“This Was Locker Room Talk.” Yeah, Not Good Enough, Mr. Trump

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What was Donald Trump thinking about here? Was he sorry about those awful things he said about women over a decade ago? Was he contemplating how his campaign is in shambles and Republicans are running to get away from him? Or was he constipated, wondering when he would be able to shit again? You make the call. (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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.

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Tastes good, doesn’t it? I’ll bet it does, you fat f**k, you. (Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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.” 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.

On Ryan Lochte, Non-Apology Apologies, and Whitesplaining

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“No one knows what it’s like/To be the bad man/To be the sad man/Behind blue eyes.” (Image retrieved from variety.com).

By most counts and accounts, the United States of America had a fine Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. According to the official medal count, the U.S. was head and shoulders above the other competing countries, garnering 51 more medals (121) overall than China, the next-best country on the list (70), and 19 more golds than Great Britain/the United Kingdom, besting them 46 to 27. And while, perhaps, Usain Bolt’s capturing three more gold medals and cementing his legacy as one of the all-time greats, as well as the host country winning gold in its two biggest sports—soccer and volleyball—were most significant on the world stage, a number of American athletes made their mark on the record books. Gymnast Simone Biles won five medals at the Games—four of them gold—vaulting high into the air, and of course, into our hearts. Swimmer Michael Phelps continued to add to his trophy case. Fellow swimmer Katie Ledecky proved dominant in her races, at one point breaking her own world record. In all, the United States was a force with which to be reckoned in basketball, swimming and track and field, and the women’s soccer team’s early exit at the hands of Sweden marked the only real big upset of the Olympics on the American side, unless you count Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross failing to win gold, and that was only really surprising considering Jennings had never lost at any Summer Games.

Unfortunately, it was not all sand, smiles and sunshine in Rio for Team USA, and despite the country’s relative dominance in the 2016 Olympics, the achievements of the whole have been at least somewhat overshadowed by the actions of one or more bad apples. In particular, the drunken late-night-into-early-morning antics of Ryan Lochte and other members of the U.S. men’s swim team have gotten a fair bit of play on social media and traditional news for the seeming strangeness of it all. It all started innocently enough—if that’s the word one would use about a purported crime—as a tale of Lochte and Co. being pulled over by men posing as police officers, only to have these men point a gun at Ryan’s head and rob them. After all, the story made sense. Rio de Janeiro is no stranger to crime and violence, and within the course of these very Olympics, at least one other athlete was legitimately held up at gunpoint, while reports surfaced of gunfire narrowly missing reporters. The tale weaved by these soused swimmers, owing to what we know of Rio and Brazil, sounded, early on, plausible.

It was not long, though, before the Lochtean narrative began to unravel. Just a few days after Ryan Lochte gave his account of the night’s events and the armed hostility which allegedly ensued, Fernando Veloso, Rio de Janeiro police chief, categorically denied the American swimmer’s claim, and furthermore, said this of him and his story: “We saw our city stained by a fantastical version.” Lochte initially told authorities the taxi the members of the swim team were pulled over, and then a gun was cocked and put to his head. That, evidently, didn’t happen, however, at least not in that way. The taxi instead stopped at a gas station upon the swimmers’ request so they could use the bathroom, whereupon they treated the facilities with the utmost respect. Kidding! They acted like drunk assholes, tearing up the joint! It is only then that a security guard brandished a gun, and witnesses say they saw the Americans give the guard money before leaving.

In fact, right down to the times of events supplied by both sides’ accounts of what happened, key details differ. Simon Romero, in an article for The New York Times, and with the help of Larry Buchanan and Josh Keller, in an interactive point-by-point comparison of Lochte’s version vs. the Rio police’s, outlines how materially inconsistent the two narratives are from one another. The four swimmers—Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, Jimmy Feigen and Ryan Lochte—said they had left Club France, a creation of the Rio Games to honor its namesake, at four in the morning, all intoxicated-like. According to Fernando Veloso and video camera evidence, however, it wasn’t until 5:50 AM that the four members of Team USA stumbled out of the joint. As noted earlier, Lochte’s telling of what happened next at the gas station paints a different picture than what the police insist and what surveillance shows. No gun was cocked and pointed at Ryan’s head, and as he casually failed to initially mention, the swimmers tore up the bathroom and urinated around the premises, though Lochte was adamant on both points that his account was accurate. Perhaps most telling of all, Ryan Lochte said in an interview on The TODAY Show that he and the other athletes were the victims, and that any inconsistencies in his recounting of that night could be attributed to “traumatic mischaracterization.” Once more, however, the videotape tells a different story, and footage of their return to the Olympic Village shows the men laughing and joking around. Seemingly odd behavior from a bunch of victims.

