My Trumpian mea culpa

“… 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.”

– Donald Trump, 2005.

There’s a lot to dislike about Trump. But I was hoping that the thing that would kill his campaign would be a video of him saying something outrageously racist. And now here we are still a few weeks away from the election and what’s happened is his equally objectionable statements about women.

To be sure,Trump has a few answers to his critics and those women who accused him (now numbering fourteen , according to Vox online) of doing exactly the same things as he bragged of.

For one thing, he’s threatening to sue his accusers as soon as the election is over. I hope Trump will not listen to his lawyers who will surely tell him that he doesn’t have a chance of winning and that good lawyers are lining up to defend those women.

But I got a bit distracted there, I meant to examine Trump’s rhetorical strategies.

Those incidents were a long time ago.

True, but not as long ago as the events that figured in the accusations Trump has lobbed at Bill Clinton. What’s sauce for the goose is surely sauce for the Trump. And moreover, and more pertinently, the harms he inflicted on the women he groped don’t go away that quickly.

I was younger then. I’ve grown up and changed my ways.

I don’t think people can change between the ages of sixty and seventy. If you were a groper then, you’re probably still a groper now.

It was a private conversation, or just locker room talk, or just a joke. Boys being boys and all that.

This is a little better but not much. Even if you meant it as a joke, it still helps your audience think that you are serious. And people who listen to you sometimes take the joke seriously enough to act on it. In this way, casual sexism, racism, and homophobia get transformed into serious sexism, racism, and homophobia. The other problem is that other people are affected by your own words, even if you don’t realize it. In this way even private conversations with close friends can have consequences for other people who you have never met. And if you joke about something then maybe that’s your real opinion about the matter.

Sidebar : I worked for a while on construction sites and then when I went back to college I took several women’s studies classes. Sometimes I would hear fellow students complaining bitterly and justifiably about catcalls. But I kept silent because I knew that what was said in the lunchroom was even worse. The same old guys who mentored young workers about the best way to pour concrete also taught them how to be adult men- even though they didn’t realize what they were doing.  The young men themselves were eager to hear about how to conduct themselves – even if they didn’t know it either. But what they learned, even unconsciously, was that they were more important than women and even if it was all a joke, it still told them what to do. 

  I’m sorry if my words offended anyone.

Sorry, but an apology without any commitment to change in the future is just inadequate. And the caveat about offense is designed to make it look like maybe offense is a shared responsibility and not exclusively your own fault. Maybe the audience was just too sensitive so it’s at least partly their own fault as well.

 I think women who have a problem with my behavior should tell me themselves. Who are you to criticize me?

This won’t work either. The feminist movement has been telling men for years (well , decades, actually) to clean up their act and change their ways. Butn a lot of men, maybe including Trump himself, have disregarded their words and painted them as strident and angry men-haters. So damned as feminists if they complain and damned as consenting to being groped if they don’t.

And so on. Deep breath. You see, I’ve done some of the same things that Trump is accused of. I hope sincerely that I didn’t take the same liberties as Trump but I don’t know for sure and I really don’t want to again. The only thing I can do is to change. And I promise I’ll listen to women more often. I promise to not make jokes about women, race and gays again and to stand up to those who do. This doesn’t mean I’ll be sanctimonious or priggish – just being the kind of person I want others and myself to be. All that said, I don’t even know if I can keep these very high standards. I don’t know if this will be enough for the people who have been excluded from some arenas. Maybe it won’t be enough but it’s all I can do. If you are tempted to praise me for something, don’t bother. This debate and the fact that we have to have this conversation about a presidential candidate shows how much we have to do to respect half the world’s population and that’s a pretty sad state of affairs.

Sidebar: I worked with the Ahmadiyya Muslims for ten years and I always respected them for the strength of their beliefs even if I never agreed with them on many issues. I once heard an Ahmadi speaker referring to the motto of the Ahmadiyyas: “Love for all, hatred for none .” But the speaker said that he was having some difficulties with his wife and she struck out first ” n” in the word “none” transforming it to “one “,  turning the slogan into “love for all, hatred for one “and effectively reminding him that sometimes we don’t always live up to our own standards. I’m guilty of the same thing. 


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