Lewd talk in Trump tape puts supporters in a difficult position.
After the release of a video from 2005 of Donald Trump making lewd remarks to a reporter with Access Hollywood ahead of the second debate between Trump and Secretary Clinton this past Sunday, the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack asked Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions and others to weigh in on the nature of Donald Trump’s most questionable remarks to date.
SESSIONS: “This was very improper language, and he’s acknowledged that.”
MCCORMACK: “But beyond the language, would you characterize the behavior described in that video as sexual assault, if that behavior actually took place?”
SESSIONS: “I don’t characterize that as sexual assault. I think that’s a stretch. I don’t know what he meant —“
MCCORMACK: “So if you grab a woman by the genitals, that’s not sexual assault?”
SESSIONS: “I don’t know. It’s not clear that he — how that would occur.”
And with this the #NeverTrump folks join the Democrats making hay of the moral bankruptcy which has in their minds come to typify supporters of Donald Trump.
Yet it’s worth pointing out that the people who’d made up their mind about wholly rejecting Donald Trump weren’t likely to give any benefit of a doubt on these remarks either. Their moral judgment and objectivity have been skewed as well. They have as much reason to not want to be proven wrong for opposing him as his supporters have reason for not wanting to be proven wrong in supporting him.
Following Sessions’ example, we should prefer clarity over a rush to judgment for either innocence or guilt.
Those who formed the #NeverTrump movement early weren’t going to consider overlong how inappropriate remarks by Trump could be less than totally damning. They wrote him off a long time ago. And the Clinton folks knew they were going to assume him guilty until proven innocent for this video before they released it. Meanwhile Trump apologists like Sessions were always going to be dismissed as justifying anything and everything Trump does and says.
Yet far from downplaying sexual assault, Senator Sessions’ remarks to McCormack are an effort at giving the benefit of the doubt. The following three explanations are plausible, and more than justify Sessions’ reluctance to immediately condemn.
- Trump was bragging in an exaggerated way that doesn’t conform precisely to reality; Let’s be honest here; if Trump is known for anything, it’s braggadocios hyperbole.
- Trump wasn’t referring to non-consensual activities, or random and unprovoked actions on his part toward women; he was referring to instances in which women flirted and invited his attentions, and he gave them.
- A combination of the above two might mean, regardless how lecherous Trump has been, he didn’t assault any women. Trump exaggerates for comedic effect in extremely poor taste. But his sexual impropriety didn’t rise to the level of rape or assault.
Whether you’re personally inclined to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, that’s clearly what Sessions is trying to do. And, if we’re honest, it makes the most sense given what we know of who Trump is. He loves entertaining and getting attention, so his rhetoric is often over the top.
Just so, Senator Sessions supported Trump early on and is trying to make sense of these remarks in a way that allows him to continue doing so, which is not so hard to do.
The timing of the video’s release was not coincidental, but was meant to sway undecided voters.
Those like Sessions who supported Trump before continue to. Those who’ve railed against Trump now seize on this video to validate the contempt they’ve voiced all along. In short, this video released last week didn’t move the needle much for anyone who’s been paying attention. But then again, it didn’t need to.
The Clinton campaign needed to redirect low information voters. Last week Wikileaks released damning hacked emails and secret speech transcripts in which Clinton called for the dissolution of national borders. She also two-facedly distinguished between public policy positions needed to get and maintain support, and private policy positions which are her real goals that she can’t voice because it would keep her out of office.
Fortunately for Clinton, an obnoxious video was just what the doctor ordered. With it she gave the media an excuse for ignoring her scandals. That video was in Clinton’s possession for quite a while, waiting in the wings to be used as a countermeasure to throw off attacks against Hillary.
And you can be sure she’s been practicing her self-righteous disgust in the mirror for months. After all, abusing women is par for the course with the Clintons.
I shudder to think what Trump could do to truly shock or horrify them. We’d need a long list of women who’d reported Trump sexually assaulting and raping them. What’s more, we’d have to have known of those women for several decades, not just finding out about them last week. And Trump would have served two terms as President, lying under oath and being impeached, losing his license to practice law for his sexual misconduct and dishonesty. Only then could he match the Clintons.