While Simon Romero, in authoring his article, acknowledges the idea that a weapon does appear in both versions of the events in question and that the swimmers do end up giving money in response to this implied—if ultimately moot—threat, and while, furthermore, Chief Veloso admits that it is possible this was an attempt at extortion by the security guards, who were moonlighting at the gas station while also working as prison guards, that Ryan Lochte apparently made up details to make he and the rest of the swim crew present look better (I’m sorry, Ryan, but the idea you would say “whatever” to a gun cocked and held to your head strains credulity), and that he seems inauthentic in his contrition, makes his non-apology apology all the more disappointing. Lochte spoke to Matt Lauer—because when you want hard-hitting journalism, you naturally turn to Matt Lauer—in a one-on-one interview to clarify and apologize for his actions and earlier statements. And though he professed he had “let his team down” and that he was taking “full responsibility” for his actions, his euphemistic language betrayed the notion that he didn’t truly, well, get it—that he acted like an asshole, he lied about it, and he left the other swimmers to try to clean up his mess. A few choice comments from his responses:

“I left details out, which—that’s why I’m in this mess—is I left certain things out. And I over-exaggerated some parts of the story.”

“Over-exaggerated?” I don’t even know if such a word exists, but that’s not the point. Even if you lied by omission, you still lied. Don’t say you exaggerated to try to blunt the impact.

“You know, it was still hours after the incident happened. I was still intoxicated. I was still under that influence. And I’m not making—me being intoxicated—an excuse. I’m not doing that at all. I mean, it was my fault. And I shouldn’t have said that.”

Actually, that’s exactly what it sounds like, Ryan. I get it—alcohol impairs judgment. Still, no one, ahem, held a gun to your head and forced you to drink that much, and while we’re dissecting your words, you weren’t intoxicated—you were drunk. You and/or your mates were hammered enough to trash a gas station bathroom and piss all over the place. And though they are in their twenties, and that might afford them some clemency in chalking their hijinks up to youthful exuberance, 32 years of age, while still not that old compared to many, is more than enough years to warrant better judgment on your part.

“It’s how you want to—it’s how you want to make look like. Whether you call it a robbery, whether you call it extortion, or us paying just for the damages, like, we don’t know. All we know is that there was a gun pointed in our direction, and we were demanded to give money.”

This is where Ryan Lochte’s explanation begins to go off the rails, and where Lauer actually gets some points for pressing the Olympian on this issue. Robbery and extortion are two very different things, and as Matt Lauer highlights at one point, through someone translating so Lochte and Co. could understand, the Americans were made aware that they were paying money so that security didn’t call the police. In that respect, as Lauer insists, they were making a deal to avoid punishment, and weren’t “victims” being targeted, as calling it a “robbery” would suggest. In other words, they weren’t all that innocent.

“I was immature. And I made a stupid mistake. I’m human. I made a mistake. And I definitely learned from this. And I’m just really sorry.” 

You’re human—well, aren’t we all? Isn’t it a premature to say you’ve learned from this, that this chapter of your life is over? You haven’t had remotely enough time pass to demonstrate through your actions that you’ve truly learned anything. And you say you’re sorry, but I tend to believe you’re mostly sorry you got caught.

“It could [cost me a lot of money]. And that’s something that I’m going to have to live with. That’s something that I’m going to have to deal with. But I know what I did was wrong. And I know I learned my lesson. And all I can do now is better myself and making sure that this kind of stuff never happens again.”

You mean, it should. See, this is why I think Ryan Lochte is truly sorry: because this incident could cost him endorsement deals (in fact, it since already has), and perhaps worse yet, could cost him a place on the U.S. swim team. If Lochte were truly repentant for his actions, he wouldn’t care about what this means for his sponsorships or his quest for more medals, but would place the greatest priority on restoring the public’s faith in him and Team USA, because he deserves to be admonished. I’m not sure that I would want Lochte’s “shenanigans” to permanently damage his image; no one was apparently hurt or killed, and besides, who doesn’t love a good redemption story?

