Donald Trump may well have simply given up on this election. One can only hope. But he asked a question today during a speech that reveals much about his mindset and worldview–and where he sees himself in relation to other people.
Rationalizations and Attacks.
I’m looking at a Politico writeup of what the writer is calling “Trump’s Bizarre Descent into Vitriol.” It’s a report on his latest speech to voters, given today in North Carolina. It was a very, very different speech from the blustery, aggressively-front-facing speech he gave in the same state to probably the same audience just last August. The differences, however, are quite stark. He’s always been belligerent, ignorant, misogynistic, and petty, but the first speech sounded like the sort of thing you’d expect to hear in a movie right before a castle is stormed. The second sounds like the petulant bleating of a furious asshole who is desperately punching at his critics in every single direction that he thinks might hurt them.
In a lot of ways, this new speech covers very familiar ground. He lauded his “beautiful properties.” He denigrated “crooked Hillary.” He lambasted the “failing” New York Times, which has criticized him extensively. He accused Mexicans of sinister deeds and motivations. He reiterated his plan to “replace” the Affordable Care Act (with what, he did not say, and indeed I don’t think he ever has). The loud-and-proud tones of racism, fascism, and theocracy are all there, right where we remembered them. But then he dives into this utterly bizarre realm of nastiness.
What followed was the lashing-out of a man who’s been caught doing something deeply, horribly transgressive. It’s the completely disproportional attack we’d expect to see from an enraged narcissist who cannot leave a single criticism alone if it interferes too much with his own self-image.
But halfway through, he veered away from his usual conspiracy theories, self-aggrandizement, petty attacks, and smears into what I can only describe as political self-immolation.
A Very Familiar Rationalization.
His speech traveled ground that will be very familiar to anybody who’s ever dealt with Rape Culture. Mainly he focused on two excuses: that the women who are accusing him of sexual assault are way too unattractive for him to want to assault, and that their accusations form part of a grand conspiracy meant to jettison his chances of election.
With three weeks to go before the big day (or I suppose six weeks, if one is a Trump drone), he’s chosen to waste time attacking the women accusing him of sexual assault.
In this new speech, Donald Trump declared that he totally didn’t grope and assault the women who have accused him of doing so because they’re just not pretty enough to meet his exacting standards in sex partners. He mocked the women’s appearance and degraded them further with phrases like “that horrible woman” and “not [his] first choice.” He dusted off that special, utterly-contemptuous tone he only uses to mock people and performed it for his adoring, laughing fans to drive home his points. He dug once again at Hillary Clinton’s appearance, showing once again that he lays great importance on attractiveness (which must be why he stalked and loomed over her constantly–and rather menacingly–during their second debate).
A year ago, The Daily Dot made a list of excuses that rapists make to rationalize their assaults on women. I wonder if Donald Trump ran across it late one night and accidentally took it for a sincere list of recommendations for men in his exact position right now, because almost everything on that list appeared in his speech: the self-pity, the lashing-out, the blame, the insults, the complete inability to understand consent, the total lack of self-control, and the unwillingness to take some goddamned responsibility for himself. The speech he gave today almost word-for-word parrots those excuses.
But even by those standards, he fails. New York Magazine has compiled a list, updated today, of the women who have made accusations against Donald Trump. Very quickly you’ll notice that their general attractiveness level appears to vary so wildly as to seem random. It is a long and nauseating list, but a consistent one. If he wouldn’t attack some of the accusers because they didn’t arouse his lust, then what about all these other women who clearly did (such as the actress that Billy Bush helped him impose upon in the leaked tape)? What about this obvious pattern that emerges, reading that list, of him groping women while clearly not desiring sex–just to demonstrate that he could assault women without any repercussions, simply to flex his own power to himself and everyone suffering his presence?
No, he’s either lying or deceiving himself when he claims that only attractiveness could have aroused his desire to assault women. He’s quite the equal-opportunity assaulter. Just as he uses what he negates as “locker room talk” to enforce his dominance over men, he uses sexual assault to enforce his dominance over women. Then, when his vile behavior is exposed, he whines like a child about being the real victim here.
And he makes that plea to a crowd that feels like they, too, are the real victims here.
The Deplorables Respond.
This new speech was flailing and desperate, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that it was accidental. Donald Trump displays every single sign of narcissism (though I do not pretend to be qualified to clinically diagnose him with it on that technical level), and one of those signs is a total inability to let criticisms slide. He literally can’t ignore any accusations, no matter how socially-inferior or harmless the person making it might be. In this case, he revealed that his people warned him not to talk about the accusations–but they might as well have told him not to breathe, because he then went on to immediately share why he couldn’t do as they instructed him. He peppered his speech with these sorts of declarations:
Folks, you know my people always say, oh don’t talk about it, talk about jobs, talk about the economy. . . But I feel I have to talk about them because you have to dispute when somebody says something. . . .When somebody, you know, a long time ago – when you get hit, you hit back, you’ve got to do it.
