How to Get Away With Sex Assault in Trumpland

Step one: Call the accusations a liberal false flag. Step two: Denounce sexual misconduct as a Democrat problem. Step three: Tell women they are ‘very special.’

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Today, President Trump described women as “very special” and praised the cultural watershed around sexual misconduct. “I think it’s a very special time, a lot of things are coming out and I think that’s good for our society and I think it’s very, very good for women and I’m very happy,” he added. Trump, at this very moment, has a lawsuit pending against him in New York, which was filed by a woman who accused him of sexual misconduct last year. A woman whom Trump called a “liar.”

Trump then tap-danced around endorsing Roy Moore, who has been accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl.

I don’t know if I’d use the word “special” to describe this. Something strange has been happening in the last few weeks. I’m not talking about the unrelenting parade of post-Weinstein sexual harassment scandals droning on and on through the headlines like a fucked-up version of Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

I wouldn’t call it special, either, that people implicated in sexual misconduct run the ideological gamut. It’s not special that somebody like Harvey Weinstein and somebody like Roy Moore might both be capable of behaving in egregious ways. It’s stupid to pretend that monsters gravitate toward one ideology or another. The reason monsters are able to operate undetected for as long as they do is that they don’t all hang out in the same place. If they were all socialists or Alabamians or Mets fans, it’d be pretty easy to keep an eye out for them in their little deviant corners.

The #MeToo moment has shone light on the fact that predators and creeps are everywhere. The everywhere-ness of sexual harassment is key to combatting it. Sexual misconduct isn’t special at all, or even strange. It’s all over.

But if a person’s only news sources were in Trumpland, they’d have a pretty lopsided view of who is responsible for sexual misconduct. Bill Clinton, Harvey Weinstein (and others that could have “Hollywood” used as a modifier before their name), Al Franken. But where’s Roger Ailes? Bill O’Reilly? Donald J. Trump? Roy Moore? Why does a certain ilk like to go hard on the left but wilt or run from the same accusations against somebody on the right?

Some explain this phenomenon as tribalism; I’m starting to think it might be more insidious than that. It’s starting to read like a deliberate attempt by some on the right to rebrand sexual misconduct as a pervasive problem for the left and a fluke or false flag on the right. Not only is this gross, it’s dangerous.

President Trump threw himself into the fray last week by criticizing Al Franken, accused by (at the time) one woman of what Trump himself had been accused of doing by 15 women. Nor did Trump weigh in on the conduct of Roy Moore, whom at least 9 women allege pursued romantic relationships with them when they were teenagers. No matter. When asked to clarify, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders drew this curious distinction: Roy Moore and Donald Trump didn’t admit to wrongdoing; Franken did. Ergo, Franken actually did it; Moore and Trump didn’t.

Sean Hannity took a similar tack on his show last week, giving Al Franken a nickname (Senator Grope) without extending the same courtesy to alleged pederast Roy Moore (suggestions: Grabby Boy Moore, The Phantom of the Food Court, David Wooderson, etc). He even invited disgraced former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly on his show recently. O’Reilly has settled $30 million—a respectable NBA contract’s worth—in sexual harassment lawsuits.

The double standard made my head spin a little bit during the presidential campaign last year. Trump’s camp brought Clinton’s accusers to sit in the audience during a debate between Hillary and Trump, like that could somehow change reality. How would Bill Clinton’s history in any way both damn Hillary Clinton and vindicate Donald Trump? How can sexual abuse be both terrible and fine? How are women both telling the truth and lying?

Unfortunately, I watched Fox News’ Outnumbered on Tuesday. The women were, as always, seated on a semicircular sectional sofa, their bare legs exposed for in a typical Roger Ailesian “leg cam” shot, while One Lucky Guy emanated visible rays of aftershave in their center, his lower extremities blocked by a small table. One of the women was wearing pants today, which I know is exceptional because most women I know wear pants most of the time and only on Fox News would this be something I noticed.

The show opened with a discussion of the sexual harassment allegations against Michigan Democrat John Conyers, the secret settlements paid out to women who complained about sexual abuse on Capitol Hill, and the wider #MeToo movement. No woman should have to deal with this, one woman said, and they all nodded, on the set of a network nearly brought down by sexual harassment allegations within the last year. No woman should have to deal with this. The leg cam made a long vertical sweep.

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Plenty of conservatives want to root out sexual misconduct where it lives, whether that’s in their backyards or across the aisle. And plenty of liberals have tried to pull a Hannity, a bad-faith misrepresentation of this particular shade of moral fuckery being the exclusive purview of conservatives.

Sexual misconduct isn’t a liberal or conservative problem; it’s a man problem, a power problem. Anybody who tells you otherwise—Democrat, Republican, or none of the above—is trying to get away with something.