One of the great movies about politics is, in my opinion, The American President. The movie concerns a political battle between Bob Rumson, who will say or do anything to be elected president, and incumbent President Andrew Sheppard who refuses to engage in the slime thrown at him by Rumson and his cohorts. Oh, and there’s a love interest, too.
After months of impugning Sheppard’s character, Sheppard enters the White House press room, looks at the camera and says that the presidency is entirely about character. Would that life imitated art.
Since Friday, with the advent of the Wikileaks daily Podesta email dump and the released Access Hollywood tape, the central issue in this 2016 race for the presidency is entirely about character.
Let me first address the Wikileaks issue. I have not read each email in the daily dumps but I have scanned many of them and have read several that seemed relevant to any issue in this campaign. There seem to be two important emails in the several thousand released: the email about Clinton’s speeches to various financial services groups and one involving Catholics.
The speech email was an internal opposition memo from a Clinton staffer alerting Podesta and the campaign to issues that might come up during the campaign. This is neither sinister nor unusual. In a campaign of this magnitude it would be campaign malpractice not to perform a review such as this. And what did she say that was so inflammatory, the Rosetta stone to Clinton’s character? That sometimes, like Lincoln (yes, in her remarks quoted under this section in the email, she did reference the movie Lincoln) you have to behave differently in private than you do in public. However, you do so without abandoning your core principles. These are tactics, not character flaws and it’s tragic that someone who claims to be a great negotiator wouldn’t know that.
As for the Catholic remarks, these were made in an email in 2011, long before there was any Clinton campaign. And what did it say? That women were not treated by the Church as equals. No surprise there. Many Catholics would like the Church to liberalize on this and many other issues. Where’s the scandal?
Other emails were chatty, the stuff that is often a part of a campaign or any other endeavor. Sometimes people vent, sometimes they gossip, sometimes they throw out ideas to see if they gain any traction. Nobody should be surprised that this is the case here.
And let’s deal with the alleged review of debate questions provided to the Clinton campaign during the primary. Tad Devine recently said that these questions were shared with the Sanders campaign as well. Oops, no scandal here!
Frankly I’ll take these emails more seriously as soon as the Russians hack into Trump’s and Bannon’s emails and launder them through Wikileaks. Let’s see what high-minded thoughts were conveyed via email in the Trump campaign.
But we don’t really have to; we have Trump’s public words and acts to inform us. Last Friday, the tape containing Trump’s despicable comments was released. In that tape, he admitted to the sexual assault of women because, like all who commit such assaults, he could. After all, he was a celebrity.
Over the weekend, he first dismissed the comments as “just words” and “locker room talk,” and after a first lame and tame attempt at apologizing, he provided a taped video for broadcast containing his second lame and tame apology. Except real apologies contain some recognition of sincerity and contrition. His apology contained neither.
Then, on Sunday, one hour before his debate with Hillary Clinton, he paraded four women out to a press conference – three of whom accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault and one who accused Hillary Clinton of laughing over getting a rapist “off.”
Let’s unpack this quickly. Paula Jones accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault and was paid $850 thousand in a settlement agreement with Clinton. I followed that case closely at the time and my sense was that the payment was likely proper.
However, the other two claim with no corroborating evidence, that Bill Clinton sexually assaulted them. Kathleen Wiley alleges that she was assaulted in an anteroom connected to the Oval Office. Ken Starr and his successor, who strenuously and aggressively investigated, at a cost of $80 million, all things Clinton, from Whitewater to Lewinsky, found that there was no evidence of Clinton assaulting Wiley. To the contrary, Starr determined that Ms. Wiley too often gave contradictory statements to be viewed as a credible complainant.
And then there’s Juanita Broaddrick. She gave a sworn deposition in the 1990s stating that Clinton did not force himself on her or otherwise engaged in a sexual relationship with Ms. Broaddrick. Then in 2014, she thought it was time to “come clean.” Perhaps Steve Bannon and Breitbart, which have consistently touted Ms. Broaddrick and her veracity, were persuasive and inspired this reversal.
The final women paraded out by Trump, Kathy Shelton asserted that as a 12-year-old she was raped by a 40-year-old man. Hillary Clinton was appointed by the trial judge, an appointment she tried to resist, to defend that man and in a plea bargain, managed to get a sentence of one year in jail and four years on probation. Her laughing was not at Ms. Shelton’s expense, but rather at the veracity of a polygraph exam, and the quality of the prosecution’s evidence. In short, whether you like it or not, she did her job in that case. Period. You can look it up.
You can also look up Trump’s contemporaneous reaction to the allegations charged against Clinton. To say to denigrated and otherwise summarily dismissed their allegations is an understatement. Amazing what a desperate candidate in a losing campaign will do.
So what was the reason that Trump brought these ladies to this event? He obviously was trying to get in Hillary’s head, but more importantly he wanted the ladies to come out with the families prior to the debate to force an ugly confrontation with Bill Clinton. Fortunately, cooler and more honorable heads at the RNC prevailed and the plan was scuttled.
It didn’t get any better during the actual debate. Trump denied ever putting in action his words spoken on the tape. And then he went on the attack, one that continues as of this writing, stating that if he won the presidency he would put Hillary Clinton in jail. And then he accused Clinton for shaming and attacking these four women, causing them pain and ruining their lives.
Of course there’s no evidence of this charge – but why should there be when the colossally naive are ready to follow the galactically evil?
And then Wednesday evening, in the space of less than four hours, five – count them, five – women independently, through four separate media outlets, accused Trump of conduct described in his taped comments and denied in the previous Sunday’s debate. This is in addition to revelations that Trump exercised his “prerogative” to enter a dressing room at a teenage beauty pageant that he owned and tapes where he permitted Howard Stern to describe his daughter Ivanka in the crudest terms.
Today, Thursday, he raised the question as to why these five women came forward 26 days before the election. That’s a fair question and must be examined. But here’s something to consider: sexual assault is not about sex, it’s about dominion and control over others. Over the years I’ve had occasion to know several victims of sexual assault. To a person, it wasn’t the sex act per se but rather the degradation and dehumanization of being forced to bend to the assailant’s will; the sex is only the instrument, the weapon as it were, to impose the assailant’s will on his victim.
When an assailant is a powerful man, with all the resources one can imagine at his disposal, it too often makes more sense to let it go, try to put it out of your memory, and try to live your life as best as you can. Except there isn’t one person I know who can do the first two things, and that failure impacts the ability to live a life as full as if the assault did not happen.
But every once in a while there comes a triggering event, one that unlocks the pain and the rage that victims are forced to live with; an event where they feel that at long last they are able to strike back at their assailant and exact a little bit of justice. And although the power equation hasn’t changed, they feel that now, perhaps for the first time, they and their stories will get a fair hearing, in spite of the barrage of venom and “slut shaming” that will surely come their way.
So, to once again quote fictitious President Andrew Sheppard, the presidency is “entirely about character.” Over the course of this campaign, and especially over the last week, we have seen what a candidate for president, who has a damaged or non-extant character, looks like.