It’s come to this: Our presidential campaign, the battle that ought to determine what the country wants for its future, is instead an episode of Jerry Springer, a grotesque contest of shamelessness wherein the man or woman best able to ruin his or her opponent’s reputation with allegations of criminal sexual misconduct, wins.
And let’s be clear, survivors of sexual abuse are not the real concern for either campaign.
Donald Trump, the person responsible for this race to the gutter, would have you believe that he cares very deeply for Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Kathleen Shelton, women who’ve accused Bill and Hillary Clinton of rape, sexual assault, or representing a rapist in court. He does his best to look concerned when discussing them, but he just ends up looking like Zoolander. He cares about them only insofar as they can increase his chances of winning over female voters (they can’t, but he doesn’t know that) by making Clinton out to be the enabler and gleeful co-conspirator of her husband, a criminal rapist.
And Clinton, despite her trendy call to believe all victims, has said nothing about Trump’s traveling circus of her husband’s accusers. To her, this is the latest installment of the Right Wing Conspiracy (co-starring some original cast members like David Bossie and the wife of George Conway) and her contempt for her opponents and anybody in the press who aids them blinds her to her own hypocrisy. What else could she do but keep quiet? If she admits that Broaddrick’s claim has never been disproven, she’s giving credibility to a quarter-century of less-believable claims and conspiracies. She’s not about to risk losing to Trump, a buffoon by any objective measure, just to keep her word to a community of mostly liberal anti-sexual-assault activists who’ve never wanted Bill Clinton prosecuted anyway. And it’s not like there’s anything she could do that would satisfy her right-wing detractors.
If all it takes to make a rapist is an allegation—not a conviction—which is the dangerous standard Trump has set by using the words of Broaddrick, Willey, and Jones to tar Bill Clinton, then he’s a rapist, too. He’s been accused of rape or sexual assault by his ex-wife Ivana (though she later recanted), Jill Harth, Jessica Leeds, Rachel Crooks, and People magazine’s Natasha Stoynoff. He’s on tape copping to his behavior, bragging that he can “grab” women “by the pussy,” because, “when you’re a star, they let you do it.”
So rarely are both candidates revealed to be bullshitting on the same issue at the same time. Trump is using alleged victims of varying degrees of credibility as a political weapon. In doing so, he’s making a mockery of sexual assault—which, at least, is better than committing sexual assaults, which again, by his own standards of guilt, both he and Bill have done.
Earlier this week, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, shared a Clinton tweet from 2015 that said, “every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed and supported.” Conway quipped, “RT if you agree “Every” the operative word here.” She didn’t seem to know at the time that, a few days later, her campaign would be denying the credibility of its own accusers. After The New York Times published the accounts of Leeds and Crooks on Wednesday evening, the campaign released a statement: “This entire article is fiction,” it read.
Then the Trump campaign accused the Times of doing something they’ve been doing themselves: “To reach back decades in an attempt to smear Mr. Trump trivializes sexual assault, and it sets a new low for where the media is willing to go in its efforts to determine this election.”
But this isn’t about sexual assault or rape or whether it’s OK to represent a rapist as a lawyer. This is about our politics reaching a level so low that you wonder if we can ever recover. Clinton recently told The New York Times Magazine she’s the last thing standing between us and the apocalypse, but a look around suggests the apocalypse is already here.
There’s been a lot of talk about normalizing during this election. Trump has normalized racism, sexism, ism ism ism. But it doesn’t feel normal that, with 25 days until Election Day, the big debate is not about the economy or health-care or the environment or even some stupid social wedge issue, but about which candidate is more of a personal, physical danger to women.
It’s the National Enquirer-ization of American politics, brought to you by the creator of Trump Steaks. Meanwhile, survivors of sexual assault are left to wonder how they became ammo in the grossest political brawl in modern American history.