Days can be spent cataloguing examples of the tone-deafness of the person masquerading as the U.S. president, but every once in a while he serves a purpose, though most often only to other criminals, miscreants, and misanthropes.
This past week, for example, he reprised an old refrain of his, one that he first used during the election campaign three years ago when, accused of forcing himself on a woman, he snickered and said she wasn’t good-looking enough for him anyway. This conflation of sexual assault and physical attraction was apparently lost on the 60,000,000 Americans who gleefully checked off his name before they left the voting booth. He was, apparently, good-looking enough por them.
Thus it seems unlikely that this past week’s revelation from E. Jean Carroll that Trump raped her 23 years ago (making her, coincidentally, the 23rd woman to accuse Trump of some sort of sexual assault) will register very high on anyone’s shock meter. (Read the full account of this, as appalling and monstrous as it is.) But his excuse—“she’s not my type”—was a clarion call for every sexual deviant in the universe: every last one of them can now use the Presidential Rape Defense and, if past practice is any indication, can get away with it.
The law's the law. And if, as dreamers like to fantasize, the president is not above the law, then PRD will soon become recognized statute. (It’s unlikely the Supreme Court will provide much of an impediment, especially one of the newer members.) Soon, “I didn’t do it” will be a quaint reminder of the past when people—even criminals—could differentiate between right and wrong. Hence a robber can claim that a certain bank "wasn't his type of lending institution," a woman who shoots her husband can claim that she “doesn’t really do guns,” and a thief who steals an SUV can claim to be “more of a sedan guy.”
Rape is different? Yes, it is. The victim of rape is, with rare exceptions, a woman. And in the misogynistic society in which we live, there will always be a bias. Bt it's deeper than that. In a recent piece by writer Soraya Chemaly for CNN, she makes a distinction I had never considered:
Some people believe Carroll's testimony empowers her, but what does that even mean? Empowerment is not power. Power is power. Empowerment may be saying out loud, "this man raped me and I'm OK," but power is the ability to have those words be socially and politically consequential. In other words, Carroll might be "empowered" by telling her story, but we, as a society, chose to give Trump, and others like him, power.
Empowerment is not power. Empowering women doesn’t cost the male world anything. Giving women power, however, does.
Maybe Kamala Harris did steal the show on Thursday—another empowering moment for women. But does she have power? Will she ever? Already there are voters hesitant to suffer the loss of another female candidate. It’s early in the campaign, but I find that hesitancy ominous.
And I also find ominous the fact that the rape of E. Jean Carroll was not discussed on that stage, that not one of the women—or men—admitted to the American people that discussions of policy and socialism and big pharma are trivial compared with the fact that in the White House sits an accused rapist and confessed assaulter of women. By ignoring that, those ten candidates further normalized the abnormal and relinquished the opportunity for women to gain actual power.
Ninety-six years ago the Equal Amendment was introduced. 1923! The concentrated effort to pass it began in 1970. States ratified it in quick order until a woman, Phyllis Schlafly, began a fevered campaign against it. In the end the ERA was never ratified. Phyllis Schafly was never empowered, but she had power because she took it. If Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren can do the same, then criminals like Donald Trump will no longer be allowed to patrol the White House. But if empowerment becomes the mantra to replace the ERA, then the past 96 years will have been a preface to a novel that was never fully realized.
I don't know about you, but novels like that "aren't my type."