We’ve come a long way from the time when we wondered whether a divorced man could ever be elected president. Ronald Reagan took us over that hurdle. Bill Clinton survived many allegations of extramarital affairs and even being impeached for lying about sex.
Voters are forgiving about private behavior, but what do we make of the crude and explicit comments Donald Trump is heard making on a tape released by The Washington Post? Trump talks about grabbing and groping women, and trying to force himself on an unnamed married woman. It’s like trying to process a porn video in the middle of a presidential campaign (which, not so incidentally is something that Trump just suggested voters do).
As someone who came of age during the Mad Men era, I’ve witnessed a lot of bad behavior in how men talk about women that a generation later can be chalked up to locker-room banter, as Trump tried to do. But his boorish behavior and crude talk go way beyond that. And his nasty talk wasn’t from 1960, but 2005, when he was pushing 60 and about to get married for the third time.
Not all men of a certain age talk about women this way, and it’s not how many Americans want to hear a nominee for president running against the first female nominee talk in 2016. This is not private behavior to be forgiven when weighed against the whole of the man. This is the man.
It’s also an October surprise unlike anything we’ve seen before because it goes straight to character. This is someone who thinks he’s a big shot and can get away with anything he wants, that it’s his prerogative. What that says about what he would do as president to get what he wants is not compatible with democracy.
His campaign must be seething about the transparency of the society we now live in, where little can be kept hidden, and there’s always more to find out.
What burns me is how he thinks of himself as God’s greatest gift to women. On the tape, you can hear him tapping out what he says are tic-tacs to freshen his breath so he’s ready for whatever opportunity might present itself.
This is more than a snapshot from a bygone era, this goes to the very heart of who Donald Trump is, and how he regards women. The language is so graphic, and so disgustingly self-congratulatory.
“And when you’re a star, they let you do it. They let you do anything. Grab them by the p___y. They let you do anything,” he brags. Maybe so in the world he inhabited he was with then Access Hollywood host Billy Bush, and when this tape was made.
“I moved on her like a bitch,” he says of the unnamed married woman, whatever that means, but says he failed, telling Bush he even took the woman furniture shopping as part of his seduction plan. Maybe that passes for humility in the Trump playbook.
The back and forth with Billy Bush is all very jolly, but in the ten years since that tape, the world has changed a thousand times over in how women regard themselves, and how men are expected to regard women, with several women’s groups saying his language effectively endorsed sexual assault.
Bush’s fawning indulgence of Trump’s braggadocio could imperil his newfound gig as a member of the “Today” show family.
Trump is something more, and worse, than a throwback to the Mad Men era. His wealth and his entitlement add a grotesque quality to his post-pubescent ramblings of a sort that were already going out of style 40 years ago. They should disqualify him from the oval office, where a modicum of decorum and dignity and respect for others is what we think of as presidential, at least until proved otherwise.
His campaign released a sorry-not-sorry statement by Trump soon after the tape was posted, which read, in full:
“This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course—not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended.”
A few hours later, RNC chairman Reince Preibus put out his own, ever more curt statement about his party’s presidential nominee: “No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever.”
Trump had long threatened to bring up President Clinton’s past improprieties with women, a risky strategy even before this tape was released. We’ll see how he adjusts to this new reality in the campaign when it’s his sexual proclivities that are likely to be asked about at Sunday’s town hall debate.