Donald Trump’s candidacy has been, to put it politely, divisive. Recently, an audio recording from 2005 was released in which Trump stated the following:
“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 them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
This recording has driven many Republicans to disendorse Trump and the media have certainly given the substance of the recording much publicity (certainly much more than the Podesta Emails leaked by Wikileaks, which make it rather clear that Trump’s opponent is more than happy to mislead the voting public). Trump’s statements are clearly rude, coarse and vulgar to say the least.
But the reaction to “Pussygate” has been illustrative, to say the least. Trump says a lot of outrageous things (or, if one wishes to be charitable, he says many things in a blustery, crude and non-nuanced fashion that seems calculated to cause outrage and division), but around the same time as the audio recording surfaced, Trump said something else that was also atrocious.
The Central Park Five – five men of African and Latino ancestry – were wrongly convicted of raping a female jogger. They served prison sentences ranging between six and thirteen years. They successfully extracted settlements from New York City for malicious prosecution and DNA evidence proved their innocence. But DNA evidence apparently isn’t enough for Donald Trump, who maintains that the Central Park Five are still guilty. This is consistent with Trump’s actions back when the original crime was news; he took out newspaper ads demanding the death penalty be reinstated in the aftermath of this crime. In addition, after the Central Park Five got their settlements in 2014, Trump penned an editorial in the New York Daily News in which he called the settlements “a disgrace” (see http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/donald-trump-central-park-settlement-disgrace-article-1.1838467).
Which of these statements got the most media attention? You already know the answer; Pussygate is all over the airwaves and Trump’s refusal to admit he was wrong about the Central Park Five is in a distant second place.
Objectively, Pussygate is hardly an issue; this kind of lowbrow, boastful locker-room talk and macho bravado is surely distasteful, but is it truly as reprehensible as its being made out to be? Trump stated, in coarse language admittedly, that women will let rich/powerful/famous men grope and kiss them; the presence of “they let you do it” in Trump’s quote makes it pretty hard to construe the quote as rape-laden.
Yet the media and even many in the Republican party are treating this as an unforgiveable slight against all women everywhere. Pearls are being clutched, disavowals are being written, endorsements are being withdrawn and virtues are being signalled.
But Trump’s position on the Central Park Five is not merely macho swagger. Nor does it represent a mere personality defect. Rather, it represents something far worse; a belief in the infallibility of prosecutors and police, a dismissal of the possibility of misconduct or corruption in the justice system, an endorsement of overincarceration and a complete rejection of the project of Criminal Justice Reform.
Whilst Trump’s position is getting some well-deserved criticism in the press, the outrage is minor compared Pussygate. As Janell Ross of the Washington Post put it (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/10/08/donald-trumps-doubling-down-on-the-central-park-five-reflects-a-bigger-problem/ ), “the Central Park Five’s outrage about Trump’s campaign and his continued baseless accusations about their guilt has not been joined by a chorus even approaching the size of the Trump is a misogynist collective so vocal today.”
I suggest the answer is female privilege, and in particular our culture’s determination to protect women’s feelings and to assert women’s innate value simply for being women. Call it what you will; pedastalization, the golden uterus, missing white woman syndrome or whatever, but ultimately we live in a society where women are seen as inherently precious. They are seen as deserving of being shielded from coarseness and cruelty where possible. Womanhood is a goddess, and Trump is a blasphemer.
But Trump’s apparent mindset regarding criminal justice issues will impact men (and minority men in particular) more than women; the vast majority of the incarcerated and the accused are male. Our society’s dedication to male disposability means that this isn’t seen as a particularly massive cost to bear, especially when such a cost is merely the price of safety (in particular, the safety of women and children). And, as the experience of college campus kangaroo courts makes perfectly clear, rape and sexual assault are issues which challenge many people’s devotion to Due Process. The rights of males who are accused of rape? These are prioritized far below the safety of (presumed female) rape victims.
Pussy-grabbing is one thing, and Trump is receiving scorn for his blasphemy against the sacred feminine. Yet his apparent belief that innocence does not constitute a defense against the charge of rape is, if anything, in line with the same gynocentric attitudes that demolish due process protections on college campuses. Saying mean and crude things about women is an unforgiveable sin, yet a mindset averse to police and prosecutor accountability and prone to locking up swathes of men with little concern for due process is only a minor issue. There is more outrage over Trump’s blustering references to female genitalia than there is over Trump’s apparent conviction that cops and DA’s never punish innocent men.
Trump’s heresies against the almighty vulva say very little about what he’d do as President, yet draw firestorms of condemnation. Trump’s attitudes regarding law enforcement and criminal justice are intensely relevant to his political actions, yet the prospect of legions more wrongly-convicted males gets only moderate critique. What does that say about our society’s priorities?
The famous English jurist Sir William Blackstone once wrote that “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” Benjamin Franklin increased the guilty-to-innocent ratio tenfold. This concern is clearly alien to Trump’s worldview, and the fact that more people are angry about him engaging in locker-room banter than they are about the prospect of even more police militarization and incarceration shows just how much people care about women’s feels and how little people care about the wrongfully convicted.