personas. Is there really not one single mature, well-studied journalist left in America, who might point out that neither of these stories are truly game-changers and wouldn’t we be doing better to be focusing on policy at this stage?
Unfortunately, the scandal game seems to be the only thing that either candidate is left playing. Clinton is well-versed in the rules by now – her husband was facing endless salacious headlines way back in 1992 – so she knows how to work a news cycle and which headlines will lead. I don’t think it was an accident that the Wikileaks emails and Access Hollywood tapes broke on the same day. Trump is still foundering a bit. He actually seemed to think it was a good idea to stage a press conference with thee women who once accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault, and one who was a rape victim at the age of 12 and who recently learned that it was Hillary Clinton who acted as the public defender for her rapist. Bill Clinton’s history has been very well picked over by now – there is no more scandal to break there. Hillary Clinton’s mob can quite easily refute the claims that she laughed about the rape of a 12 year old (if you want to decide for yourself, the audio tape is here). Either way, it was a move that would play well to his base (who are never going to vote for her anyway) but would look tawdry and exploitative to everyone else.
Clinton is an ex-lawyer and a master at parsing, yet this week has made it Trump’s turn to run the same play. He wants to argue that what he said was bad, but what Hillary Clinton did to women was worse. He wants to argue that there is a big difference between words and actions (and there is), and that his words are just “locker room talk”. Quite a few men have leaped to his defense (which probably says more about them than they’d ordinarily want to reveal). UKIP leader, Nigel Farange, has even stated that this is just how alpha males talk…
Now, I have to reveal a bias here. Like many, many women, I’ve been subjected to casual sexual assault more than a few times. I’ve also been raped (although not by a “grab ’em by the pussy” kind of guy, he was a lot cleverer and more manipulative than that). I’ve found the lesser assault incidents to always be scary, but not necessarily life-altering. Rape was a very different animal, but at least part of the same family – the wolverine among the weasels. Definitely life-altering and very difficult to discuss, even now. I know this subject fairly well, but even I’m not really offended by what Donald Trump had to say on that bus. He’d have to be more consequential to be truly offensive. Instead, he just sounded pathetic. Not scary – just sad.
I’ve also worked in environments which are very male-dominated. I’ve met guys who say things like Trump said – we probably all have. I’ve worked in female-dominated environments too (including having a job where I got to talk to lots of drunk women about their sex lives). But if Donald Trump believes that all men talk like this, then I frankly think that he’s deeply mistaken (I’m quite happy for other men to chip in on this one). Some men talk like this. Some women talk like this too. Most other people just laugh off the comments, which in turn tends to reinforce to the sleazy person that their comments are a) acceptable, and b) funny enough to get them the attention and status they’re craving. See, in this respect, I’d say that Nigel Farage is wrong. Alpha males don’t talk like this. Beta males talk like this. Alpha males already know that they are sexually attractive, and they don’t need to boast about it or try to randomly grope unsuspecting people in order to get their jollies. I think, at his heart, Donald Trump knows this, and that’s why he feels the need to try and constantly reference his sexual trophies. He’s competing in a contest that he knows he’ll never win. Yes, he is wealthy enough that he can gain the sexual benefits of certain people, but that does not make him generally attractive or charismatic to most people.
On the other hand, it’s well known that Bill Clinton had a few too many willing partners (and I’m sure that was a source of great humiliation and pain to his wife, who is, after all, a human being). There have also been three women who have accused him of sexual assault or rape. For the record, three women have also accused Trump of sexual assault or rape (one of whom was only 13 years old at the time). None of these cases has ever been subject to a criminal trial, but that’s no reason to believe that the allegations aren’t credible. Juanita Broaddrick’s accusation against Clinton is particularly troubling, as several of her friends could testify that she told them about the assault not long after it happened (even though she kept it out of the public discourse for over 20 years). The latest accusation against Trump is equally troubling, and not just because the girl was 13 years old. It came within the context of his friendship with a (now convicted) pedophile and the woman seems to have a witness to the assault who is willing to testify on her behalf. Both cases appear equally despicable, and it leaves the American public in the terrible bind of damning either both or neither.