On Tuesday night, President Donald Trump will deliver the keynote address at the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List’s Campaign for Life Gala. His adviser Kellyanne Conway will receive the organization’s Distinguished Leader award.
Giving pro-life awards to these two individuals recalls a familiar irony in American politics. The ends justify the means, even if the means had to grab a few pussies or pay off a few porn stars to get there.
The irony of Donald Trump’s receipt of this award is fairly obvious.
The Susan B. Anthony List is an organization that promotes a specific sort of morals. It describes itself as “a family of organizations, an arsenal designed not to hurt but to heal; not to shame but to shield.” Their gala celebrates “defending women from abortion.”
Donald Trump has not lived a moral or healing life. At latest count, he’s fathered five children with three different women. Shortly after his newest wife had given birth to his final child a little over a decade ago, Trump had an extremely horny year wherein he (allegedly) had affairs with at least two women (that we know of), one a Playboy model, the other, a pornographic-film actress. We know about these women because his lawyer organized hush-money payments to both in the leadup to the 2016 election. By his own account, Trump spent decades literally fucking his way through desperate New York climber society. Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen arranged a $1.6 million abortion for the mistress of a prominent Republican fundraiser. (Some have pointed out that there’s plenty of reason to believe that the so-called Broidy payment was actually cover for a pregnant Trump mistress’ abortion, since it was shared so many qualities with other payments Cohen made on behalf of Trump.)
President Trump has a checkered history with consent. Nineteen women have accused the president of unwanted sexual advances or other misconduct.
Further, the president doesn’t seem to know much about who Susan B. Anthony is. To cap off his awkward first Women’s History Month last year, President Donald Trump awkwardly asked attendees of a women’s empowerment forum if they’d ever heard of her. On one hand, this statement seemed structured like how his other jokes are structured: not clever or incisive as much as deeply weird statements with no setup or punchline. On the other hand, Donald Trump is a stupid man about a lot of things. It’s possible that he didn’t know much about Susan B. Anthony. (Perhaps we should ask Frederick Douglass, who many are saying is being recognized more and more.)
Susan B. Anthony List justifies their choice of Trump by pointing out that he’s governed in a more pro-life way than any other president in recent history. Trump’s Supreme Court appointee Justice Neil Gorsuch is defined, for them, as inherently anti-abortion. Trump has stacked the federal bench with anti-abortion judges. He’s imposed a global gag rule on public-health organizations, cutting off federal funds to those that mention the existence of abortion to pregnant women. Last week, he announced he will be imposing the same rule stateside. The Department of Health and Human Services is stacked with appointees who believe that birth control is black magic and abstinence-only education is the only way to keep teens unpregnant. All this from a man who might not understand the difference between HIV and HPV, and who two former paramours claim didn’t use a condom when they had sex. Impressive.
The irony of Kellyanne Conway’s receipt of her award is a bit more complicated. Unlike Trump’s, Conway’s pro-life bona fides are long-established. She’s never wavered from her personal anti-abortion stance, nor has she lived her life in a way that would lead one to think she was only pandering.
But Conway’s decision to stand behind Trump betrays a hypocrisy among the American right. It’s true that Trump is governing as a pro-life president. But he has not lived a pro-life, pro-family life. Conway, SBA List, and the evangelical wing of the GOP has decided that Trump’s moral bankruptcy is acceptable on a micro level, because, on a macro-level, he will enact policies they agree with.
If it sounds a little familiar, that’s because it is.
In 1998, Gloria Steinem defended Bill Clinton in a now-infamous op-ed in The New York Times. Feminists shouldn’t be criticized for sticking with Clinton, she argued, because he supported policies that benefited women as a whole.
“If the president had behaved with comparable insensitivity toward environmentalists, and at the same time remained their most crucial champion and bulwark against an anti-environmental Congress, would they be expected to desert him? I don’t think so,” she wrote. “If President Clinton were as vital to preserving freedom of speech as he is to preserving reproductive freedom, would journalists be condemned as ‘inconsistent’ for refusing to suggest he resign? Forget it.”
Last November, when the American left was again re-litigating how they processed Bill Clinton’s sexual history in light of the #MeToo moment, Steinem was savaged for that column, which the peanut gallery agreed didn’t age well.
At the time, Kellyanne Conway pounced on other “so-called” feminists who soft-pedaled condemnation of Bill Clinton. In an interview with Fox News, Conway called women like Steinem and Hillary Clinton hypocrites. In Conway’s view, Clinton’s acolytes, if they were truly pro-woman, should not have accepted Clinton’s conduct as collateral cost for feminist-leaning laws, for a feminist-leaning Supreme Court justice.
Others on the right have pointed out hypocrisy inherent in supporting the principles the Clintons stood for politically yet turning a blind eye to their personal conduct, which is fair.
But it’s also fair to point out that the same duplicity is at play now, when religious-aligned groups celebrate the accomplishments of Donald Trump but ignore the way that he’s lived his life. As Bill Clinton was an instrument to Gloria Steinem, so is Trump an instrument to the Susan B. Anthony List and to Kellyanne Conway and to white evangelicals and all the self-righteous Republican moralists in Congress. It’s the same mental gymnastics routine just with a different ideological leotard.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how Dave Chappelle talks about Bill Cosby. “[Cosby] rapes, but he saves. And he saves more than he rapes. But he probably does rape,” said Chappelle. This was during a standup special written and performed in 2017, after more than 50 women had accused Bill Cosby of rape.
I don’t want to applaud or boo Chappelle’s joke based on how much I agree with it. I’m bringing it up because it succinctly expresses something uncomfortable both ends of the American political spectrum have grappled with. He saves more than he rapes. But he probably does rape.
Congratulations to President Trump and Kellyanne Conway, champions of doing what everybody else has always done.