President Donald Trump’s only consistent world view is that he is at the center of it. He doesn’t process news with empathy for others or the responsibilities of leadership in mind, but rather largely by how it affects him. His reactions to this watershed moment when powerful men are finally being held accountable for sexually demeaning women (and men) have been chilling, if not particularly surprising, for their callousness and vindictiveness. There has been little in the way of concern for the actual victims, nor little thought given to how he can help the country at large navigate through these difficult issues as we might expect from literally anyone else in public office. His only reaction is to jump on allegations that he sense could benefit him politically, and to completely disregard those that don’t.
In the process, he’s propping up the toxic environment that this movement threatens to topple, an environment in which Trump himself gleefully operated in for so many years himself, as he once excitedly boasted to Billy Bush.
His Twitter (of course) reaction to the news that longtime Today show co-host Matt Lauer was fired after NBC News reviewed allegations of sexual misconduct during coverage of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics may have been Trump’s most hollow yet. Which is saying something. He reacted by lambasting NBC News as “fake” and brought up an old, disputed conspiracy theory about his longtime media nemesis Joe Scarborough for good measure.
For the record, he’s referring to the tragedy of a young staffer who worked at Scarborough’s Florida office during his days as a congressman who was found dead in 2001, authorities said at the time, because of an undiagnosed heart condition. There’s never been foul play suspected, and no credible evidence to even suggest Scarborough was in anyway involved. Yet, Trump, President of the United States, brings it up because, well, that’s just the sort of upstanding citizen he is.
Trump has been, let’s say, selective about responses to other stories of men being felled by their histories sexual misconduct, seemingly only commenting when he sees it to his political advantage. His response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal was brief, noting “I’m not at all surprised to see it.” Though, months earlier he had defended Bill O’Reilly from several allegations of sexual harassment that ultimately ended his career at Fox News by noting, “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
His first seemingly engaged take on any of the ensuing scandals came when Democratic Senator Al Franken was accused of groping a sleeping woman. “The Al Frankenstien [sic] picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words,” he wrote in one Tweet. “And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women,” Trump continued.
Trump, however, has maintained his support of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. “Roy Moore denies it, that’s all I can say, and by the way, he totally denies it,” he told the press, and continues to bolster Moore’s campaign on Twitter while attacking his Democratic opponent Doug Jones. The difference in his mind was that Franken admitted to misconduct, while Moore didn’t. It isn’t surprising, but worth noting that even in these situations Trump values the word of the men accused over that of the women doing the accusing. It’s a pattern that dates back at least to the campaign trail, when Trump defended late Fox News chief Roger Ailes against harassment allegations while purposefully casting doubt on his accusers.
The pattern is clear. Trump’s allies and supporters and fellow Republicans are free from his disapproval, while he celebrates his perceived enemies’ downfalls under similar circumstances, and urges for the investigation of others no matter how thin the allegations.
All the while he’s continued to downplay the fact he’s accused of sexual misconduct by 16 women himself. He’s reportedly privately cast doubt that the infamous Access Hollywood tape was even real, and his press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has said that it’s the official White House position that any woman accusing Trump of anything is lying.
He’s taken the painful and deeply personal stories of abused and mistreated women and crumpled them up like pieces of paper to either dispose of in the trash or to use as childish slingshot ammo in his Twitter wars. There’s no moral baseline here or compassion, just the shallow impulses of a hollow man.
The flood of sexual harassment scandals have tested Americans in many ways. We’ve seen men we disagree with or already despised, accused, only to wake up one morning and find that someone we’ve admired has fallen too. Many of us have had to fight our instincts to pull off mental gymnastics to make excuses for those we may admire. What we’ve learned in the process though is that this isn’t an issue of politics. It’s not a battle of the culture war. This isn’t a game of “us against them.” This is about a longstanding culture of misogyny that has enabled such abuse that cut through all sectors of society. No matter how much division we seem to have in this country, it may be jarring to realize that we’ve all been united in this enabling of predators and silencing of victims, but advances in our history have never been easy.
Of course when it comes to Trump’s response, it’s easy to say “Well, what else would you expect from him?” It’s easy to let his opportunistic responses to these scandals get lost in the never ending stream of White House outrages. Trump’s response to the Lauer firing wasn’t even the most outrageous thing on his Twitter timeline this morning.
But Trump’s reactions not only get the core of who he is, but they also give permission for his allies and millions of supporters to continue to pick and choose which cases of sexual misconduct they take seriously as well. Breitbart, for example, continues to celebrate the fall of “media elites,” while actively trying to discredit Roy Moore’s accusers.
Trump and his movement has placed politics at the center of these scandals, and not the stories of hundreds of women. His responses continue to excuse and enable the harassment of untold thousands more.