By Jake Strickler, Editor-in-Chief
“I have often wondered at the extreme fecundity of the press, and how it comes to pass that so many heads on which nature seemed to have inflicted the curse of barrenness should teem with voluminous productions.”
- Washington Irving
At some point over the last few months, I made the conscious decision to insulate myself from whatever fresh hell this B-grade dystopia of a Presidential election brought with each passing day. This wasn’t due to apathy or apoliticism; ask one of the 47 pictures of Dick Nixon hanging in my bedroom whether I give a hoot about politics or not. Rather, it’s the opposite; I have such reverence for this country and its accomplishments (but not, you know, in a jingoistic way) that it causes me mental distress to see it all come to…this. It upsets my psychic equilibrium; makes me pace heel-to-toe in nonconcentric circles muttering obscenities.
In other words, the phrase, “Leave the wives out of it,” belongs in a Bud-Light-fueled tussle at a neighborhood barbecue, not in a legitimate debate over who the next person to occupy the nation’s highest office will be. In the former context, it’s a great gag in a Rodney Dangerfield movie. In the latter, it’s just unseemly.
And besides, the die is cast. As President Obama said back in February, “Mr. Trump will not be President.” The New York Times’ current composite odds from eight popular political forecasting sites put the chance of a Trump presidency at an unlucky 13% – a number that is sure to dwindle by the time you read this. If I were a betting man – which I am, as frequently as possible – my money would be #withher. Any hand-wringing at this point is plain morbid, even masochistic. People don’t watch NASCAR to see the cars go ‘round-and-‘round; they watch in hopes of cringing at the cracked bones and blood splatter after a smash-up.
I passively consumed about 25 minutes of the first debate, more concerned with my FORAD team’s currency hedging strategy than with Donald Trump’s tax records. Sure, he may not have paid any federal taxes since he was a Democrat, but he didn’t break any laws. If anything, this revelation shifted attention away from a rigged system and onto a single individual with more than enough characteristics to despise already. Crack any finance textbook assigned at this school to the tax management chapter and you surely won’t discover any exhortations to pay more taxes than legally required to do so. And Trump went to Wharton, which, may I remind you, recently placed two rankings behind Thunderbird in international business schools. Like Ice-T said four years after the last time Trump paid taxes: “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.”
But just at the point when I was about to change my homepage from the Times to https://isitchristmas.com or a livestream of a plant growing (shout-out to my homie Tyler and his beautiful plant Jeff – the coverage you’ve gotten on this is inspiring), a story about comments made by Trump on a hot mic eleven years ago really “grabbed” my attention. We don’t have to re-hash the details; this ain’t Hustler for crying out loud. What’s important is that the recording features Trump bragging about his celebrity status enabling him to commit sexual assault. And for one of two remaining viable contenders for the Presidency to be heard, and seen, on tape spewing these vile words is historically unprecedented.
Presidential potty-mouth is, of course, nothing new. And Trump’s immediate “sorry-not-sorry” claim that he had heard worse from Bill Clinton on the golf course is one of the few things to come out of his mouth that I believe. As a student of the personal lives and peccadilloes of American presidents, ask me in person sometime about what would happen to the unfortunate souls who walked in on Lyndon Johnson using a urinal, ‘cause I ain’t printing it here.
What is new about Trump’s comments (well, not for him) is the absolute disdain for women that they contain; the power that he believes he commands over them specifically because of his status as a public figure. Trump believes that he can do things that can, should, and do land other men in jail because the target of his assault will simply let him, whether they are willing or not. In this way, the comments are similar to his statement made back in January that he could “shoot somebody” in the middle of 5th Avenue and not lose a single voter. What makes the recent comments infinitely more chilling than his musing about committing murder at will is that his track record of broken marriages, infidelities, and deplorable history of interactions with women suggest that this “locker room banter,” as he flippantly categorized it,
may have has a firm basis in reality.
