“I’d never withdraw. I’ve never withdrawn in my life.” Not the wisest choice of words for a man who has just been caught bragging about sexually assaulting women.
Yet amidst the disgust at Trump’s lewd boasting, something has been overlooked. The taped conversation that has caused so much controversy actually begins with an admission of sexual failure. “I moved on her and I failed…I couldn’t get there.”
His ‘move’ was take ‘her’ shopping for ‘nice furniture’. You can picture it. Trump reclines suggestively on a million dollar gold plated olympic-sized bed, flashing his wad, but his advances are spurned. Nancy says no. A deflated Donald limps home to console himself with his 1980s porn stash and a box of gold plated tissues.
The knock-back is hardly surprising. Anyone with functioning eyes can see that Trump is every bit as ugly as his rhetoric. It makes his rudeness about women’s appearance all the more laughable. His head looks like some squashed meat topped with candy floss. The mouth either slumps open miserably or screws up into a cat’s ass. Some men with those physical characteristics might make themselves more attractive through courteousness, sensitivity or intellect, but Donald’s Top Trumps card scores low on everything but wealth and fame.
So it turns out Trump is not the alpha male but the tragic male. The puffed up egotist who likes to think he can have any woman (even though he clearly can’t), who likes to think he’s attractive (despite being well past his prime), who wants to believe women are desperate for him (whereas in fact it’s him who is desperate for them, resorting to grabbing, groping, and bribing them with shopping trips). David Brooks sees in Trump a deeply sad, lonely character: “His attempts at intimacy are gruesome parodies, lunging at women as if they were pieces of meat.”
This is a man who says he can trump everyone, but whose every emission stinks like a noxious fart. No alpha male comes out with lines like, “I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her.” This is a man who knows the toxicity of his own halitosis.
His tragic male defence is to argue that all men are essentially the same. ‘Locker room talk’, ‘Bill Clinton did worse.’ This diffusion of responsibility, this retreat to strength in numbers, must be resisted. Trump’s rancid chat is not ‘what men say’. It’s what abusive misogynists say. Professional sportsmen have made it clear that his remarks are absolutely not normal ‘locker room talk’. And trying to use his opponent’s husband’s behaviour to discredit her merely reaffirms Trump’s position as the king of sexism. Whatever your opinion of Bill Clinton, one thing is clear: he’s not running for president. Trump is.
It has been suggested that, regrettably, some men do talk like this. Personally, whilst I’ve witnessed plenty of sexism, I can’t recall anything quite so explicitly derogatory and abusive. So when Nigel Farage says that this is just ‘what men do’, remember that the men he associates with include xenophobes who use physical violence to settle political disputes.
The real test for those of us appalled by Trump will be whether we can see beyond him as an individual and grasp the wider situation of which he is a symptom. This is not just about Trump, and not just about America. What is it in western culture that has given so much attention, adulation and material wealth to such a hateful, tragic man? How has mainstream politics failed so catastrophically that disenfranchised voters are turning to men like Trump and Farage to express their fears and dreams?
If Hillary wins, what will happen to all the anger and disaffection that Trump’s campaign has surfaced? Will it be repressed again as unacceptable, buried like nuclear waste, left to fester? Or could a politics be found that acknowledges it, makes space for it to be voiced and heard, without amplifying or celebrating it?
Some Brits are treating Trump as a distant horrorshow, the product of a craziness that only happens in the US. But the Brexit brigade have courted the same angry working class voters as Trump, and promoted a similarly anti-immigrant, backwards-looking vision (make American great again; take back control) with no plan for delivery. Comparisons with Boris Johnson have already been made. Trump is just more raw, more explicit, more transparently obvious. Where Trump channels nostalgia for the heyday of US capitalism, Boris channels nostalgia for the British Empire.
Trump also reminds me of Jimmy Savile, another tragic alpha male wannabe. Trump seems to have targeted adult women rather than children, but there is something disturbingly similar in the stories of sexual predation. Like Trump, Savile was egotistical, self-promoting, and relentlessly pursued celebrity. Princess Diana reportedly described both men as ‘creepy’.
For Brits who think Trump couldn’t happen in the UK, think on this: we put Savile on TV, lauded and applauded him, ignored all the rumours and warning signs, gave him access to vulnerable people via public institutions, and awarded him a knighthood. If there is anything to be hopeful about here, it is that, unlike Savile, Trump is still alive to face the consequences of his actions.