Justice 101: Assess the evidence before you pass judgment.
Just this morning I watched the video in question myself for the first time. And from that I think it’s clear Donald Trump was talking in an over-the-top way to be funny and charming and impressive.
Billy Bush, with whom Trump was chatting and being interviewed for Access Hollywood, laughs at Trump’s comment about needing a tic-tac because he just automatically kisses beautiful women without thinking about it. And why does Bush laugh? Because he takes Trump’s remarks as the bad joke they were meant to be.
Does that make those remarks appropriate? Not at all. But it does mean it’s easy to give Trump the benefit of the doubt that he’s not describing sexual assault.
In contrast, there’s no other way to interpret his talking about trying to seduce a married woman by taking her furniture shopping. That’s deplorable and inexcusable, and yet that is hopefully part of what he’s apologized for in the days since. We can only hope he’s put that mindset and behavior behind him. And yet I’m saddened that this part of the conversation – the surest and least debatable part – has been largely ignored by the mainstream media and social media coverage feigning outrage thus far.
We can reasonably doubt that Trump sexually assaulted women, but we can’t reasonably assume he’s a wholesome, moral, upright, or godly man.
Nobody denies that Donald Trump has been sexually immoral, least of all Trump himself. So are we surprised that he touched women sexually? Or are we surprised that he talked about it? That doesn’t make any sense.
And yet, again, the perennial question is how to take Trump’s braggadocio. Is it a reliable measure of what he’s done, is doing, or will do?
Or, what, the #NeverTrump crowd believes he’s been lying nonstop on the campaign trail for the past year, but that there’s no way he exaggerated even slightly in two sentences from a private conversation 11 years ago? Give me a break. I don’t see why some private remarks to impress a young guy 11 years ago would be the rare exception where we’re going to expect absolute precision of language from him.
If Trump says he touched women or tried to seduce them, I don’t doubt him. But if he makes an over the top joke about kissing women automatically because he’s rich because they’ll let him do that, then goes even above that to talking about groping them to extend the punchline even further, that doesn’t mean he in fact groped women at random or without their consent. It just means that he’s got a perverted sense of humor and doesn’t know when to shut up.
And we knew that already, didn’t we?
Yet with the evidence so far, it’s reasonable to conclude that Trump was telling a joke in poor taste here; if he was groping women at random against their wishes, I would categorize that as sexual assault. And yet even if he was doing it with their consent, it was sexually immoral and reprehensible and he should be ashamed of himself.
We need to distinguish between clarifying Trump’s statements and actions on the one hand, and justifying them on the other.
There’s a big difference between arguing for clarity and fairness on the one hand and justifying inappropriate conduct and words on the other.
In my own case, I don’t believe I’ve ever tried to excuse the ungodly things Trump has done or said. Not once. I’ve been clear every step of the way about his warts. Trump is a deeply flawed character and candidate, to say the least.
That said, the #NeverTrump folks go farther than pointing out Trump’s flaws and vices and defects. They venture dangerously close to demonizing the man for these. What’s more, they often attack him with a passion above and beyond anything directed at the Clintons and Democrats. When they do this, it’s no more just than when Trumpeteers viciously attack anyone who objects to certain aspects of Trump’s character.
My argument continues to be what it has been from the very beginning. We need to proactively do our best. If you can’t vote for Trump because your conscience won’t allow for it, I respect you and your decision. And yet I strongly disagree with it.
On the flip-side, I would greatly appreciate not being demonized by association myself for supporting Trump. It’s not as though I agree with and enjoy everything he has done, said, and been. I’ve been very clear from the start that I don’t, and that has not changed and will not change.
We don’t need to presume Trump guilty until proven innocent on everything just because we strongly object on some things. Yet neither should we affirm everything he’s done just because voting him in is our only option.
Really now, folks. Let’s try to keep our heads here.