And his fans love it because they want to hit back as well, and don’t feel that they can. Donald Trump, acting as their proxy, is doing exactly what they wish they could do to the people criticizing them and accusing them of terrible things. He is vengeful, just like they are; he is retaliatory, just like they wish they could be. These loyal drones will believe what he says when he declares that every one of those women is a liar, that these women are all making up their stories for some nefarious reason. They’re already repeating his excuses to pardon him.
There’s a proud tradition on the right-wing of religion and politics alike to distrust women’s accusations against their (white, male, wealthy) leaders and authority figures. Say what you wish about the man, but Donald Trump’s always had a gift for feeding into that particular lowest common denominator. When he makes all these excuses and wages all these attacks on women, his fans cheer all the harder because he’s giving voice to things they’ve always thought themselves but knew they couldn’t say out loud in public. He’s a boor, but he’s their boor, repeating their boorish opinions back to them.
So this wasn’t so much a speech that was meant to recover some shreds of his chances of being elected so much as it was a retaliatory attack upon his critics and accusers while he’s still in a position to preen and posture in front of people he knows are his people in the most literal sense.
The Plaintive Question.
Toward the end of the speech, he asked a question amid his rapid-fire, disjointed rambling that really caught my eye:
And why doesn’t some woman maybe come up and say what they say falsely about me, they could say about him [Barack Obama]. They could say it about anybody, they could say it about anybody. I’ll tell you what, he better be careful, because they could say it about anybody, anybody at all.
In other words, he is asking why women aren’t accusing Barack Obama of sexual assault.
I thought I’d answer that self-pitying question. I’m helpful that way.
It’s because Barack Obama probably hasn’t committed sexual assault. It’s because not all men assault women.
The problem, of course, is that women don’t “say it about anybody.” They almost always say it about people who have actually committed sexual assault. The number of false accusations is so low as to be insignificant–and with this many accusations, the chances of them all being false is slim-to-none. According to National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s report, 63% of assaults aren’t reported at all; others aren’t reported for a while. Victims know that once they make a report, their own characters are very likely to be attacked–and they may not even be believed. Such attacks become all but inevitable if their accusations center around a very famous or privileged man.
Once reported, research reveals that some 2-10% of reports are found to be false, but (isn’t there always a ‘but’?) that number includes reports that might be true but suffer from factors that make prosecution difficult (like a victim’s vagueness, inconsistent internal definitions of what makes a report false, insufficient evidence, or a victim’s deliberate attempt to steer away from “unsafe details”). The Center’s conclusion is that the number of false reports is inflated because of those factors, to the point where research on false reporting should be considered unreliable. They appear to think that the real rate of false reports is considerably lower than 2-10%.
So no, women don’t “say it about anybody.” The risks a woman takes in speaking at all ensure that she’ll consider very carefully the fallout she’ll face if she says a word. That fear may well have been the reason why it’s only now, post-tape-leak, that his victims have come forward.
Tell Me Again Who the Moral-est People Are?
The tape was a game-changer in way more than just the obvious way. When we see the stuff Donald Trump did and said on the Billy Bush tape leak and what he himself just said today in his speech, the chances of him being innocent and of these accusations being false both drop to zero.
But Donald Trump lives in a world where sexual assault is just something powerful men do. Like a lot of men who commit these crimes, he assumes that all men do what he does and think the same way he does. So in his world, yes, of course women might accuse “anybody” of what they’re accusing him of. He might not even be able to wrap his head around any other way of relating to women.
His world is the same one evangelicals inhabit, and they indeed number among his biggest supporters. A Pew survey has revealed that as of July at least, evangelicals supported him overwhelmingly. So I see a lot of familiar things in this story about how Donald Trump has responded to the accusations against him. And evangelicals themselves probably see the same exact familiar things that I see. We’ll touch more on this facet of the story next time though.
I just can’t even, with this election. I thought my even had departed last weekend with that tape leak, but no, I still had a little even left to just not with. Then today I found a bit of even in a corner. But now it’s gone too, and now I just can’t even, even harder than I hadn’t just evened last weekend. I don’t want to know if I have any more even, gang, because there’s really only one way to find that out, and I’m not sure I’m emotionally prepared to see proof that Donald Trump blows goats.