Donald Trump; Donna Rice Hughes (AP/David Furst/YouTube/Set Free Summit/Photo montage by Salon)

Trump's religious hypocrisy: He signed an anti-porn pledge that could penalize his own wife's photos

Donna Rice-Hughes got Trump to back a broad anti-porn pledge, and then the naked pictures of his wife came out


Amanda Marcotte
August 2, 2016 10:36PM (UTC)

That Melania Trump posed for some racy nude photos a couple decades ago, which have been leeringly published by The New York Post, is not a story. Nudity isn’t wrong, sex isn’t wrong, photography isn’t wrong, and none of these things become wrong because you put them together.

What is a story, however, is that on the very same day that these softcore photos of Donald Trump’s wife were released, it was announced that Trump signed a pledge that he, as president, would prosecute people who do what his wife did, i.e. make erotic materials for public consumption. It’s another move on Trump’s part to align himself with the religious right, and in doing so, he’s proving yet again that both he and religious right leaders are opportunistic hypocrites.

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The Enough Is Enough campaign, an anti-porn group, asked the presidential candidates to sign a pledge to “defend the innocence and dignity of America’s children by enforcing the existing federal laws and advancing public policies designed to 1) prevent the sexual exploitation of children online and 2) to make the Internet safer for all.”

Few, if any, would dispute the importance of fighting child pornography,  but the pledge also demands enforcement of “federal obscenity laws," which the group defines as “messages or pictures” that “are patently offensive descriptions or depictions of sexual or excretory organs or activities.”

They include “sexual nudity” and “dirty words” in this category. They also argue that “graphic sex acts” and “lewd exhibition of the genitals” should count as obscene materials that the federal government needs to scrub off the internet.

A careful reader will note that the photos of Melania Trump meet Enough Is Enough’s definition of obscenity.

Enough Is Enough is a small organization, basically a vehicle for Donna Rice-Hughes to wage war on the widespread availability of internet porn.

If her name sounds familiar, congrats, you remember the Gary Hart scandal.

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Rice-Hughes, who then was just going by her maiden name, was suspected in 1987 of having an affair with the then-senator, suspicions which dashed his presidential aspirations. Shortly thereafter, she turned towards Christianity and got married. Now she heads up an anti-pornography organization.

Rice-Hughes did not return requests for comment, but she did speak to U.S. News and World Report about Trump, making it clear that yes, this is an attack on all porn on the internet.

“Bestiality and anal sex online, that's the new normal,” Rice-Hughes told U.S. News. "This entire sex industry is tied together, so it's like fighting the drug war ... just completely ignoring the obscenity laws [but combating child porn] would be like saying, 'We've got a war on drugs, but we're only going to concentrate on meth and heroin.' That's not going to do a very good job."

Lux Alptraum, a freelance writer and former editor of Fleshbot noted to me that while bestiality videos do exist, “I waded through the porn internet every day for years and have never seen a bestiality video.”

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“Anal, on the other hand, is a totally different matter,” Alptraum wryly added, “but clearly Hughes and I have different opinions on the particular level of depravity that consensual anal intercourse represents.”

Esha Bandari, a staff attorney for the ACLU, explained that there’s a long history of passing obscenity laws “in the guise of protecting minors”, but that allow governments to prosecute adults making erotic materials for other adults.

Bandari pointed to a recent ACLU victory in Louisiana, where the court struck down a law that made it a crime to publish material on the internet that is “harmful to minors” without verifying their age. The law was so broadly worded, according to Bandari, that one could get in legal trouble for offering sex education to high school students or even selling "The Catcher in the Rye".

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The federal government has shifted away from trying to enforce broadly written obscenity statutes in recent years, Bandari argued, focusing instead on cases involving “actual harm” to minors, such as child pornography or trafficking. She felt this was a far better way for the government to balance its obligation to protect children with its obligation to protect the “artistic expression” of adults, which often includes erotic materials, as Melania Trump could be the first to tell you.

“I think that ignoring consensually created porn that’s by and for adults, while working to eliminate the sexual abuse of children, is absolutely a valid and effective strategy,” Alptraum agreed, “the same way that decriminalizing or legalizing the recreational use of drugs like marijuana is far more beneficial to society than clogging up the prison system with ‘criminals’ who’ve done nothing more than sell a small amount of weed.”

It is worth noting that the Hillary Clinton campaign politely declined to sign Enough Is Enough’s pledge.

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“Trump signing an anti-pornography pledge is just his latest effort to shore up support from white evangelical voters, a hugely important part of the Republican base,” Peter Montgomery of the People for the American Way, said over email.

He noted the laundry list of ways Trump has pandered to the Christian right, from letting them write the GOP platform to picking Mike Pence as his running mate to  promising “them the Supreme Court of their dreams”.

“I don’t know how many Religious Right leaders actually buy Trump’s transparently cynical religious appeals, but it doesn’t really matter,” Montgomery added. “They’re supporting him because he is promising to give them political power and a Supreme Court that will advance their agenda.”

Enough Is Enough’s conservative Christian agenda is not far from the surface. The website touts a paper Rice-Hughes published in the Christian Apologetics Journal in 2014, where she compares internet porn to addictive drugs and says that it “harms children, women, and men and fuels pornography addiction, the breakdown of marriage, and sex trafficking”.

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The pornography 'fantasy' has had real-life implications on our adult society and on our children,” argued Enough Is Enough communications director Cris Clapp Logan in an article on the website.  “Sensible adults — doctors, lawyers, and pastors—have lost their families, professions and life to hard-core pornography use.”

No one denies that it’s easier than ever to look at porn. At the same time, however, the divorce rate is going down. Rape is also down, as is child sex abuse. If porn is so destructive, why are things getting better even as porn becomes more prevalent?

The Trump campaign’s response to the publication of Melania’s pictures has been dismissive. Jason Miller, the senior communications advisor, said the pictures are “nothing to be embarrassed about." The campaign told the NY Post that “pictures like this are very fashionable and common”.

To groups like Enough Is Enough, however, the commonness and lack of shame regarding explicit nudity and sexy pictures is the problem, the very one that Trump swore he would help to stomp out.

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Trump really should decide: Is this sort of thing no big deal, as his campaign told the NY Post? Or is it a threat to the very fabric of society, as he suggested when he signed the Enough Is Enough anti-porn pledge?


Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. Her new book, "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself," is out now. She's on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

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