We have a pretty good idea what Donald Trump thinks of Hillary Clinton’s policies, statements, and debate performances: He doesn’t approve. Same goes for her ass, apparently.
In the midst of a Greensboro, North Carolina, rally last Friday, the Republican nominee for president of the United States took a moment to body-shame his opponent. “She walks in front of me, you know?” he said about the second debate, leaving out the part where he repeatedly skulked behind her like a creeper, trying to intimidate her. “And when she walked in front of me, believe me, I wasn’t impressed.”
Appearance is the primary standard by which Trump judges women. Another, related metric is whether or not he’d want to have sex with them. That’s how he defended himself against accusations that he groped Jessica Leeds “like an octopus,” as she described, in the first-class section of a flight more than 30 years ago. “Believe me, she would not be my first choice,” he told the Greensboro crowd. As for sticking his tongue down the throat of People magazine reporter Natasha Stoynoff? Trump claimed that her looks somehow disqualified her from being attacked. “Check out her Facebook page, you’ll understand,” he said.
In moments like this, it’s as if Trump has unearthed a trove of Mad Men monologues that were discarded by the show’s producers for their lack of believability and refashioned them into his talking points. He is utterly cartoonish in his chauvinism, a perverted villain who likes kissing women without consent and peeping into the dressing rooms of beauty pageant contestants. I could see the Scooby-Doo crew apprehending him at the end of an episode, while he whined about those “meddling kids.”
As he has pursued the presidency, Trump has transformed his campaign into a cult of personality. It isn’t bad enough that he himself hates women; he fans the flames of that hatred at his public appearances. Many of his supporters buy into this sickening “not attractive enough to sexually assault” theory, too: A day after reporter Karen Tumulty’s Washington Post report revealed yet another Trump accuser’s claims, she tweeted that she, too, was being judged in this same disturbing way.
Trump has lived his entire life in a world where multiple women can accuse him of sexual misconduct, and he can expect that his word will be accepted over theirs. This is rape culture, and this is Trump’s “normal.” He wants it to be everyone else’s “normal” too. Trump’s presidential run has inflicted his perverse idea of manhood upon America. Thanks to the 2016 race, he’s atop his highest soapbox ever, preaching the gospel of toxic masculinity — a lot of which is about men feeling entitled to women and their bodies. And his unapologetic demonization of women through both rhetoric and policy will resonate with his flock long after Election Day, triggering survivors of abuse and assault — and endangering women — as it spreads.
The fervor of Trump’s disciples is leading one of his accusers to leave the country, out of fear for her family’s safety. Mindy McGillivray told the Palm Beach Post that in 2003, Trump grabbed her “pretty close to the center of my butt” before flirting with her. Two days after her report was published, McGillivray told the same newspaper, “We feel the backlash of the Trump supporters. It scares us. It intimidates us. We are in fear of our lives.”
This kind of intimidation doesn’t just stem from supporters’ unquestioning belief in a political candidate. The standard for how society lets men treat women is already pretty low, and there a lot of people, of all genders, who are OK with that. You can see that standard reflected in the statements of female voters who stand by Trump, declaring that whether or not he is a sexual predator is irrelevant to them when considering his qualifications for the White House. Others have joined Trump in attacking his accusers’ credibility. “Them coming out now — I don’t believe it,” Ohio social worker Rebecca Robinette told the Los Angeles Times. “If it’s true, they would’ve come out way earlier.”
Belief in the veracity of a sexual assault claim is often about timing; people tend to think that women come forward with accusations after the fact only if they have something to gain. These kinds of impossible standards for survivors are one of the major reasons why so many never report what happened to them. And it’s another reason why we should be worried about Trump’s attitude toward sexual assault beyond the election.
Perhaps Trump’s most haunting and most effective line during this entire campaign came during his convention speech in Cleveland: “I am your voice,” he said then. He’s since repeated this phrase, because his campaign is less a political sales job than it is about promoting his personal brand, one intertwined with his bigotry and, now, his serial sexual abuse. Trump has his supporters believing that he’s one of them, and therefore, they are like him, too. When he loses, he won’t become a “loser” to his supporters — he’ll become a martyr. And, as such, they’ll carry his misogynist (and misandrist) doctrine forward, propagating it like a virus.
I couldn’t care less what happens to Trump himself after he loses the election, aside from perhaps some prosecutions stemming from his alleged sexual crimes and outstanding debts to small-business contractors. But the scariest thing to come out of this poisonous campaign is an emboldened group of people who think that being like Donald Trump is something to aspire to. That includes mirroring his inappropriate sexual advances, his utter disregard for affirmative consent, and his ridiculing of women who complain about such behavior. Trump has his disciples believing that “when you’re a star, they let you do it.” And he has them convinced that they’re all stars, just like him.