During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has lied so frequently and so blatantly it is frankly odd he would issue some sort of mea culpa when it came to the newly-released recording known colloquially as the Trump Tapes. By now, pretty much anyone following national news on a regular basis is at least vaguely familiar with the details of this much-talked-about conversation between the Republican Party nominee (boy, aren’t they glad they’ve stuck with him up to now!) and Billy Bush, who made such a fine impression on us recently when defending Ryan Lochte despite obvious evidence he had fabricated the story of his robbing at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro. Back in 2005, when Donald Trump was set to make a cameo appearance on soap opera Days of Our Lives, in a recorded conversation with Bush, then-host of Access Hollywood, he made various references to kissing and groping women as part of his sexual advances, whether they had given explicit consent or not and even whether or not they were married. His language, as one might imagine, was not suitable for all audiences, with Trump even going as far as to say that, because he’s a star, he could “grab [women] by the pussy.” According to the real estate mogul, a man of his stature can “do anything” he wants in this regard.
Certainly, there are any number of things wrong with this contention of Trump’s, not the least of which is his collective comments smack of entitlement and a misguided belief in his sheer magnetism. What is perhaps most galling now, though, is that more than 10 years after the fact, Donald Trump is quick to dismiss his banter as “locker room talk.” Boys will be boys. What’s said in the sauna room at the country club stays in the sauna room at the country club. Unsurprisingly, very few beyond the purview of Trump supporters and apologists are having any of this justification. One group which has slammed Donald Trump’s sexist nonsense is professional athletes, who are not always known for their tact in relationships with women.
Yet numerous athletes have rejected this characterization of the GOP nominee’s about locker rooms, with some suggesting that while they can’t speak for all situations, and while players do talk about women, they don’t do so in such degrading, ugly terms, especially those with wives and daughters and other close relationships with females in their lives. The devil’s advocate argument is that maybe these athletes aren’t telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help them God. Then again, it is theoretically equally likely that Donald Trump, whose own athleticism appears relegated to playing shitty golf, knows very little about what is said in locker rooms circa 2016. Of course, this wouldn’t necessarily stop Trump from making faulty attributions about them, mind you, but it is worth noting for those of us who understand his, shall we say, complicated relationship with the truth.
This whole debate—if you can even refer to it as such owing to the dearth of logical arguments herein—is mediated by what one side in particular refers to as a “culture war.” In one corner, we have those who favor a growing recognition for the need for equality for groups which have been marginalized over centuries by a white patriarchal society, and with that, increased sensitivity to the effect images, sounds and words have on members of the disenfranchised, especially those of a homophobic, racist, sexist, transphobic, or xenophobic nature. In the other corner, we have those individuals who aver we are becoming too sensitive and too politically correct, and that those same disenfranchised people should “grow up” or “get a pair” or not get “so butt-hurt” about these matters.
In defense of the “lighten up” crowd, as one might call them, there are times, I believe, when cultural sensitivity and political correctness can be taken to absurd extremes. A notorious example from recent memory can be found in Starbucks’ decision to issue plain red cups for its hot beverages around the “holiday” season last year, devoid of any symbols which may be construed as Christmas-related and thereby promoting Christianity above all other faiths. The coffee company’s apprehensiveness about offending some of its customers, while understandable, was offensive to a number of its clientele, particularly the crowd that’s tired of taking “the Christ out of Christmas” and otherwise kowtowing to the beliefs of other religions, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa be damned. Others, more apathetic to the spiritual nature of this argument, were likely annoyed people were making such a big deal about a bunch of stupid paper cups. I myself sympathized with the commentary of poet and novelist Jay Parini, who decried Starbucks’ choice in an opinion piece for CNN.
