Powerful men with long histories of alleged sexual harassment or assault are finally being held accountable – except one. That would be President Donald Trump.
From movie mogul Harvey Weinstein to television host Charlie Rose to Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore to veteran Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., prominent men are accused of using their status to take advantage of women in unconscionable ways. To my knowledge, however, only one of the alleged assailants has been caught on tape bragging about his misdeeds.
“I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her,” Trump said on the “Access Hollywood” tape, referring to a woman he had just spotted. “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – 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 ’em by the [vagina]. You can do anything.”
Thirteen women have gone on the record to say that is how Trump operated, according to a tally by The Washington Post. Eight of them – who say that Trump kissed them, groped them or both, without invitation or permission – have corroboration, meaning they told other people about the incidents before going public. Similar stories told by the other five accusers are not corroborated.
Trump won election despite the allegations, but his victory did not erase his history. Now, virtually overnight, the paradigm for thinking about and dealing with sexual harassment has changed. A kind of Judgment Day has arrived for men who thought they had gotten away with their misdeeds. Last week, Rose was one of the most lauded and respected figures in journalism. Today he is disgraced and out of a job.
Instances of sexual harassment are all deplorable but not all identical, and society’s punishment should fit the crime. One of the major factors that should be taken into account is whether the perpetrator has shown a pattern of such behavior. Dozens of women who worked closely with Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., have attested that they never knew him to behave like a pig. By contrast, dozens of women have accused Weinstein of vile assaults, and New York police have reportedly launched a criminal investigation.
In Trump’s case, there is a pattern. He described it himself on the tape, and the accusers corroborate his confession.
Trump is trying to tread this altered landscape lightly, at least by his own somewhat oafish standards. He did post a couple of mocking tweets last week about Franken, whom he called “Al Frankenstein,” but for the most part he remained uncharacteristically silent about what looks like a major cultural shift. Trump even went so far as to change the subject, fake-sparring on Twitter with bombastic entrepreneur LaVar Ball in the rhetorical equivalent of professional wrestling.
But ultimately the impending special election in Alabama for a crucial Senate seat forced Trump’s hand. Moore, the Republican candidate, is credibly accused of molesting a 14-year-old and prowling the local mall for teenaged girls when he was in his 30s; he denies the molestation and creepily says he never dated a girl without her mother’s permission.
Trump backed Moore’s GOP opponent in the primary. He steered clear of the contest between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones until Tuesday, when he jumped in by parroting the line that Moore’s supporters in Alabama have used to try to discredit the accusers: Why did they wait so long to make these charges? “I do have to say, 40 years is a long time,” Trump told reporters.
No, it’s not, given what we know about sexual harassment. Women often fear, quite rationally, that they will not be believed – and that, in the end, they may well have their lives ruined while the powerful men who abused them go merrily on their way.
Trump did mention that most of Moore’s accusers “are Trump voters,” which sounded like a slight hedge. Surely he realizes that by siding with Moore – clearly the net effect of his remarks – he invites a re-examination of his own alleged transgressions.
That re-examination must now begin.
If Congress is going to probe the conduct of members such as Conyers and Franken, it must also investigate the multiple, believable allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump. If they are true, the president must be censured.
The GOP leadership would be wise to realize that attitudes have changed. On this issue, to quote Bob Dylan, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is email@example.com.