T.I. ruffled more than a few feathers last week when he debuted his latest music video.
The Atlanta rapper has been perfectly clear in his stance on the current presidential administration and he’s certainly no stranger to controversy, so it wasn’t much of a shock when Tip decided to share a 1-minute promo video for his recent album, Dime Trap. The following days provided an interesting study in political theater.
T.I. tweeted last Friday: “Dear 45, I ain’t Kanye,” before sharing the controversial clip. The video opens with real footage of the president boarding Air Force One en route to Mar-a-Lago without the first lady, then cuts to T.I. in the Oval Office, where a Melania Trump look-alike proceeds to strip for the rapper, peeling off a green coat emblazoned with “I really don’t care, do U?” on the back—a direct reference to the infamous jacket the first lady wore during a trip to visit detainees at the U.S.-Mexico border back in June—and proceeding to perform a nude dance for T.I. on the desk.
The clip sparked an immediate reaction, both across social media and from Melania Trump’s camp. Melania’s spokesperson Stephanie Grisham called for an outright boycott of T.I., criticizing the video on Twitter. “How is this acceptable? #disgusting #boycottT.I,” she tweeted in response to Entertainment Weekly’s posting of the clip.
“Like it or not, she is the first lady and this is the White House,” Grisham later said in a statement to CNN. “It’s disrespectful and disgusting to portray her this way simply because of politics. These kinds of vulgar attacks only further the divisiveness and bias in our country—it needs to stop.”
T.I.’s objectifying of Melania Trump is cheap and juvenile, to be sure. Much like the more homophobic memes that began making the rounds after Kanye West’s awkward Trump hug during his Oval Office meeting, it confirms that there are still many on the left willing to use tired, oppressive tropes to poke fun at this particular president with no regard for how undermining those tactics can be. You cannot rail against an agent of misogyny and homophobia by relying on attacks inextricably informed by those bigotries.
However, there is clear hypocrisy on display here. As the usual suspects rage about the misogyny and tackiness of T.I.’s clip, many also sit in concert with a man who has risen through the political ranks by trading in the same boorishness. Prior to Trump’s bid for the White House, his entire pop-culture persona typified the kind of sleazy-rich-guy objectification and chauvinism that some like to pretend only exists in rap videos.
In 2000, during an appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Trump ranked famous women he wanted to sleep with. In a 2003 Stern appearance, he complimented his daughter Ivanka for having the “best body.” He routinely attacked Rosie O’Donnell for her looks, telling Entertainment Tonight in 2006, “We’re all a little chubby but Rosie’s just worse than most of us. But it’s not the chubbiness—Rosie is a very unattractive person, both inside and out.” (He made a similar claim about Arianna Huffington, pointing to this as the reason “her former husband left her for a man.”)
Trump shared a tweet in 2015 that said Hillary Clinton couldn’t “satisfy” her husband. And, perhaps most notoriously, there was the “grab ’em by the pussy” video that surfaced in 2016 during which Trump was recorded talking about actress and model Arianne Zucker to former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush.
“I better use some Tic Tacs in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women]—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” Trump bragged. “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
On the subject of sexual assault, Trump has been accused of various degrees of sexual misconduct by as many as 19 women—and was once accused of rape by his ex-wife, Ivanka. Of the accusers, the president has repeatedly claimed that they are too ugly to sexually harass.
And those who have reveled in Trump’s rise have been affirmed and emboldened by his loutish cultural takeover. He sits in the White House on a platform erected in contempt for movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, and he’s wielded that contempt like a flaming political blade.
Before losing his senatorial seat in 2017 to Democrat Doug Jones, Roy Moore was endorsed by President Trump in the wake of Moore having been accused by at least six women of initiating sexual advances when he was in his 30s and they were in their teens. After a period of public silence on the Alabama senate race, Trump threw his support behind Moore last December. “Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama,” Trump tweeted. “Putting Pelosi/Schumer Liberal Puppet [Doug] Jones into office in Alabama would hurt our great Republican Agenda.”
The high-profile Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings further affirmed where this president stands on women and those alleged to have exploited and abused them. Kavanaugh was accused of sexually assaulting Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in 1982. Judge Kavanaugh, President Trump’s second nominee to the Supreme Court, was confirmed in September, and after his confirmation, Trump apologized.
“Those who step forward to serve our country deserve a fair and dignified evaluation, not a campaign of political and personal destruction based on lies and deception,” Trump said. “What happened to the Kavanaugh family violates every notion of fairness, decency and due process.”
The president also tweeted praise of Kavanaugh prior to his confirmation: “Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him.”
So the kind of boorish cheap shot that T.I. hurled at Melania should be par for the course for these guys. Maybe it’s easier to accept a rapper’s misogyny when he’s fawning—as Kanye West was when he framed Hillary Clinton’s “I’m With Her” campaign as inherently anti-male while Trump grinned in amusement.
T.I.’s “I ain’t Kanye” jab followed the “King of the South” blasting West on Instagram following Ye’s bizarre Trump meeting, indicating that Kanye had asked him to come along.
“Now I recall you asking me to come with you to have this meeting and I declined (naturally),” Tip wrote on IG. “But bro… if ain’time I would’ve been in there wit you and you behaved that spinelessly in my presence, I feel that I’d be compelled to slap de’Fuq outta you bro For the People!!! You ass kissing and boot licking on a whole new level &I refuse to associate myself with something so vile, weak & inconsiderate to the effect this has on the greater good of ALL OUR PEOPLE!!!!”
T.I. has made it clear where he stands on Trump. He defended Snoop Dogg after Trump criticized The Doggfather’s “Lavender” video—in which Snoop points a toy gun at a clownish Trump doppelganger named “Ronald Klump,” who wants to deport dogs. After Snoop pulls the trigger, a “Bang” sign pops out.
Model Melanie Marden starred as the stand-in “Melania,” and Marden posted on Instagram that she stands behind the decision to appear in the T.I. clip. She also shared that she’s received death threats.
“I wanted to be brave, be fearless and for the first time in my life do a role that required nudity,” she wrote. “... It was a hard decision for me but I’m proud of myself for being so brave.”
“I send love to all the people who called me names and made accusations or delivered hurtful insults. These are clearly deep wounds inside of you. That have nothing to do with me. For that I am sad and wish you much healing.”
“To all the political people threatening me, I remind you this is a music video,” she concluded. “Relax!”
It is imperative that everyone who considers themselves in opposition to Trump remember why the president, and what he represents to a base of bitter bigots, can’t be allowed to roam unchecked and unchallenged. We are not here to brandish racism, misogyny, homophobia or transphobia for the sake of easy laughs. But that doesn’t mean anyone should take the selective moralizing of his handlers at all seriously. They didn’t create this culture, but they have most certainly enabled and galvanized it. There’s no way they can be shocked when it’s thrown back in their sneering faces.