The Link Between Trump’s Sexual and Political Depredations
When you’re a star, they let you do it.
DONALD TRUMP HAS BEEN CREDIBLY ACCUSED of sexual assault by numerous women. This month, a jury found him liable for having sexually abused and defamed one of them: E. Jean Carroll. Trump has also privately confessed to such behavior. In 2005, he infamously bragged on video, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy.”
Many voters think these incidents are irrelevant to Trump’s fitness as president. Yesterday in The Bulwark, Sarah Longwell reported that in her focus groups, Republican women often “compartmentalize” Trump’s sexual predation and continue to support him. These women say they disapprove of “things he did personally” but argue that what’s important is “what he’s going to do for our country.”
This compartmentalization is a mistake, because Trump’s personal and political behavior are closely connected. His attitude toward women—that he can do with them as he pleases—is grotesquely consistent with the way he thinks about America. If you try to fight him off in a department store, as Carroll did, he’ll keep grabbing and groping. And if you vote him out of office, as 81 million Americans did in 2020, he’ll use coercion and violence to defy your will. He won’t take “no” for an answer.
IN HER TESTIMONY AGAINST TRUMP, Carroll described how he assaulted her nearly three decades ago: “He immediately shut the door and shoved me up against the wall. He shoved me so hard my head banged.” She recalled her resistance: “I pushed back, and he thrust me back against the wall again, banging my head again. . . . He leaned down and pulled down my tights. . . . I was pushing him back. It was quite clear I didn’t want anything else to happen.”
Other women have recounted similar incidents. In 2016, Jessica Leeds, a former paper company employee, described how Trump—a total stranger—had allegedly attacked her on a plane during a business trip in the 1980s. According to her story, as reported by the New York Times, Trump “grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt.” “His hands were everywhere,” she told the Times. “It was an assault.”
Natasha Stoynoff, a former reporter for People, testified at Carroll’s trial about another encounter with Trump. She said that in 2005, when she showed up for a scheduled interview with him, he led her into a room, closed the door, and pinned her against a wall. “I hear the door shut behind me. And by the time I turn around, he has his hands on my shoulders and he pushes me against the wall and starts kissing me, holding me against the wall,” she testified. In a 2016 article, she wrote that sometime later that day, when she tried to pull herself together and go on with the interview, Trump “smiled and leaned forward,” telling her: “You know we’re going to have an affair, don’t you?”
In 1996, Jill Harth, a former pageant promoter, testified that during a business meeting, Trump asked her boyfriend whether she was sexually available. When the boyfriend told Trump that their relationship was monogamous, Trump brushed him off, saying, “There’s always a first time. I am going after her.” According to Harth’s testimony, Trump ended up “groping me under the table.”
THIS DEPRAVED TREATMENT OF WOMEN is one reason why Trump should never be returned to office. But a second reason is that he’s just as ruthless in his will to abuse our country. In recent weeks, he has bragged about seizing emergency powers, called for “quick trials” like those in China, and vowed to purge civil servants who get in his way. He has boasted that he’ll bring back retired Gen. Michael Flynn, who in December 2020 called for—and discussed with Trump in the White House—the idea of declaring martial law to rerun the presidential election.
In CNN’s town hall on May 10, Trump claimed authoritarian prerogatives and rebuffed all attempts to correct or constrain him. Moderator Kaitlan Collins reminded Trump that ballot recounts, Republican election officials, and dozens of courts had debunked his allegations of election fraud. Trump didn’t care. He continued to insist that regardless of the official vote tallies, Americans had consented to keep him in power.
Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence, has said that Trump’s pressure on him to invalidate electoral votes in January 2021 was wrong. In Pence’s words: “There is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.” But in the town hall, Trump repeated that Pence should have overturned the results. If Pence had sent the electoral votes “back to the state legislatures,” said Trump, “we would have had a different outcome.”
Trump also defended the January 2, 2021, phone call in which he had told Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to “find 11,780 votes” so Trump could claim victory in Georgia. The former president routinely asserts that nobody on that call objected to his demands, even though the audio shows such objections were repeatedly raised. In the town hall, Trump stood by his demands. He proudly affirmed that on the call, “I said, ‘You owe me votes because the election was rigged.’”
Trump told the CNN audience that he would pardon all but a few of the people convicted for storming the Capitol on January 6th. Responding to a question from an audience member about “January 6th rioters who were convicted of federal offenses,” Trump said he would pardon “a large portion of them,” except for “a couple” who had gotten “out of control.”
When Collins asked Trump what he had done with the classified documents he took to Mar-a-Lago at the end of his presidency, he told her: “I have the absolute right to do whatever I want with them.” Collins explained that the Presidential Records Act didn’t grant Trump the authority he claimed over such documents. But Trump ignored her explanation and insisted it did.
In one remarkable exchange, Trump told Collins that with regard to one of his claims about election fraud, “You just said it—pretty much you admitted what I said was right.” Collins corrected him: “I did not.” Essentially, the former president was fabricating a woman’s assent. And he was doing it on live TV.
SEXUAL ABUSERS VARY in the exact nature of their pathologies. In Trump’s case, one of his pathologies is a twisted idea of what love means. In a podcast last month, Trump used this term, bizarrely, to explain Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. “We used to talk about it,” said Trump, referring to Putin’s designs on his neighboring country. “He’s in love with Ukraine. He considers it a part of Mother Russia.”
Think about that. A dictator invades a sovereign country, bombards its cities, seizes its land, and massacres thousands of people. And Trump calls it love.
Trump is a deeply defective person. He’s a danger to any woman he can isolate and overpower. He also has a record of assault against Congress, the Justice Department, the FBI, democracy, and the rule of law. In his first term, he tried to use coercion and violence to maintain his grip on power. He mustn’t get a second chance.
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