As Parini contends, first of all, Christmas has become largely secular anyhow, with commemoration of the birth of Christ in the manger (some dispute December 25th is the true date of the Nativity, but this is another issue altogether) giving way to crass consumerism and the pursuit of the perfect present. More importantly, however, the author suggests that by removing more innocuous icons that have nothing to do with Christmas, such as reindeer and tree ornaments, we are sacrificing mythical applications of these images and stripping the aesthetic of any real sentiment. He writes:
I write this as a Christian who feels no need to thrust my own faith upon anyone else. Political correctness has its place — we don’t want to impose our beliefs (and especially our prejudices) on anyone else. People need to have and feel good about their own stories.But this attempt to peel away even the secular side of Christmas — to strip all texture and mythic potential from contemporary life — seems beyond absurd, perhaps even dangerous, as it points in the direction of total blankness, a life lived without depth, without meaning.
Discussions of this nature concerning excessive political correctness are arguably characteristic of outliers, not the norm, however. In many more cases, circumstances that cause self-appointed social critics to rail against the trappings of too much PC “nonsense” are either protesting instances in which just enough or too little attentiveness to mutual respect of one another manifests. It is the latter condition, in particular, which potentially may be deeply disturbing, and which pretty much exclusively colors Donald Trump’s campaign. Even within this distinction of being too politically incorrect, it should be pointed out, there are degrees of just how, well, reprehensible the GOP candidate is.
At his best—er, least worst—Trump favors discrimination and prejudice under, if nothing else, the pretense of keeping America safe. You can’t separate Donald Trump from his professed policy and rhetoric against Mexicans and Muslims, though those prospective voters who support the man are apt to share an anxiety and fear about these “outsiders.” So, while the man of a thousand failed investments may tap into the paranoia and rage of a portion of the electorate which is predominantly white and not as liable to have graduated from college, he certainly didn’t invent these emotion-laden responses to domestic and international population trends. Thus, when Trump speaks of political correctness holding America back in terms of our ability to furnish law enforcement with information from cellphones and other technological devices, verify the legal status of residents, and vet refugees, even the most rational among us may allow our sensibilities to be affected by discourse of this kind.
Even when Donald Trump’s deviations from standard operating procedure for politicians possess some vague justifiability and/or connection to theoretical policy, they lack merit on the humanity dimension. Accordingly, when there is no apparent immediate connection to an executive decision to be rendered, and Trump is behaving like an ass to be an ass, his actions and words tend to feel that much more terrible. Recall Trump’s childish and insensitive imitation of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, invoking his disability (arthrogryposis, a joint condition), following a dispute over whether or not there were thousands of Muslim-Americans cheering on the streets of Jersey City on 9/11 (guess which side Trump was on). Or his way-off-base comments criticizing military veterans, such as when he suggested John McCain was somehow less of a man for being held captive, or going after Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Pakistani-born parents of fallen U.S. soldier Humayun Khan, a man awarded multiple posthumous honors for his service. There was no need to make comments of these sort—unless Trump’s implicit intent was to rile up the “deplorables” among his supporters, and in that case, we should rightly be disgusted. In addition, we might note with some irony how the GOP candidate talks tough about belittling the sacrifices of others, dismantling ISIS and knowing more than the generals on the ground despite never having served himself. But that’s our Donald. Bully and misdirect like no one’s business.
Coming back at last to the notion of Donald Trump excusing his degrading remarks about women as locker-room fodder, it’s on some level sad that we’re talking about awful things he said before he even seriously considered running for President when there are so many important issues on the table this election. Such is the state of the 2016 race, however, when Democrats and other anti-Trump forces must spend umpteen hours trying to delegitimize a candidate who was never legitimate in the first place. Amid the controversy over what Trump was heard saying on the recording, Trump apologists are quick to point out that the man said these things over 10 years ago, and so should be granted some clemency with respect to being excoriated for it now. Because this donnybrook has nothing to do with actual policy ideas, and instead is one of a myriad number of dialogs about presidential character and fitness for the office, a small part of me is sympathetic to this defense.
