When Donald Trump mentioned in his presidential announcement speech last summer that Mexico was “sending rapists,” he made the prevention of sexual assault a central rationale for his candidacy. He brought up a spate of sexual assaults committed by Muslim immigrants at a New Year’s Eve festival in Germany. (“Look at what happened in Germany, with the tremendous crime, with New Year’s Eve, and the rapes and all of the carnage that took place in Germany.”) And, when pressed by CNN’s Don Lemon at a debate last summer about his claims that Mexican immigrants were disproportionately committing rape, he insisted, “Somebody is doing the raping, Don, I mean, you know — I mean, somebody’s doing it. You think it’s women being raped, well, who is doing the raping? Who is doing the raping?”
Trump is doing the raping — or, at least, systematic sexual violations of women. He has been for a long time. Donald Trump is not merely a man who has passively absorbed the standards of a sexist culture. A misogynistic belief in sexual entitlement is a, and probably the, foundational element of his self-conception. Fame and riches are the means, and a limitless ability to access the body of any woman he desires is the end.
Trump’s serial abuse was a time bomb on his campaign that is now going off. Hillary Clinton’s campaign laid the foundation by using the first presidential debate to introduce his abuse of Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe. “He loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them,” said Clinton, dropping a well-supported innuendo about the motive undergirding Trump’s fascination with this ritual. Then a recording surfaced in which Trump boasted of his habit of sexually assaulting women. At the next debate, Trump insisted he had never engaged in the behavior he had described on the tape. The denial set the stage for the wave of reporting now crashing over his campaign, in which a series of women describe Trump carrying out his method.
Trump’s primary defense has rested on the metaphor of the “locker room,” a phrase the candidate and his surrogates have repeated so monotonously that some of them have actually come to believe Trump’s comments were uttered in an actual locker room. (Representative Ted Yoho, yesterday: “I do not make those excuses for somebody that said something 11 years ago in a locker room.”) The locker-room defense is a two-step mental exercise. The first step is to imagine the locker room as a kind of ethereal plane in which men make statements that bear no relationship to their character or events in the actual world. Even the confession of an actual crime becomes meaningless if it can be confined to this realm. The “locker room” is like patients describing their dreams to a psychiatrist. The next step in the exercise is to extend the metaphorical locker room beyond the physical space of a locker room, to include any conversation between men, and ultimately all physical space.
Here is Dinesh D’Souza justifying Trump’s practice of barging in on his beauty-pageant contestants while they were naked:
The women’s dressing room: also a locker room of sorts.
And here is Rush Limbaugh arguing that the real problem is that liberals have replaced traditional standards of sexual morality with a fixation on consent. Limbaugh’s analysis is astonishingly revealing, and worth quoting at length:
Standards, you stand up for moral standards, you’re gonna be mocked and laughed out of the room. They’re gonna call you a prude. They’re gonna call you a Victorian. They’re gonna call you an old fuddy-duddy, an old fogy, and they’re gonna claim you want to deny people having a good time. So a culture which rejects moral standards. In other words, anything goes. You know what the magic word is? The only thing that matters in American sexual mores today is one thing. You can do anything, the left will promote and understand and tolerate anything as long as there is one element. Do you know what it is?
If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it’s perfectly fine, whatever it is. But if the left ever senses and smells that there’s no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police. But consent is the magic key to the left. “How ironic, then, that a culture which rejects moral standards has suddenly become so pure and pristine, sitting in judgment of someone they deem too immoral to become president because of something he said in private. As a logical person, I have to ask these paragons of newly found virtue where this standard by which they’ve judged Trump is found.”
“By what standard are they judging Trump?” asks Limbaugh. The answer is, by the very standard he has said: consent. Trump is harming women by touching them unwillingly. Limbaugh is unable to grasp that “consent” is literally a form of morality — that people should have control over their own sexual decisions, and violating their body against their will is, by this standard, immoral. This is an extremely simple notion of morality, if you think of women as human beings. Limbaugh keeps returning to the putative contradiction, which boggles his primitive brain:
Morality is what it is. Virtue is what it is. And you either are or you aren’t. And the left doesn’t like that so they’ve obscured the lines and the definitions. And the definition now is moral is whatever you can get somebody to do with you, consent. You can do anything. If you could get the dog to consent with you, if you can get the horse to consent, we got no problem with it. And they don’t! So morality has been boiled down to consent, is my point, and it’s true.
Since sexual assault is a way of life for Trump, there is going to be no end to the reporting of them. There could be dozens more stories — journalistic resources being the only limiting factor. Eventually, flyspecking every individual account of Trump’s assaults — what about the armrests? — will become impossible. Either Trump’s supporters will have to argue that they are willing to accept his behavior because they care more about policy, or they will have to follow the path of D’Souza and Limbaugh, extending the logic of the locker room and its limitless zone of male sexual entitlement through to its ultimate conclusion.
*A version of this article appears in the October 17, 2016, issue of New York Magazine.