Even as America continues to writhe under a flurry of sexual assault claims by powerful men from Hollywood to Washington, sparking the most rigorous debate the country has seen about workplace harassment and systemic misogyny, one man seems the least perturbed by it — President Donald Trump.
It all started last month after the New York Times published explosive accounts by multiple women accusing Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and rape, leading to his ouster from his own company. Criminal investigations were launched against the producer, and Weinstein fled to Arizona, his tail between his legs. Empowered by the strength of women who spoke out against him, actor Anthony Rapp alleged that fellow actor and thespian Kevin Spacey, widely respected the world over for his acting prowess, came on to him when he was only 14. Following this revelation, more than 20 men came forward with similar allegations against Spacey, leading to a sharp denunciation by Hollywood. As of now, Spacey has been kicked off all future films and his long-running Netflix saga, House of Cards. We can rest assured he won’t get work anywhere. The same applies to comic Louis CK, who can continue making jokes with a hint of perversity, only nobody will ever laugh at them.
Several more people in Hollywood, including Dustin Hoffman, Brett Ratner, Jeremy Piven, and even George Takei, have been accused of using their male stardom to sexually assault women and boys since the Weinstein story broke. Their reputation has suffered irreparably, and there is no going back for them.
The allegations, of course, did not stay limited to Hollywood. Women from all walks of life began speaking about the pervasive and systemic harassment they are subjected to by their male colleagues or superiors in workplaces, ranging from corporate entities and politics to journalism and business. Just this week, the New York Times, the newspaper that began the national conversation with its explosive reports about Weinstein and Louis CK, suspended its star White House reporter Glenn Thrush after Vox revealed that despite his so-called fight against patriarchy, he was a sexual harasser himself, taking advantage of admiring young female journalists who looked up to him for guidance and mentorship.
Today, CBS suspended TV host Charlie Rose after eight women said that he groped them, made sexual advances, or made lewd calls, according to the Washington Post.
While the parameters have been consistent in dealing with men accused of sexual assault or rape in most circles, men who make their bread and butter in the world of politics have been spared the retaliation. Republican nominee for Senate Roy Moore, for example, continues to campaign in Alabama even after multiple women say that he behaved inappropriately with them when they were in their teens. For all we know, Moore comes across as a pedophile, and yet he continues to woo voters in his home state by defending himself with flimsy evangelical logic and shoddy deflection. But even so, he is bound to take the fall when Alabama goes to vote next month, and while it is not set in stone yet, his poll numbers show that his reputation has taken a big hit.
The same applies to Al Franken, once the darling of liberals. The former comedian and current senator has been accused of groping two women, leading to a sharp fall from his pedestal as the progressive mouthpiece in American politics.
But there is one man who seems insulated from allegations of sexual assault, and that man is our president. Donald Trump has been accused of sexual misconduct and even rape by 16 different women, and yet he has evaded all accusations just as he has evaded every criticism over the last year — by being bullish and flat-out denying them. The ample credibility of these accusations have been well-documented several times, and yet Trump is never held accountable. If there is a level of accountability and transparency we expect from sexual harassers in all walks of life, why are we letting the president go scot-free?
It would perhaps be worthwhile to revisit the most serious of those allegations against Trump. He has been accused of rape twice, once by an unidentified woman who claimed that he raped her at a Jeffrey Epstein party in 1994 when she was just 13. A lawsuit was filed in a New York court claiming that the child was subjected to performing oral sexual acts by both Trump and Epstein, and this version of events was corroborated by another woman who was reportedly present at the party, as reported by Newsweek.
“Immediately following this rape Defendant Trump threatened me that, were I ever to reveal any of the details of Defendant Trump’s sexual and physical abuse of me, my family and I would be physically harmed if not killed,” the woman claimed in the lawsuit.
Mysteriously enough, this lawsuit was withdrawn days before the election last November, with the woman and her attorneys claiming that she faced threats and was scared for her life.
The other rape allegation against Trump comes from his former wife, Ivana Trump, who had stated under oath that he had raped her in the 1990 divorce disposition. Here is an excerpt from Trump’s biographer Harry Hurt’s book, Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump, in which he described in detail about what happened on the night when Ivana was allegedly “raped” by Trump.
According to Hurt, Trump forced himself on Ivana after going through a painful scalp reduction surgery, which had not gone exactly as planned.
“Trump was furious that a ‘scalp reduction’ operation he’d undergone to eliminate a bald spot had been unexpectedly painful. Ivana had recommended the plastic surgeon. In retaliation, Hurt wrote, Trump yanked out a handful of his wife’s hair, and then forced himself on her sexually. Afterward, according to the book, she spent the night locked in a bedroom, crying; in the morning, Trump asked her, ‘with menacing casualness, Does it hurt?'”
Ivana’s rape accusation against Trump was corroborated by two of her friends, but she later withdrew the statement claiming that she did not mean “rape” in the literal sense.
“During a deposition given by me in connection with my matrimonial case, I stated that my husband had raped me. On one occasion during 1989, Mr. Trump and I had marital relations in which he behaved very differently toward me than he had during our marriage. As a woman, I felt violated, as the love and tenderness, which he normally exhibited towards me, was absent. I referred to this as a ‘rape,’ but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense,” Ivana Trump said later.
Even so, it is an accusation that casts Trump in an extremely bad light, so why is he not being investigated like all other sexual harassers?
The rape and sexual misconduct allegations against Donald Trump are no less serious than the ones against Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, or Louis CK. If anything, they are way more reprehensible in the manner that they have been crushed by our president. Trump’s method of outright denial and questioning the credibility of the accusers has worked well so far, as the reports regarding his sexual conduct slowly move out of the news cycle. The only solution it appears, as floated by Salon reporter Amanda Marcotte, is to force Trump to address these very serious rape and sexual misconduct allegations by appointing a special counsel to investigate them.
“The Mueller investigation has shown how an ongoing investigation can keep a story in the news, as reporters dutifully report on any investigation movement that gets leaked to the press. A new investigation into accusations that have haunted Trump’s private life for years would also likely cause the president to get anxious, and everyone knows he expresses anxiety by tweeting rude things that invariably get covered by the press, generating more coverage. Most importantly, a special prosecutor could issue subpoenas and create a deeply researched record of the accusations by these 16 women and whatever evidence can be found to support them.”
As journalists, then, it becomes our responsibility to begin a pressure campaign asking the Justice Department to look into Trump’s history of bad judgment around women. Now that America is seriously holding sexual predators and harassers responsible for their violent histories against women and young men, it is important that we begin addressing the rot from the top-down, and that process begins by questioning the president himself.
Because if Trump manages to evade all these allegations by simply bad-mouthing the women, our national conversation regarding sexual misconduct will appear futile for the most part. If Trump can get away with something as sinister as this, then other predators might follow suit, and that definitely won’t be a good thing.
[Featured Image by Marty Lederhandler/AP Images]