I stress that it is a small part, though. After all, Donald Trump has been quick to drag the marriage of Hillary and Bill Clinton into the spotlight, invoking events that transpired even before his ill-advised trip to the gutter-mouth convention in 2005. In this regard, his pseudo-private conversations and own personal romantic life are fair game. I mean, when you start slinging mud around indiscriminately, you shouldn’t really act offended or shocked when some of it gets on your high-priced suit. Meanwhile, I and scores of others also submit that there is no statute of limitations on being a sexist douchebag. Trump, in his quasi-apology, has vowed to be a better man after the breaking of this latest scandal. If comments as recent as last year about Carly Fiorina’s appearance are any indication, however, the Republican Party nominee hasn’t learned anything since his chat with Billy Bush—and moreover won’t, because he can’t.
Snippets of Donald Trump’s past, then, are useful to the extent they illuminate present attitudes of men toward women and vice-versa, and how these attitudes may be constructed in the future. In today’s terms, as is alluded to by even those professional athletes critical of Trump’s stance on lewd remarks about females, whether private or not, one can’t truly know what happens in all locker rooms across the United States, be they used by grown men or still-developing boys. And certainly, I am not advocating for assigning culpability based on what people think, lest we get into the realm of science-fiction, or something like that. Still, let me qualify Trump’s remarks simply by returning to the idea that he is a seemingly shitty golfer, and judging by his current physical stature, he doesn’t really fit the mold of the athlete. To put this another way, Barack Obama, he is not. Besides, it wasn’t like Donald Trump and Billy Bush were in an actual locker room at the time of the recording. Per my understanding, it is an audio recording that is responsible for boasts about kissing women and even more graphic non-consensual situations with the opposite sex, so I’m not sure exactly where the fateful one-on-one took place, but even if Trump were under the impression what he was saying was “off the record,” in a public place, you can’t really rely on the vague notion of confidentiality. To this day, it amazes me how many high-profile figures get caught in “hot mic” situations. Even when you’re not “on,” you should have the mentality that you’re being recorded. Shit, you never know when the NSA might be listening!
Even if 2016’s male-populated locker rooms are, in fact, largely above reproach on the respecting women dimension (though knowing myself and having lived through my teenage years, I can attest that they are most certainly not above reproach on the cleanliness dimension), going forward, to have someone like Donald Trump in a position of relatively high standing saying such terrible things about females that since have been made very public—and to excuse them with little more than a wave of his hand—makes me concerned about how this lends itself to perpetuation, or, worse yet, proliferation of rape culture among impressionable young men. Already, educators are reporting a “Trump effect” on playgrounds and in schools among children who are harassing African-Americans, Hispanic/Latino(a) and Muslim cohorts, as well other targets of Trump’s ridicule. Undoubtedly, small children are probably as confused by why the GOP nominee advocates grabbing women by their “kitty cats” as they are by why, say, they are told by their classmates to “go back to China” when they are from South Korea or Vietnam.
But what about “bigger kids,” especially those teens and young adults who are affluent, white and, well, apt to feeling rather entitled to talk and behave in a way that fails to hold them accountable for their bad behavior? In past posts, I’ve referenced the Brock Turner rape case (dude’s already out of jail, BTW), as well as the ridiculous “affluenza” defense levied by Ethan Couch, his family, and his legal defense team after Ethan hit and killed multiple people while driving drunk (he’s only 19, mind you, and was only 16 when he committed the fatal act) and then violating probation by fleeing to Mexico (the latest: dude’s appeals to have his sentence reduced and the judge presiding over his case thrown out have failed, but he’s still only serving 720 days for killing four human beings). These are extreme cases and ones that garnered a wealth of publicity, granted, but this also sort of goes to my point: what about those less-publicized instances where “locker room talk” leads to extra-locker-room action, and not necessarily of the sort where the woman encourages such action?
