After a violent insurrection, two impeachments, countless other scandals, and the time he suggested bleach injections to treat COVID-19, it's hard to forget sometimes that the first Donald Trump crime that galvanized his opposition was sexual assault.
Shortly before the 2016 election, a recording was released of Trump on a hot mic before a 2005 "Access Hollywood" taping, bragging that he likes to force himself on women. "Grab 'em by the pussy," he infamously recommended. "When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."
Over two dozen women swiftly came forward to confirm that this is Trump's M.O. So his 2016 election was a shock to millions of Americans; an ugly reminder that this is still a society that mostly looks the other way when men assault and abuse women. In turn, the first protest against Trump — likely the largest protest in American history! — was the Women's March on January 21, 2017. The rage continued to grow, exploding after the Harvey Weinstein revelations, into a mass outpouring of fury over sexual abuse called the #MeToo movement.
Years later, we're facing an ugly, misogynist backlash, but still, there's much good that came from all this feminist energy.
The knowledge of how widespread sexual abuse is cannot be shoved back into the closet. Reckonings are fewer and further apart, but still, institutions like the Southern Baptist Convention continue to be rocked by #MeToo revelations. And now, in April of 2023 — nearly six years after the Women's March and the #MeToo explosion — the man who started it all, Donald Trump, is finally facing legal repercussions for the way he has treated women his whole life.
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On Tuesday, Trump is expected to be arraigned, at long last, over business fraud charges that are believed to stem from illegal payment schemes to hush a porn actress named Stormy Daniels. The press all too often uses the word "affair" to describe Trump's alleged relationship with Daniels, but that framing is misleading. It implies a level of affection and desire between two consenting adults that, by Daniels's own telling of the story, simply wasn't there. While Daniels has insisted "This is not a #MeToo" situation and that she is "not a victim," the details of her story line up with the many other stories — and with Trump's own words — illustrating how Trump pressures, bullies, and forces women to have sexual interactions with him.
The press all too often uses the word "affair" to describe Trump's alleged relationship with Stormy Daniels, but that framing is misleading.
"I realized exactly what I'd gotten myself into. And I was like, 'Ugh, here we go'" is how Daniels described her one sexual encounter with Trump, during a 2018 interview with Anderson Cooper. She went on to say that she felt like she "had it coming for making a bad decision for going to someone's room alone and I just heard the voice in my head, 'well, you put yourself in a bad situation and bad things happen, so you deserve this.'"She also told Cooper that part of the reason she let things get to the point was that Trump had been dangling out the hope she could be a contestant on "The Apprentice."
Regardless of how she feels about the sexual encounter itself, Daniels has been quite clear that she's been victimized by Trump since. She told Cooper about a strange man who approached her in a parking lot, while she was with her infant child, and threateningly said, "Leave Trump alone. Forget the story."
If these indictments go to trial, there's a strong chance that Daniels will be called to testify. But she isn't the only Trump victim who is likely to face down her abuser in a court of law. Later this month, journalist E. Jean Carroll, who claims Trump raped her in the 90s, will finally get her day in court, as well.
Due to the statute of limitations, Carroll couldn't press criminal charges against Trump. But, because he has a big mouth and a big ego, he created an opportunity for her to sue him for defamation after she publicly told her story of him allegedly attacking her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in Manhattan. Trump responded in his usual way, by accusing Carroll of lying and adding a bunch of insults about her looks to the mix. He also unsubtly threatened her, saying "people have to be careful, because they are playing with very dangerous territory."
Trump's predatory behavior towards women is at the center of both these cases, a fact that should not be ignored or forgotten.
The laws about defamation have high bars, but it is also indisputable that Trump lied in his many diatribes about Carroll. He claimed to have "absolutely no idea who she is." Yet there's a picture of them together. He claimed "she's not my type," but the photo shows that Carroll, at the time, looked very much like his then-wife Ivana Trump. During a deposition in October 2022, lawyers asked Trump to identify a photo of Carroll and he said, "That's Marla, yeah. That's my wife," mistaking Carroll for his second wife, Marla Maples.
Republicans have been encouraging this notion that these cases are small potatoes compared to supposedly bigger investigations centered around Trump's efforts to steal the 2020 election and his absconding with classified documents that belong to the federal government. Sadly, the male-dominated press is buying into this notion, with far too many pundits playing off these two cases as minor matters. But Trump's abuse of women is not a minor matter. The actual laws being invoked — business fraud and defamation — don't directly address sexual abuse. But Trump's predatory behavior towards women is at the center of both these cases, a fact that should not be ignored or forgotten.
As the protesters in the Women's March understood, how men treat women tells you a great deal about their character. When Trump entered the White House, one sure thing we all knew about him was that he didn't believe a woman had a right to say "no" to him. Over the next four years, he proved that this entitled attitude was not limited to sex or women. Trump doesn't think anyone has a right to say "no" to him. Not the president of Ukraine. Not various public officials he leaned on to break the law. And, ultimately, not the American people.
When voters told Trump they preferred President Joe Biden to him, he treated voters like he does a woman who declines his sexual attention. He tried to force himself on the country anyway.
Women told us from the beginning who Trump is. It's poetic justice that they get to be first in line to start holding him accountable.