Trump’s George Washington Comments Were Worse Than You Think

Trump’s George Washington Comments Were Worse Than You Think October 4, 2018

In a rambling and surreal press conference last week—even  by his standards—Donald Trump told press that Democrats would vote against his nominee even if he nominated George Washington to the Supreme Court.

Look, if we brought George Washington here and we said, we have George Washington, the Democrats would vote against him. Just so you understand. And he may have had a bad past. Who knows, you know? He may have had some, I think, accusations made. Didn’t he have a couple things in his past? George Washington would be voted against 100 percent by Schumer and the con artists. I mean, 100 percent, 100 percent.

There are many things to address here.

To start with, I can’t help but wonder whether Trump is confusing George Washington with Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, after all, is fairly well known for his relationship with Sally Hemings, who was his slave and as such could not consent. Hemings was Jefferson’s junior by thirty years, and may have been as young as fourteen when Jefferson began using her for sex (she was pregnant by him at sixteen). Surely, then, Trump meant Jefferson?

Curious whether there was some allegation of sexual assault against Washington that I’d missed—because I wasn’t aware of any—I went looking and found a historian’s response to this question. I’d been right.

Actually, we know quite a lot about Washington’s past with women. There is evidence that the normally reserved figure could be flirtatious, that he fell passionately in love with a married woman before his own marriage to Martha Custis, and that he had several close female friends. But while we can never gain a complete picture of the sex life of somebody who lived more than 200 years ago, there are no contemporary accounts that even hint at sexual assault.

As often happens, I’m left puzzling over Trump’s words. As usual, all possible interpretations are bad.

Option 1: Trump meant Jefferson, not Washington, given the notoriety of the Sally Hemings case. If this is the case, Trump is suggesting that not confirming Jefferson to the Supreme Court because he groomed and raped his teenage slave girl would be partisan and illegitimate. Say what now? Perhaps Trump didn’t mean Jefferson after all.

Option 2: Trump meant Washington, and was speaking on the assumption that because Washington was a rich and powerful man—as Trump is a rich and powerful man—Washington must have been accused of sexual assault. This is a terrible outlook. Not all powerful men are accused of sexual assault because not all powerful men sexually assault people. Sure, false allegations are a thing—but the ones against Trump don’t appear to be false.

This option only gets worse the more you think about it.

Option 3: Trump meant Washington, but he was referring not to supposed allegations of sexual assault but rather to Washington’s ownership of slaves. This seems unlikely given Trump’s use of the word “accusations.” Moreover, it’s not a great option either—ownership of human beings is a rather good reason to not be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

Sure, those times weren’t these times—but Trump wasn’t talking about Democrats then (there actually weren’t political parties when Washington was president—though that didn’t last), he’s talking about Democrats now.

The more I think about it, the more I think Trump’s line of thought was Option 3. And that’s an ugly, ugly reality. Because along with the idea that all rich and powerful men are falsely accused of sexual assault comes a complete lack of willingness to ever investigate allegations of sexual assault against a rich and powerful man. 

What makes this perhaps more odd is Trump’s insistence that surely—surely—there must have been accusations of sexual assault against George Washington, when there weren’t. To be sure, the eighteenth century was a different time—a difficult time for reporting things like sexual assault. But people did talk. Jefferson’s relationship with Hemings was well known, and other rich and powerful men were derided as philanderers. Washington wasn’t.

It turns out it’s not that hard to not sexually assault women. Or at least, it’s not that hard to not be accused of doing so. Again, I’m not claiming Washington was a saint—he very clearly wasn’t. He owned slaves, for one. But Trump is wrong. Rich and powerful men are not universally accused of sexual impropriety.

Trump has certainly been accused of of sexual impropriety. Perhaps convincing himself that every rich and powerful man is—like him—accused of sexual assault plays some role in shaping Trump’s personal image. The allegations aren’t merely false, in other words—they’re only leveled against him because he’s so very famous. And if you were as famous as him, you’d be accused of sexual assault too! (I think my soul died a little bit typing that.)

I suppose there is one last option I haven’t covered, though.

Option 4: Trump was using a word randomizer, spewing out things like “Democrats” and “George Washington” and “Supreme Court” without any real import or meaning. Trying to work out what he meant is a pointless exercise, because he meant nothing other than “enemy bad, Democrats enemy, Trump good, LONG LIVE TRUMP.”

On final analysis, Option 4 may be the most reasonable interpretation.

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