The big news on Friday was Donald Trump’s sex tape. But there was nothing new on it.
Trump said dirty words. He talked about gleefully pursuing adultery. He bragged to a TV journalist about an unending series of sexual conquests with beautiful women. He explained the method he was so proud of: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. I just start kissing them. I don’t even wait.”
The tape tells us nothing that we didn’t know before. From lawsuits, from interviews with women, from other recordings he made with other crude men. From his own books and public statements.
Why the fuss now? Despite his brazen display of precisely the character he said “wasn’t him”, it has taken a long time for Americans to realize what his character is. Of course, liberals like me were opposed to Trump from the start. Until he leaped on the birther story, I never knew much about him. Just as every slip-up from Hillary Clinton is noticed and magnified by conservatives, like turning a cold into a character flaw, I then noticed the displays of juvenile machismo, nasty attitudes, deliberately malicious attacks, and psychological sickness.
Those who agreed with the political ideas he advanced have been much less willing to see his long string of “unacceptable” behaviors as a window into his soul. In Republican debates over the past year, against all those other men in suits, several of whom descended to his level, he was able to win over millions of people who did not know much about him. Maybe those other guys weren’t so hot, either. Right up to his debate with Clinton, his supporters argued away every awful comment, every fraudulent Trump Foundation transaction, every bit of evidence of his abhorrent personality.
Republican office-holders kept trying to avoid commitment, either to Trump or to the values they have been proclaiming all these years. At every crucial moment, they would repeat their mantra: “That action is unacceptable.” And then they did nothing.
Recently, especially before the first debate with Clinton, stories about Trump have piled up. Newspapers and media who felt a responsibility to inform the public had launched investigations of his business life, his education, his legal troubles, and his past statements about everything. People who had personal or professional experiences with Trump have gradually been coming forward. His lies added up, so that many newspapers decided to be more open about calling a lie a lie.
Trump didn’t come apart in that first presidential debate two weeks ago, nor did he “lose control” over the next few days. In his performance on the biggest stage, he did what he has always done in his relationships with women, with the truth, and with people he doesn’t like. In the second debate this weekend, Trump was unable to do anything more than pretend he was just like any other guy in a locker room.
The sex talk tape is exactly Trump, just cruder, more explicit, more revealing than what we have seen and heard already.
The Republican Party and its leaders have known much more about Trump than we have. Some of the harshest criticisms and the most damaging revelations about Trump have come from conservatives who are not seeking votes for themselves, but a future for their Party. Trump likes to think of himself as Midas, who can turn everything into gold. Instead, he has tainted every Republican politician who allowed him to get near them. They were willing to let this man become President in order to save their political careers.
It will be interesting, but not fun, to watch Republican politicians dance around Trump and their own responses these next few weeks.
It’s too late to change the ticket. Mike Pence is not exactly a profile in courage, either. The best that could be said for him is that he was a kind man who became a blind dupe, who hitched his future to Trump when other Republicans were unwilling, who learned how to repeat Trump’s lies.
This campaign has shown the prejudices lurking deep in our society, ready to be exploited by a shameless demagogue. I’m sad that so many of my fellow Americans liked Trump’s rantings about Mexicans, about African Americans, about Muslims so much that they were willing to ignore his sleaziness. I hope some of them reconsider those ideas, now that they see their main promoter as a charlatan and a pig.
I’ll be even sadder if they vote for him, now that excuses for his character are no longer tenable.
There is no other Trump, no improved Trump, no more mature and less hateful Trump. He would like to be Mr. America, but he’s just a colossal jerk.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 11, 2016