All the same, you’re concerned about your legacy as a role model to little kids? For whose sake? Yours or the kids’? How about you start by admitting you lied, and to refrain from lying going forward? How’s that for a start?


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“Not only is my argument better, Billy, but I wear plaid better too!” (Image retrieved from dailymail.co.uk.)

What must have been particularly galling to Brazilians—and viewers from other countries, including the United States— in watching the events of “Lochte-gate” unfold was the feeling that a spoiled white athlete had acted like an idiot and chose to cheaply try to further pile onto an “exotic” (used by white people when they can’t tell where you’re from) city and country feeling the effects of economic distress, political turmoil, poor infrastructure and violent crime. Worse yet, that members of the media were already looking to exonerate Ryan Lochte, or at least mitigate his level of culpability and responsibility, smacked of a certain degree of privilege. This tendency toward revisionism was brought to the forefront beautifully in a dialog between—you guessed it—two more NBC personalities. A rather salty Al Roker came out in a discussion on The TODAY Show about Lochte by stating the reality of the situation more baldly than an Olympic swimmer’s shorn body. As he put it, speaking to Billy Bush, “He lied. He lied to you, he lied to Matt Lauer, he lied to his mom. He left his teammates hanging while he skedaddled. There was no robbery, there was no pull-over. He lied.” When Bush tried to argue that Ryan Lochte lied about certain details, or that he embellished within his account, Roker quickly interceded, having none of Billy’s sugar-coating Lochte being a liar-liar-pants-on-fire. Or as freelance writer Alexander Hardy put it, “And now, back to Al Roker vs. White Nonsense.”

Though perhaps not an especially egregious example of it, Ryan Lochte’s—and by extension, Billy Bush’s—euphemisms for his drunkenness and lying, as well as his seeking to quickly move on from the controversy, are what some would refer to as “whitesplaining.” As Dictionary.com defines the larger “-splain” neologistic family, it refers to “a combining form extracted from mansplain, and meaning “to explain or comment on something in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner, from the perspective of the group one identifies with.” Thus, if we are whitesplaining Lochte’s antics, we would say he embellished, or over-exaggerated, or otherwise made a mistake. And, plus, he tearfully apologized. White people love when you do that.

I say Lochte-gate is perhaps not an especially egregious example of the phenomenon, because, again, besides a bathroom and the reputations of the swimmers involved getting superficially damaged, no one seems to have gotten physically hurt. It is therefore less serious as with the case of former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, whose six-month jail month for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman was justified by the judge’s assertion it would “severely impact” his life—as if getting raped doesn’t impact one’s life. Or as in the now-infamous case of Ethan Couch, who killed four people while drinking and driving—while speeding and with a restricted license, no less—and then tried to claim “affluenza” (the inability to understand the consequences of one’s actions because of financial privilege) as a defense. And then there are the “whitesplanations,” if you will, that try to defend or justify more systemic forms of discrimination, as in the support of police officers in more obvious cases of brutality (“they shouldn’t have been resisting”) or the rejection of affirmative action and similar practices on principle (“I don’t want an inferior choice forced on me”). As the persistence of the Donald Trump presidential campaign beyond rational belief illustrates, white people can splain away pretty much anything if you let them.

Rich white people may seek to deflect accusations of rape or murder on the count of their privilege—or, in the case of Trump and his supporters, will assume it of other groups—but it’s their pretense of superiority while trying to hide their wrongdoing that really gets one’s proverbial goat. Not that it exculpates him, of course, but Donald Trump seems to have made this maneuver into an art form. He states some wildly inaccurate theory or lies outright, which is clearly wrong and/or easily debunked, he doubles down on his assertion, and he begins to treat you as if you’re the asshole for bringing up the whole issue he had previously considered closed. In a similar vein, but arguably not nearly as well, Hillary Clinton has stubbornly tried to move past any culpability in her use of one or more private E-mail servers to access classified material while serving as Secretary of State, putting our national interests at risk. She has claimed to have sent over all relevant E-mails in the ongoing inquiry into her use of a private E-mail account. But that’s not true, as 15,000 new E-mails just found would hint at. She has insisted that E-mails weren’t listed as classified at the time they were sent and received, but FBI Director James Comey has refuted that assertion, and after being directly confronted with Comey’s testimony, she responded to the controversy by non-apology apologizing that she “short-circuited” in her response. What are you—a robot, Hillary? No, you didn’t short-circuit—you lied. Then, as a consummate politician would, she tried to shift the blame, alleging Colin Powell told her to use a private server. OMFG, HILLARY, NO, HE DIDN’T. STOP LYING. FOR ONCE, JUST STOP.