Women’s rights groups, rights activists groups, and other concerned citizens speak of a “rape culture” that manifests in this country, one that is disturbingly prevalent at colleges and universities, even extending to treatment of purported female victims at the hands of police. I’m sure you’ve heard the kinds of excuse responses that mark this pattern of behavior and thought. She realized what she did and now she’s crying “rape.” I thought it was consensual. She was asking for it—the way she was dressed. She was drunk and can’t remember. She’s a slut, she’s a bitch, she’s a whore.
In response to allegations of race or sexual assault, some men (and women, in some cases, too) will get not just defensive, but downright nasty toward their accusers, and what’s more, those charged with hearing and responding to student claims at various colleges and universities may be slow or unwilling to acquiesce, requiring the victim to proverbially jump through any number of administrative/legal hoops to move forward with the case. A few months ago, Brigham Young University caught a lot of flak from members of its female student body and later national media for encouraging female students who believed they were victims of sexual assault to come forward and file a report, yet punishing those same students for violations of BYU’s Honor Code, which prohibits consumption of alcohol, drug use and consensual sex—on or off the campus. As numerous critics inside and outside the university believe, and so it would appear, BYU is concerned more with the school’s image than the safety of its students. Don’t be afraid to speak up—but shh! Not so loud!
If Donald Trump is inaccurate about the state of locker room banter in this day and age, and thus we can’t directly attribute rape and sexual assaults to what is discussed in this setting, then we’re already worse off in light of Trump spreading falsehoods or making incorrect assumptions about the character of today’s “jocks.” If he is, in fact, authentically portraying the mindset and speech of not just athletic men, but individuals of the male persuasion more generally, however, then we may have a different problem on our hands, for what is said behind closed doors may not necessarily stay that way. Either way, the statistics would dictate the incidence of sexual crimes against both women and men is very much a problem. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. When considering sexual abuse of minors, the stats are yet more alarming, with approximately one in four girls and one in six boys abused before the age of 18.
Meanwhile, in the context of college, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted during the course of their study. Worst of all? Many cases of abuse and assault go unreported by victims too distraught or too intimidated to confront their abuser/assailant; according to the NSVRC, over 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault, and in general, 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police, and as much as 88% of instances of child abuse fail to be brought to the attention of authorities. Just “locker room talk?” “Boys will be boys?” I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough. Not with so many victims out in our world, and more unfortunately guaranteed to come with each passing year.
By invoking the concept of locker-room talk, if Donald Trump were truly cognizant of the danger so many people face as a result of rationalizing guilt away, especially women and children, he would use his unfortunate comments as a teachable moment rather than an excuse. As mentioned before, though, this is Donald J. Trump we’re talking about here. How can he teach when he refuses to learn or, at that, engage in a modicum of self-reflection? If how he spoke to Billy Bush in that recording is how guys supposedly talk and think, maybe we should be guiding them with a firmer hand on a path to a mindset that reinforces equal treatment of women. If you supposedly respect women as much as you say you do, Mr. Trump, you would call for greater accountability for yourself and others in political correctness toward people of all genders, rather than delivering some pithy excuse and continuing along the campaign trail as if nothing happened. Not only do you not seem genuinely interested in anyone but yourself, however, Mr. Trump, but you apparently are not all that invested in the female vote. Yeah, um, good luck with that next month.
In case I haven’t made it abundantly clear by now, I find Donald Trump’s comments singularly abhorrent, but whether it’s self-identifying members of the alt-right, or other males who evidently are on board with indiscriminate groping of women and blurred lines between forced and consensual sex, with these types running off at the mouth from behind their computer screens, it is incumbent upon the men who likewise are appalled by Trump’s foul-mouthed, entitled yapping to speak up on behalf of the women in their life and speak out against this type of thinking. This whole controversy is not a women’s issue. It’s a human issue, and until more people grasp that fact as well as the overall importance of this discussion, we’re that much further away from genuine gender equality.