Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Donald Trump’s reaction to the Access Hollywood video that broke last week, and to all the women who have since (and previously) come forward to accuse him of sexual assault, is his utter incomprehension that he has done anything wrong.
All politicians are well trained in denying or deflecting wrongdoing, at least until the issue can be dissected by advisors and an approach agreed upon. But this is Trump’s first time at the rodeo as a politician, and given his noted disinclination to heed his own campaign staff’s advice, that doesn’t seem to be the case here.
In his so-called apology video to the American people, Trump dismissed his 2005 remarks (“I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful [women]… I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.") as “locker room talk.” The trouble is, if you’re dismissing something, then you are not fully apologizing for it.
He did it again during the second presidential debate when moderator Anderson Cooper asked him about the Access Hollywood tape, classifying what Trump was describing as sexual assault. “I don’t think you understood it at all,” Trump said. “This was locker room talk. I am not proud of it. I apologized to my family and the American people. I am not proud of it. This is locker room talk,” he repeated.
And he was still clinging to that line on Tuesday, when a New York Times reporter asked him about two women who had come forward accusing Trump of past assaults. He called her a “disgusting human being” and told her, “None of this ever took place… I don’t do it. I don’t do it. It was locker room talk.”
"How many times do I have to repeat myself?!" you can almost hear him thinking. "It was locker room talk!"
Even his denials of this past week's accusations miss the fundamental point: he claimed that he could not have assaulted People Magazine reporter Natasha Stoynoff because she isn’t attractive enough, a line of logic that, if you follow it, concludes with attractive women being fair game.
Those are not the words of a man who feels any sort of remorse.
Those are the words of someone who truly doesn’t see a problem with the way he treats women and is downright incensed that people won’t stop bugging him about it.
Trump is a living, breathing, heavily sniffling, worst-case example of what happens when, after decades of getting away with it, someone is finally and very publically called to task for their behavior.
Until this election cycle, he’s hardly ever been held accountable for any of his behavior, and the few times someone tried to do so, he was able to lawyer the problem away. His first wife, Ivana, is barred by a non-disclosure agreement from ever talking about the time he violently assaulted her, which she herself described as rape in a deposition for their divorce case in the early ‘90s.
The media and the general public were widely accommodating of his behavior. “Such a comedian” the Chicago Tribune Wire headlined its 1992 bit about Trump asking two girls in a youth choir their ages and remarking “Wow! Just think, in a couple of years I’ll be dating you” when he learned they were 14. The press showed up in droves to cover the exceptionally cruel press conference he threw to have Alicia Machado, 1996 Miss Universe, work out like a hamster on a wheel because she had gained some weight. Howard Stern and others of his ilk have for years gladly listened to and encouraged Trump’s most misogynistic remarks and opinions.
Trump came into a position of power and authority at a time when, in the popular consciousness, rape and sexual assault referred to the most clear-cut and violent of cases, and all his unwanted sexual advances and predatory comments about women and young girls could be glossed over or laughed off.
Now, thankfully, we are slowly emerging from that mindset, but Donald just can’t understand – not exactly a quality you want in the president of the United States.
Trump might be a despicably lost cause, but something very important happened over the past week. Women are speaking out, and not just against Trump. On Twitter, over 27 million people responded to Kelly Oxford’s call to tweet their first assaults. RAINN, the sexual assault victim non-profit that runs the National Sexual Assault hotline, saw a 33% increase in calls.
Women: tweet me your first assaults. they aren't just stats. I'll go first:
Old man on city bus grabs my "pussy" and smiles at me, I'm 12.— kelly oxford (@kellyoxford) October 7, 2016
In an article for Slate about how Anita Hill, who in 1992 testified about the sexual harassment she experienced from her then-boss Clarence Thomas, paved the way for women to speak out about sexual assault, Dahlia Lithwick also sees something to celebrate:
“This dynamic—women who come forward emboldening more women to come forward—is exactly what we saw in the case of Bill Cosby. Only this time it’s even swifter. What became the Year of the Woman in 1992 looks like the Week of the Woman in 2016. That is a spectacular achievement. As sad and frustrating and maddening as it is to hear about women still being abused and treated like dirt by powerful men, this is progress.”