Forget foreign policy, economic policy, civil liberties or “muh roads.” With three weeks to go before Election Day, discussion of the so-called “issues” is over. From here on in, the candidates seem determined to do nothing but fire volleys of character assassination at the two easiest targets who ever ran for office.
Thank goodness for that, too, for as libertarian icon Lew Rockwell, wrote, “In contrast to campaign “substance” which is mostly always wrong, or skewed, the invective is mostly entirely true.” Never has this been truer, as both candidates have made compelling cases the other is unfit to serve as a garbage collector, much less president.
But while the candidates’ accusations have been mostly true, a goodly portion of the media reporting is demonstrably false. The most egregious example is the ubiquitous assertion that Trump admitted to “grabbing women by the …” on a recording made by Billy Bush. Trump never admitted to such on the video and, if you think you heard him do so, then you should watch the video again.
Trump does admit that when he meets beautiful women (“women” is left off in typical Trump sentence fragment fashion) “I just start kissing them.” Besides a previous admission that he pursued a married woman and failed, that is the only conduct Trump admits to on the recording. Everything that follows is hypothetical talk about what women will let you do “when you’re a star.” Trump says “You can do anything.” Bush encourages him with “Whatever you want.” Trump then utters the infamous “Grab” comment.
No matter how tortuously you try to bend the words, the last comment cannot be interpreted by any honest person as Trump talking about something he did. It’s clearly stated hypothetically in the second person, not the first, as was the kissing admission. One could even argue it’s an exaggeration for effect, with Trump purposely saying something outrageous to make his point about the effect stardom has on women.
If you think that’s nitpicking, let’s remember I’m using the standard definition of “is.” I’m not calling it into question as a sitting president once did. Against the State: An ... Best Price: $4.43 Buy New $9.15 (as of 02:55 EDT - Details)
But seriously, folks, this is important, because the false narrative that Trump made this admission is now being used to bolster the claims by several women that Trump sexually assaulted them with similar tactics, grabbing them in various places without their consent.
Without their consent. That’s important, as it’s the key element that distinguishes consensual sex from sexual assault. But how has the media established this? Normally, consenting adults don’t discuss what they’re about to do in detail or sign written contracts in advance. Presumably, Trump initiated kissing or touching and the women clearly told him they weren’t interested or to stop.
It’s just that none of the accusers have said this. If you think you read they did, then you should watch Jessica Leeds’ account again. She describes what Trump allegedly did and now says it was a sexual assault. But nowhere in her account as published by the New York Times does she ever say she told Trump to stop. In fact, she says that if he limited his contact with “the upper part of the body, I might not have gotten that upset.”
Might not have gotten that upset? Are these the words of a sexual assault victim?
One might blow off the absence of evidence the alleged victim told Trump “no” in one story, but it seems to be a pattern. In Natasha Stoynoff’s account, Trump pins her against the wall, kissing her, and a minute later the butler bursts into the room to tell them Melania was on the way. She then resumes the interview, claiming now she was in shock (as she may well have been).
For the record, the butler says none of this ever happened.
Kristin Anderson’s account similarly contains nothing about her telling Trump to stop what he was doing. The recording of the video is obviously heavily edited (there are several fades in and out and cuts during the very short account of the incident), so we don’t know what else she told the Washington Post. But had she said something to the effect of, “He started touching me, I told him to stop, but he kept on doing it,” it’s hard to believe we wouldn’t see that in the published version.
Only Summer Zervos’ reports that she told Trump she wasn’t interested in his advances and guess what? Trump respected her wishes: Guilty as Sin: Uncover... Best Price: $1.39 Buy New Too low to display (as of 08:35 EDT - Details)
“He put me in an embrace and I tried to push him away,” Zervos said. “I pushed his chest to put space between us, and I said, ‘Come on, man, get real.’ He repeated my words back to me ― ‘get reeeal’ ― as he began thrusting his genitals. He tried to kiss me again, and with my hand still on his chest, I said, ‘Dude, you’re tripping right now.’”
“He said, ‘What do you want?’” Zervos said. “And I said, ‘I came to have dinner.’ He said, ‘OK, we’ll have dinner.’”
Once it was clear she would not entertain his advances, Zervos said, Trump “paced around the room. He acted like he was a bit angry. He pointed out that someone had delivered a fruit basket.” Zervos said she felt like Trump pointed out the fruit basket “to show me how important he was.”
Read that again. After Zervos told him to stop, Trump paced, acted angry, and pointed out a fruit basket. But he stopped. He didn’t continue the unwanted contact. Zervos’ testimony could be presented as exculpatory by a hypothetical Trump defense attorney.
As of this writing, it doesn’t appear that any of the alleged victims of Trump’s “assaults” claim Trump continued physical contact with them after they told him not to. Yet, the media are reporting all of them as alleged sexual assaults, not merely boorish behavior.
It all fits together neatly if you ignore what Trump actually said on the Bush video and don’t pay particular attention to what the alleged victims actually said, either.
This all assumes that the alleged incidents happened in the first place, something Trump vehemently denies. This is important. He hasn’t tried to spin the encounters into being more consensual than the accusers claim they were. He says they never happened at all and his campaign has provided some evidence to support their claim. Is he outright lying?
Katty Kay put Ben Carson on the spot, asking him, “Are you saying these women are lying?” Carson couldn’t have handled the perfectly reasonable question worse, saying, in effect, the nation’s problems are more important than whether the Republican sexually assaulted them or not. The Clintonsu2019 War ... Best Price: $1.60 Buy New $8.98 (as of 10:10 EDT - Details)
The question should have been put back to her, “Are you saying Donald Trump is lying and, in the absence of any corroborating evidence other than his accusers’ unverifiable claims against his own, don’t our legal traditions compel us to presume him innocent until proven guilty?
Finally, the media and the public seem to be completely ignoring what we saw on the Billy Bush tape, once an actual woman shows up. After all the braggadocio and the Tic Tacs, Trump behaves like a shy schoolboy. Billy Bush has to goad him into even hugging the woman, which Trump does sheepishly while kissing her on the cheek. After that, Bush does most of the talking, with Trump walking along not even looking at the woman.
Rather than a sexual predator, the video as a whole seems to portray a very insecure man who feels the need to boast of his prowess with women, but who doesn’t have much “game” when a real woman is in front of him. This seems very consistent with Trump’s constant need to brag about (and allegedly exaggerate) his wealth and his penchant for responding to criticism with unhinged tantrums. Whether a person this insecure is fit to be president is a subject for another column.
What is important now is whether these allegations should influence the election. The women in question and the media are accusing Donald Trump of a crime. These are serious charges which, if true, should have more than political consequences. And if they are true, one would expect the women to press charges and for several district attorneys to seek indictments in the applicable jurisdictions.
That they waited years or decades to make these claims is a problem. It doesn’t mean they aren’t true, but making them three weeks before a presidential election raises questions about their motivation.
That the Billy Bush tape doesn’t contain what the media say it does and that none of the accusers’ accounts contain evidence of a key element of the alleged crimes are two more problems.
Nevertheless, if they were sexually assaulted, the women in question deserve justice. So does Donald Trump, whether it’s exoneration or punishment. But there isn’t time for due process before the electorate makes a rather important decision.
We the people deserve better than this, too.