And yet, as extremely careless and negligent as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are with their handling of facts or even their own finances, if we’re once more concerned with trying to explain away violence and wanton destruction, let’s highlight the ultimate government-related recipient of a free pass in the U.S. military. There are any number of ways you can approach lack of accountability within the leadership of the Department of Defense and the Armed Forces—discrimination against gays, and an apparent epidemic of sexual assaults against women without superiors doing enough to address the problem, come to mind—but in terms of the slaughter of innocent people, that those with the requisite authority can order a drone or helicopter strike, resulting in massive unintended civilian casualties if a miscalculation or other snafu occurs, and justify it with no more than an “Oops!” is troubling indeed.

Just last month, an American air strike left at least 85 innocent Syrians dead, and while Pentagon officials promised it would investigate these deaths, seemingly no outward progress has been made on this particular front, and it is not as if this error in accuracy and judgment yielding the murder of non-targets is an isolated incident. On one hand, the actions of ISIS and other terror groups is reprehensible, but on the other hand, when we’re indiscriminately bombing the Middle East, killing random human beings without even having to look them in the eye when we destroy their families and villages, that makes us as a country only marginally better. “War on Terror,” huh? When your primary distinction between what you do and what jihadists do is that you don’t film people getting their heads chopped off, that’s a problem, and when the American people accept these “mistakes” or fail to demand more accountability from their leaders in Washington and from the media reporting on these matters, we are guilty by association.


When all comes down to brass tacks, what especially matters, as a subset of this perceived lack of culpability, is that consequences of real weight so frequently seem to be lacking. U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Executive Scott Blackmun has vowed the USOC will review the case of Ryan Lochte and his accompanying drunken swimmers, including potential ramifications, but any theoretical strong ban or fine is unlikely. Brock Turner was banned from both the Stanford and U.S. swim teams, but as discussed, he still got off relatively easy. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton apparently live in a world where there are no repercussions for violating ethical and moral standards, if not the law outright, and in which fabrications and lies are assumed as part of “politics as usual.” And speaking of these two vis-à-vis the U.S. military, noting the former’s self-indulgent tough-guy image he puts forth, and the latter’s much-talked-about hawkishness, does anyone really believe either of them will do much to curb defense spending? If you do, let me tell you about some lovely beachfront property in Idaho I have for someone like you.

What the above figures fail to appreciate is that we, the American people, are smarter and less forgetful than they think we are. Well, most of us are. I’ll confess that some of my peers and adults younger than I am do things that cause me to scratch my head sometimes—not to mention adults my parents’ age. Also, I can personally attest to the notion millennials are forgetful, at least in terms of short-term memory. By the same token, however, the Internet never forgets, so there’s that to fall back on, and moreover, millennials are also supposedly quite good at reading people for authenticity. So, Ryan Lochte et al., some quick notes, in closing: 1) if you’re going to lie, at least do a better job of it; 2) ditto for your non-apology apologies; 3) we understand when you’re using euphemisms to hide your lies, or “over-exaggerations” or “short circuits” or “uh-ohs” or whatever you call them; 4) for us non-Trump-supporters or those of us who are not Jamie Foxx, blaming it on alcohol or people of color only makes matters worse, and 5) when property gets destroyed, or people get bombed, killed, raped or run over, and your reputation suffers, you are not the victim, so stop acting like one or crying that you are. The American public deserves better than a blanket apology, and exploiting your money, power and/or privilege to obscure this idea doesn’t make you better for it. Sorry, but we’re not sorry for saying as much.