In recent campaign history, certain myths have taken hold in ways that obscure what actually happened. Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign, for example, was already collapsing at the time of his “scream” in Iowa. Mitt Romney’s support was already falling in 2012 when the “47 percent” video reached the public.
And Donald Trump’s support was already fading when Americans heard his 2005 boasts about sexual assault, so his candidacy’s current difficulties cannot solely be blamed on the “grab them by the p***y” audio.
That said, it certainly didn’t help.
Sometimes it seems a fine line; in either case, Dean or Romney, we might respond to Benen by pointing out that what we really mean by something wrecking the campaign is that it was a proverbial final nail, as if until that moment there was some hope of saving the patient, and then the surgeon went and removed the gall bladder with a shotgun.
This is an American marketplace; there are days when people really can’t tell the difference. Never mind.
Another important point:
Complicating matters, Trump and his allies still haven’t thought of a credible way to explain the recording, though the candidate’s wife did her best during a CNN interview yesterday.
Melania Trump defended Donald Trump against allegations that he sexually assaulted women, saying in a rare interview Monday night that her husband was “egged on” to make lewd comments about women that were caught on tape in 2005. […]
[She dismissed the conversation between Trump and Billy Bush] as “boy talk” and speculated that her husband “was led on―like, egged on―from the host to say dirty and bad stuff.”
That’s not much of a defense. Donald Trump didn’t want to brag about sexual misconduct, but he fell sway to the persuasive powers of the host of an entertainment-news show? For all the talk about Trump’s persona as a tough guy, he succumbed to pressure from Billy Bush?
This is just one of those things that people do because so little of what we do is tasked to its ostensible purpose. Really, who thinks things through like that? And, yes, plenty are going to raise their hands, and some are going to be annoyed that anyone asked. But that is also the point. Watching the people around us, we will see and hear similar quirks. Do not focus on what she said, so such, as what it means in the context of what those words actually do.
A bland, nondescript example is a household disagreement; it really does sound like politics if we attend on the issues or the specific words, but the formulations and the devices; someone says something, there is a response, and the retort is not to address the response in the context of what it means, but to change the subject and attack the response as an independent issue.
In truth, it is neurotic behavior; it is why people always want to look ahead instead of dwelling in the past. The problem is simply that we’re human, and therefore imperfect, and sometimes the response is correct and we are not, so instead of circling back and understanding the error as relates the issue of contention, one pushes ahead to attack a new point of contention, thus passing over one’s error without any consideration of how it occurred or how to prevent it. And speaking of circling back, something goes here about failing to learn history and being condemned to repeat it. It is probably best that American pop culture in the twenty-first century is so influentially defined by re-imagination, reboot, and remix. One might reasonably wonder if, soon enough, supremacism and bigotry will be protected as art forms, though in truth this is probably its own issue, and therefore a change of subject.
In terms of formulation and device, what Melania Trump is hardly doing anything unusual. It is, of course, the magnitude of what her words imply that makes it shocking, but when we cut through the strange, unsubstantiated and sometimes inaccurate counteraccusations, there remains this idea that the indefatigable, unbeatable, genius leadership of Donald Trump can be led astray like an irresponsible young boy. What, a celebrity gossip reporter is smarter than Donald Trump? Donald Trump is so desperate for attention that he can be so easily baited into behaving badly? Actually, Eric Bradner’s report for CNN offers even more on this part:
“I heard many different stuff―boys talk,” she said. “The boys, the way they talk when they grow up and they want to sometimes show each other, ‘Oh, this and that’ and talking about the girls. But yes, I was surprised, of course.”
She said she jokes that her husband at times behaves like an overgrown boy―and that she saw his “Access Hollywood” remarks as emblematic of that.
“Sometimes I say I have two boys at home―I have my young son and I have my husband. But I know how some men talk, and that’s how I saw it, yes,” she said.
It is worth noting that while one can, in fact, concur with a certain amount of the consideration of “boy” or “locker room” talk―that is to say, it exists, it really is that filthy sometimes, and at times when it becomes relevant precisely none of us are anxious to admit the things we heard, said, and maybe even believed along the way―there is also the fact that a man in his forties is describing locker room talk of his youth is recalling the late eighties and into the nineties, not 2005, and when he was fourteen, sixteen, eighteen, not fifty-nine.
Still, though, it seems wroth noting that Melania Trump verges on denigrating males in general, but more definitively skewers her own family values. From the interview transcript:
COOPER: He described it as locker room talk.
M. TRUMP: Uh-huh.
COOPER: To you, I mean, you sort of alluded to that as well. Is that what it is to you, just locker room talk?
M. TRUMP: Yes, it’s kind of two teenage boys. Actually, they should behave better, right?
COOPER: He was 59.
M. TRUMP: Correct. And sometimes I said I have two boys at home. I have my young son and I have my husband. So―but, I know how some men talk and that’s how I saw it, yes.
So here is an interesting not quite paradox:
• Melania Trump presumes her husband would speak that way in front of her, because apparently that’s how it’s always gone between American husbands and wives.
• Melania Trump knows how boys talk because she has two boys in the house, one of whom was fifty-nine when he talked about grabbing women by their genitals and how he can get away with it because he’s famous.
Then again, it probably isn’t fair. Not every complaint under the sun can simultaneously apply. It’s easy enough to skip out on that particular question of Trump family values. Benen is correct; it does, in fact seem a relevant question: What does it mean that Melania Trump sees her husband, a man who would be president, as a little boy easily led astray because he wants to be cool?
How is the average voter supposed to deal with that?
Image note: Melania Trump discusses her husband, Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, during an interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN, 17 October 2016.
Benen, Steve. “Trump’s wife struggles to defend the indefensible”. msnbc. 18 October 2016.
Bradner, Eric. “Melania Trump: Donald Trump was ‘egged on’ into ‘boy talk'”. CNN. 18 October 2016.
Cooper, Anderson. Interview w/Melania Trump. Anderson Cooper 360°. CNN. 17 October 2016.