With all the prominent men being accused of various forms of sexual harassment and abuse, we've gotten used to a certain kind of statement the men make when the news breaks.
Sometimes they deny the accusations, sometimes they apologize if their behavior stepped over the line, sometimes they take complete responsibility, but nearly all of them are sure to include words asserting their belief that women deserve to be free of harassment in their work and personal lives.
Except one: President Donald Trump.
Monday, three of the more than a dozen women who have accused the president of various forms of harassment and abuse renewed their call for an investigation into all the claims against him. Trump's response, as it has been in the past, is that they're all liars, even those who are saying he did what he himself is on tape bragging about his ability to do with impunity. He does not bother saying that women should be treated with respect. He does not pay lip service to contemporary values about equality. He attacks them.
Tuesday, he added a senator to his list of targets, in a characteristically vulgar way.
First Trump tweeted that the Democrats are promoting "the false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don't know and/or have never met. FAKE NEWS!" This is a lie. As the Washington Post notes, "The list of women includes a former Apprentice contestant, a former business partner, a woman who has a photo of the two of them together, a contestant in one of his pageants and a People reporter who interviewed him."
Then Trump took direct aim at Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. The proximate cause is that Gillibrand, having called for Al Franken to resign over accusations of sexual impropriety, was soon asked whether the president should resign as well, and Monday said that he should. So here's what Trump tweeted about her Tuesday morning:
"Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office "begging" for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!"
This is the part where I'm supposed to acknowledge that Trump's words had just enough ambiguity to them that he might not be saying what he seems to be saying. Maybe when he said she "would do anything" for a campaign contribution, he was implying that Gillibrand would promise to support legislation her donors favored, or would sing Highway to the Danger Zone if they asked.
But let's not kid ourselves. We all know what he was saying. In so many words, the president basically just shouted "Whore!" at a U.S. senator.
Gillibrand is functioning as a surrogate for Trump's accusers here, but the attack would be familiar to many women who have resisted advances from men with power over them. "She wanted me, but I turned her down" is a message men often spread in order to humiliate and denigrate the women who aren't willing to submit to them, knowing that there are few surer ways to harm a woman's career than to paint her as attempting to use her sexuality to get ahead.
That was a key aspect of his response to the many women who accused Trump of various forms of sexual harassment: Not only are they liars, but the proof is that they're too ugly for me to abuse. "Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you," he said about a woman who charged that he groped her on an airline flight, the assumption being that it's his right to choose which women he's going to assault. "When you looked at that horrible woman last night, you said, 'I don't think so.'?" About another woman who accused him of sexual assault, he said, "Check out her Facebook, you'll understand," to the laughs of the crowd.
One of the most important characteristics of Trump's political persona, and one that was particularly thrilling to many of his supporters, is his steadfast refusal to accept many of the political and social values that politicians of all parties take as a given. But when Trump responds to charges of sexual harassment by claiming that a senator would have traded sex with him for money, he's telling every man who doesn't like all this talk about harassment and abuse: To hell with these women, thinking they can tell us what we can and can't do to them. We'll show them.
A number of feminist writers have warned that there's a backlash to the #MeToo movement on its way. If it comes, there's now little doubt about who'll be leading it.
Paul Waldman is a senior writer at the American Prospect.
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