From the beginning, the main premise of the Donald Trump campaign, conveyed in unsubtle coded slogans like "Make America Great Again," has been that white men of country are being denied their rightful place atop the American hierarchy and that this orange-faced aging billionaire playboy is just bombastic enough to give it back to them. As things have grown more intense, there has been a surge of violence from Trump supporters who take the call to dominance quite seriously indeed. Just this week, a black protester at a Trump rally got sucker punched by an irate white man.
And now things have taken a turn towards the misogynist, in a way that is a chilling reminder of what, exactly, Trump supporters want when they clamor for the restoration of the good old boy sexism that Trump represents.
To summarize: A Washington Post reporter named Ben Terris described seeing Corey Lewandowski, Trump's campaign manager, grab Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields and nearly pull her to the ground at a rally when she dared try to ask the candidate a question about affirmative action on Tuesday. "Finger-shaped bruises formed on her arm," Terris reports, adding that Fields cried from the shock of the incident. Fields, after some apparent hesitation, confirmed the account. Politico offered corroborating evidence in the form of an audio recording where Terris can be heard rushing to Fields's aid.
Lloyd Grove at the Daily Beast then wrote a story that suggested that Lewandowski corroborated the incident himself. After interviewing various witnesses and inside sources, Grove writes, "Lewandowski acknowledged to Breitbart’s Washington political editor, Matthew Boyle, that he did manhandle Fields."
"Lewandowski’s explanation to Boyle, said these sources, was that he and Fields had never met before and that he didn’t recognize her as a Breitbart reporter, instead mistaking her for an adversarial member of the mainstream media," Grove added.
This seems like a cut-and-dry situation: Trump should apologize, Lewandowski should be fired. Ideally, Trump should fire himself, but that's really hoping too much.
Instead, we're seeing the sexist engine firing up and doing what it does best: Discrediting women's experiences by leaning on age-old stereotypes about women being hysterical liars. Usually you see this script being brought out to discredit women who make accusations of sexual abuse or harassment, but hey, the accuser is a woman, the accused is a man, so it's clear the Trump campaign figures that the situation is close enough.
Trump himself went there, when asked about it by reporters after Thursday night's debate.
"Perhaps she made the story up. I think that's what happened," he said, dismissing the story, adding, "and to the best of my knowledge, there's no pictures."
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hick claims Fields "never met" Lewandowski, making it excruciatingly clear they are running the exact same script — "pics or it didn't happen," "I never met the woman!", "she just wants attention" — that has long been run to discredit women who make charges of sexual abuse or harassment.
It's the "nutty and slutty" gambit, which David Brock, who used to be a right-wing propagandist masking himself as a journalist, coined. At the behest of his right-wing benefactors, Brock wrote a book smearing Anita Hill for coming forward with sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas. Brock admitted later, after he repented (going to start Media Matters, an organization devoted to exposing right wing propaganda) that he printed "virtually every derogatory and often contradictory allegation" he heard to frame Hill as "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty".
"Nutty" for casting aspersions on the accuser's mental health. "Slutty" is synonymous with "attention whore" in the script, since the assumption on the right is women have sex not for pleasure, but to attract attention — thus any attention-getting has a weird, sexualized component in the narrative.
The "nutty and slutty" gambit is a rock solid favorite, to this day, in right-wing circles. Breitbart in particular runs stories smearing practically any woman who comes forth with allegations in this way. Breitbart went on a ridiculous and inept campaign to accuse Lena Dunham, whose unapologetic sexuality offends them, of fabricating a story in her book that reads an awful lot like rape. They've also run pieces insinuating that Emma Sulkowicz, a performance artist whose anti-rape work got national attention, made her story up for attention. After Gamergate, an online movement devoted to harassing women perceived as too outspoken or feminist in the video gaming world, broke out, Breitbart was so excited they hired one of the ringleaders of the harassment to run their "video gaming" vertical, even though he doesn't play video games.
Which is all why it's no surprise that one of the Breitbart writers, likely out of habit, went straight to hinting that his colleague is of the nutty-and-slutty variety, leading to his suspension. While the site was initially reluctant to give a full-throated defense of Fields, they have come around and are behind her. Throwing a reporter out to placate the Trump campaign would make the already disreputable site look even less like the "news" site they pretend to be, after all.
But this history of right-wing audiences drinking the "nutty and slutty" defense like it's mother's milk is almost surely why the Trump campaign thinks they can get away with this. Whatever he said privately to Breitbart, Lewandowski has decided to go all out on trying to discredit Fields in public.
Michelle Fields is an attention seeker who once claimed Allen West groped her but later went silent. https://t.co/J86Ej42eYx
— Corey Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) March 10, 2016
Daily Caller reporter assaulted by NYPD during ‘Occupy’ protests -- professional reporting or attention seeking? https://t.co/FqOQQMvNcy
— Corey Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) March 10, 2016
Accusing someone of being an attention "seeker" (oh, how he must have been holding back) is really rich coming from someone who works for Donald Trump.
Is it really so hard to believe, though, that a woman who has a job that puts her in a lot of strange situations might have a couple of really unpleasant encounters? I don't think I know any women who have never been groped, often at the job. And if you went to Occupy, getting a bit roughed up was a risk. I personally have both been both groped at one of my jobs (thankfully a long time ago, when I was in college) and a dog bit me (not a police dog) when I went to an Occupy protest. That history wouldn't stand out, unless you were predisposed to look for evidence that I'm a crazy bitch who makes up dog bites out of some feminine weakness for attention.
But whether or not those incidents happened or not or she exaggerated something more minor, the fact of the matter is that multiple reports, one by a named reporter, and an audio recording exist, showing that this particular incident likely happened. So her history doesn't even matter.
The "nutty and slutty" defense often works because, while it's rare, there are cases where women make stuff up in order to get attention. Men do it, too, but for some reason, that is rarely used as evidence that every man who experiences violence is a liar. The Trump campaign may be able to get away with this. After all, the encounter where a man punched a protester on video was asked about during the debate, but this wasn't asked about, even though it touches on freedom of the press issues that should matter to journalists. It's worrying that "pics or it didn't happen" might fly here.