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Opinion Donald Trump’s ignorance about sexual harassment

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump with his daughter Ivanka at the Republican National Convention on July 21. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

Donald Trump says his daughter, were she a victim of sexual harassment, should “find another career or find another company.” His son Eric Trump said that his sister Ivanka “is a strong, powerful woman” who would not “allow herself to be subjected to that” treatment.

How nice for them. How nice for her. In the real world — the one not inhabited by Trumps or others with trust funds and triplexes and bulging bank accounts — women don’t necessarily have the luxury of finding another career. They can’t walk away from jobs and paychecks they need to make the rent or put food on the table.

They can’t necessarily take the risk of turning down the boss who puts the moves on them and hoping that the personnel department will step in to protect them. “By the way, you should take it up with Human Resources,” Eric Trump told CBS “This Morning.”

The real world is a less comfy place than Trump Tower.

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Men of a certain age (that is, Donald Trump’s age) sometimes have a hard time understanding how much the world has changed, and how behavior that once was routine and accepted has become off-limits and actionable. But men of a certain age also, increasingly, have daughters like Ivanka Trump, who are making their way in a workplace that might not have the outright sexualized atmosphere of a “Mad Men” environment but that still poses challenges for women seeking to be treated equally and taken seriously. Many of these men, therefore, have been educated — if not on their own, then by their wives and daughters — about the realities of the workplace and the importance of fair and equal treatment.

Not, apparently, Trump. His response to the reports of former Fox News chief Roger Ailes’s behavior toward women who worked for him has been classic Trump: clueless and offensive, with unmistakable overtones of outright misogyny. Trump’s sympathies, on learning of the Ailes allegations, were all with the alleged victimizer, not with his alleged victims.

“I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he’s helped them. And even recently,” Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “And when they write books that are fairly recently released, and they say wonderful things about him. And now, all of a sudden, they’re saying these horrible things about him. It’s very sad.”

Really, that’s what’s sad? That a man could be accused of preying sexually on women who also had nice things to say about someone who signed their paychecks or controlled their careers? Much of the country received an education on the topic of sexual harassment 25 years ago, during the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings.

Back then, many women understood, and many men came to understand, that the realities of the workplace might mean that a woman could both resent sexual overtures or comments from her boss and stay in her job or even follow that boss to a new workplace. Workplace life is complicated and full of tradeoffs.

Speaking out, speaking up, can be risky, that human resources department notwithstanding. That Fox News’s Gretchen Carlson would have waited to go public with her complaints about Ailes’ alleged treatment of her until after she left the network does not seem surprising to any woman who has weighed the costs and benefits of saying that she will not tolerate such behavior.

The Washington Post's Paul Farhi explains what's next for Fox News and the Murdoch family, now that Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes has left the network. (Video: Peter Stevenson, Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

Somehow, this message, the lesson of the Anita Hill hearings, has eluded Trump. His comments to USA Today’s Kirsten Powers illustrate once again: This is a man who can see the world only from his own vantage point, or from that of influential allies like Ailes. He casts himself as the protector of the working class, when he protects, and respects, only power and the powerful.