Donald Trump has gotten this far by always being controversial. He’s running on earned media and name recognition, not to mention the fact that his opponent, too, is clearly problematic.
But that’s not what got him in trouble this time. This time it was something he said years ago, while not running for office, and having just married his current wife Melania. Here’s a transcript of the tape that the New York Times put together. I won’t repeat the things he actually said, but to be clear, he was talking about what is essentially potential sexual assault. You would expect such a thing to be a problem for moral, Christian voters.
I’m not surprised by the comments. What I am surprised at is the number of normally good people who are actually defending his comments. Let’s look at the three most common (all actively horrible, but one much worse than the rest) arguments in defense of Trump’s remarks:
This one is pretty simple. Instead of focusing on what Trump did, deflect to what Hillary did and might have done. Deflect to Bill’s sexual misconduct. Act like somehow the faults of his opponent make Trump okay.
Morality in politics is not a zero-sum game. One person being worse does not make another better. This is common in the sort of odd, dichotomous politics that we’ve saddled ourselves with in America. Madison wrote that “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires,” and he was certainly right. In a weird way, you can blame modern partisan politics on the fact that we do, actually, have liberty.
That doesn’t make it right. One thing you certainly can’t blame on liberty is moral bankruptcy. Pointing out Hillary’s flaws doesn’t get rid of Trump’s.
2. The 50 Shades jab
“If women hate what Donald Trump said, who bought 80 million copies of 50 Shades of Grey?”
Such are the memes.
As per the usual, a meme is not a good argument. This one, as with many, is a fundamental misunderstanding of the point. I’m no fan of 50 Shades. It’s pretty bad in my opinion, but at least there’s generally the assumption of consent, and even if there wasn’t, it’s all fictional – which Trump’s comments, obviously, are not.
Nobody is mad because Trump has had sex. They’re mad because, if what he said in the tape is true, he used his influence as a ‘star’ to get away with what was, functionally, harassment.
While married. Basically, Trump bragged about committing adultery. Stay classy, Donald.
1. The “Locker Room” Argument
“Well, he’s a man. That was locker room talk! I’ve heard much worse before. From women too!”
Now, that’s the actual gist of the argument. What some Trump defenders actually say includes things like “Hate to say it but men are supposed to be men more so around other men.”
That’s a Trump supporter’s own words, taken directly from a comment on my Facebook. I was flabbergasted. This was a Christian man defending claims of sexual assault, outside of wedlock, and his argument was that “that’s just how men are.” Heartbreaking.
It breaks my heart to see, so plainly displayed, the downfall of masculinity in American culture. Publications like the Atlantic and the New York Times – both of which, of course, have publicly endorsed Hillary – leapt to point out the hyper-masculinity of Donald Trump in the past. If anything, this is terrifying proof of their hypothesis that Trump is a caricature of American masculinity.
I’m going to talk to my men, especially the Christians, here for a second. Guys, when we drop the ball, masculinity is defined by emotional, moral, and spiritual lightweights. When we permit such behavior it becomes normal. If we leave it alone and pretend like there’s nothing wrong with it because ‘boys will be boys’ then those boys grow into men who commit unwitting sexual assault, lie and say they did, teach their boys that it’s okay, or all three.
I wasn’t surprised or hurt by the comments. Trump is scum; I already suspected that. What hurt me was the reaction of the women who found out. They weren’t surprised either, but for a totally different reason. To quote someone very close to me, “that’s just how men talk to each other about women.”
The fact that such is the assumption (and that she’s probably right, though I haven’t been present for it) is heartbreaking. It should not be that way. I am sick of this. I have had enough of this trumped-up machismo standing in for real masculinity. Genuine masculinity – Biblical masculinity – serves. It protects and cares and loves. Trump’s brand of masculinity does none of those things.
If masculinity is to be saved in the United States, men need to step up and lead by serving, loving, and protecting. We need to publicly and loudly make clear that the attitude of men like Donald Trump (and, of course, Bill Clinton) is unacceptable. The problem won’t be solved any time soon, but we need to first acknowledge that there is a problem, speak out, and then teach our sons to be real men. That’s all we can do.