To the Party of Lincoln’s credit, Trump was immediately downgraded from “Handle Only with Protective Gear” to “Irredeemable Toxic Waste.” He has been abandoned in droves. A poll conducted after the tape broke found that nearly 20% of Republican voters believed that Trump should drop out of the race, with a further 10% on the fence, and with 44% of total registered voters – nearly half of the electorate – thinking the same. This opinion is not simply “I am under no circumstances voting for this man,” but, “This man should recede from public life, find a remote cave to sit in for a couple of years, and contemplate the things he’s said and done.”
Not surprisingly, all of this has affected Trump about as much as a placebo flu shot; it put him down with the sniffles for a quick sec and then there he was again, up and at ‘em with some delusional self-acquired immunity. Sunday’s debate was WHIZ-BANG-BLOOPEDY-PFFFFFFFFFFT, there not being an equivalent word for the experience in written communication. In a surprise move that surprised nobody, Trump gave front-row seats to three women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault and a fourth who was raped at the age of 12 and whose attacker was defended in court by a 27-year-old Hillary Rodham and went on to spend a mere ten months in prison. Also not surprisingly, this reach into the gutter of history (dragging these women’s traumas back into the unforgiving 24-hour news cycle) only made Mr. Trump appear more tawdry.
Truth be told, I don’t even remember much of it I was so entranced, with each candidate doing a delicate ballet around directly answering questions and using every opportunity to turn an answer into a pointed attack on their opponent. Trump, taking a heavy defensive stance instead of an advisable one of contrite and tearful humility, prowled and growled like a chained pit bull, keeping himself in-frame at all times and within breathing distance of the back of Hillary’s neck.
When moderator Anderson Cooper confronted Trump about the tape, asking him if he realizes that he was caught bragging about committing sexual assault, his response made me spit a mouthful of perfectly good La Croix across my desk. “I don’t think you understand what I said,” Trump answered, “…Certainly I’m not proud of it, but this was locker room talk. You know what we have—a world where you have ISIS chopping off heads, where you have men, frankly, drowning people in steel cages, where you have wars and horrible, horrible sites all over, where you have so many bad things happening. This is like medieval times.” Wat.
I have one other note frantically scribbled in the legal pad I clutched in one hand as I used the other to chew a pencil down to its tip:
Woman in Audience: “Children are assigned to watch these debates and they should be rated TV-MA. Do you think you’re setting a good example for the youth?”
HRC: “America is great because it’s good and I love the music of John Tesh.”
In response, Republican leader Paul Ryan has withdrawn all support for the nominee. Even archconservative (and, along with Tucker Carlson, one of very few people keeping the bowtie industry afloat) George F. Will has said that Trump should remain on the ticket if only to lose and provide “chemotherapy” for the GOP: “a nauseating but, if carried through to completion, perhaps a curative experience.” Astounding! Is he describing a political process or an ayahuasca experience??
This is history unfolding in front of our very eyes. Events have gone beyond disgraceful and perverse mud-slinging to the disintegration of one of the only two controlling political parties extant for the lives of virtually every person in this country.
The surreal quality of all of this was compounded on Tuesday morning, when Trump, in response to his en masse abandonment, pulled the classic “You can’t fire me; I quit” move with a Tweet reading, “It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to.” His reference to shackles being removed was even more tone-deaf than his elation at Britain “taking back [its] independence” with the Brexit vote. Donald Trump, have you read a book about American history?
Mr. Trump is now the Man without a Party, with the Republican elite constructing a firewall between themselves and him, and an increasingly insular Grassroots Army behind him.
When Trump inevitably loses the General Election in a few weeks, this army will remain, and their fervency will only increase. Hillary Clinton’s email scandal isn’t going anywhere. The rallying cry of “Lock Her Up!” is here to stay. George Will was wrong (something he should be comfortable with by now). Trump isn’t the cure; he’s the symptom of a system in which something has gone fundamentally wrong. Next week, I’ll take a look at the rise of this Grassroots Army, the “deplorables,” as Mrs. Clinton called them. Unless Mr. Trump actually goes ahead and shoots somebody in the middle of 5th Avenue. Because then I’ll have to write about that.