Trump said men would see his mistreatment of Stormy Daniels as "cool." His trial suggests otherwise

Stormy Daniels is just the latest woman to note Trump uses coercion because he's incapable of persuasion

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published May 15, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Despite all the press hand-wringing about Michael Cohen's so-called credibility issues as a witness in Donald Trump's criminal fraud trial, the colorful details he's offered from the Manhattan witness stand this week add an aura of truth to his recollections. Cohen claims Trump blew off concerns about Melania Trump leaving him after his infidelities were revealed with, "How long do you think I’ll be on the market for? Not long." Of course. "There's going to be a lot of women coming forward," Cohen claims Trump warned him as the number accusing him of sexual abuse or harassment swiftly topped two dozen

Perhaps the most telling bit of Trumpian dialogue Cohen recounted from the stand, however, was Trump's reaction to hearing adult film actress Stormy Daniels was shopping the story of their 2006 sexual encounter to the press in the days after the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape.

"Women are going to hate me," Trump said, according to Cohen's testimony. "Guys may think this is cool, but this is going to be a disaster for the campaign."

The possibility that men could experience empathy or care for women seems alien to Trump. 

That's believable because such an assessment reflects Trump's zero-sum view of all relationships: Every human interaction has a winner and a loser.

"The spin he wanted put on it," Cohen told the court, "was that this is 'locker room talk,' something that Melania had recommended — or, at least, he told me that’s what Melania had thought it was — and use that in order to get control over the story and to minimize its impact on him and his campaign."

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Daniels testified last week about what was, at best, really bad sex with Trump. There were a lot of red flags for coercion — Trump "blocking the door," the bodyguard stationed outside, and Trump using Harvey Weinstein-style threats that the only way Daniels would "get out of that trailer park" would be by having sex with him. Trump seems to believe that men, as a group, would generally agree that it's just great if your sexual partner leaves an encounter traumatized and ashamed, so long as the dude gets what he wants. The possibility that men could experience empathy or care for women seems alien to Trump. 

But, of course, there's a long and ugly public record of Trump expressing this acrimonious view of gender relations in both private and public. On the "Access Hollywood" tape — filmed a year before his encounter with Daniels — Trump is bragging about how he sexually assaults women to impress his male companion, the show's host Billy Bush. The two men laughingly relish the pain of Trump's victims, as Trump crows, "when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything." 

During the civil trial period where Trump was found liable for sexually assaulting E. Jean Carroll, he repeatedly defended this view as if he were simply describing an inescapable fact of nature. During his deposition, he was asked if he believes powerful men can just sexually assault who they like, saying, "If you look over the last million years, I guess that’s been largely true," tacking on "unfortunately or fortunately."

When asked to clarify on CNN after losing the case, he said he meant it was "fortunately" for powerful men but "unfortunately for her." It's like hearing someone describe eating a hamburger as good for the person, but bad for the cow. During the same interview, he blamed Carroll for the assault, saying "What kind of a woman meets somebody" and then allows herself to be alone "in a dressing room" with him shortly thereafter. He repeatedly talks about sex between men and women as if it's inherently violent, like he's the predator and she's the prey — and if she gets hurt, it's her fault for not protecting herself against him. 

As Bush's cackling on the "Access Hollywood" tape suggests, some men do think it's "cool" to view sex as something you extract out of women, instead of something consenting adults choose in hopes of mutual enjoyment. As Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna lamented in a recent interview with Salon, some men enjoy "the look of humiliation and fear on women's faces." In her writings on the origins of misogyny, philosopher Kate Manne roots the phenomenon in male entitlement, arguing that men want to lash out at women who are denying them what they feel they are owed, whether it's submission, attention, or sex. 

It's not a coincidence that there's a lot of overlap between male Trump supporters and communities of bitter misogynists, from "incels" (who hate women for supposedly denying them sex) to "men's rights activists" (who are angry at women for wanting equality). They want to live vicariously through Trump's abuse of women. But it's also true that plenty of men find this behavior gross. And not just because it's immoral, either. Trump's actions are also pathetic. 

As many male commentators pointed out in the aftermath of Daniels testifying, Trump comes across in her story as equal parts scary and pathetic. Pathetic, because he wants so badly to be seen as suave and attractive, but fails miserably at it. His silk pajamas were an attempt at Hugh Hefner cosplay. His arrogance and boasting failed to impress the much younger woman he had lured to his room under false pretenses. She's not attracted to him. She's plotting her escape. In the end, because he can't seduce her, he leverages fear. While falling short of legally provable rape, the events that day left her sad and regretful that she ever went to visit this horrible man. 

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Trump has often sought to portray himself as a Lothario, a James Bond-type who the women can't resist. The evidence, however, suggests the opposite is true: Women are just not that into him, or, in most cases, are actively repulsed. Rather than admit it's a personal problem caused by his loathsome personality, Trump, like most misogynists, spins a story where sex is never something women actually want. Instead, they have to be bribed, bullied or even forced. Wives in this view are paid-for trophies. Extramarital sex is always viewed in terms of conquest, whether by tricking women with false promises of a payday or, as Trump explained to Bush, by simply making them do it.

But even Trump knows on some level this isn't "cool." If he thought he came off as sexy and desirable in the story Daniels told, his narcissism may compel him to admit they had sex. But he denies her story, no doubt because the main theme is how bad he is at sex. 

Trump's abusive treatment of women is often treated like a sideshow to his larger criminal and authoritarian project, but in truth, it's all rooted in the same toxic levels of entitlement. He can't persuade women to want him, so instead he turns to coercion. His fascist ideology is more of the same. Unable to convince most Americans to support him or his politics, he seeks out ways to impose himself on the country anyway, through lies, fraud, and, eventually, an attempted coup. The man has never met a system he didn't try to cheat. That's largely because, his claims to being the greatest at all things at all times aside, he knows he simply doesn't have the talents or work ethic to succeed on the merits. Far from being a side issue, Trump's hostile attitudes towards women predict his approach to the law, the public, and the political system: Since he can't win fairly, he chooses force. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Commentary Donald Trump Michael Cohen Misogyny Stormy Daniels