Donald Trump just can’t help himself. For almost two weeks, he kept largely silent about allegations that Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama, molested underage women when he was in his 30s. But on Tuesday, the president came out against Moore’s Democratic opponent Doug Jones, arguing that “we don’t need a liberal person in [the Senate seat], a Democrat.” And besides, Trump told reporters, “He says it didn’t happen and you have to listen to him, also.”
It’s bad enough that the president is backing an accused child molester for the Senate. We’ll find out whether Alabama voters agree with him in a few weeks. In the meantime, Trump’s words are also a reminder that, in the national conversation about sexual harassers, the president’s own record needs to be at the center. And yes, that means investigations.
The evidence against Trump is damning. Seventeen different women have accused Trump of sexual harassment. He admitted on tape that he would grope women without their consent because “when you’re a star, they let you do it.” He confessed to repeatedly entering pageant rooms when contestants were naked. He told two 14-year-olds (after they informed him of their age) that “in a couple years I’ll be dating you.” He said of a young girl on a Trump Tower escalator, “I am going to be dating her in 10 years.”
Most of these allegations and recordings came to light last fall. Trump promised to sue the accusers at the time, but never did. His defenders have not found anything exculpatory, and Lord knows they’ve tried. No wonder Trump emphasized that Moore “says it didn’t happen” — it’s the only defense either of them have.
Yet even as allegations of sex abuse reached Capitol Hill and state legislatures around the country and as the president privately “drew parallels between Moore’s predicament and the one he faced just over a year ago”, many have been reluctant to revive the accusations against Trump. There should be no such reluctance. The many reckonings abusers will hopefully face and the many reforms that industries will promise to adopt in the coming months will mean far less if the president’s history remains undiscussed.
Trump’s statement that “when you’re a star, they let you do it” showcases the power imbalance that features in so many of these stories. The abusers use their influence to coerce victims, to hush up witnesses and investigations and to protect themselves from consequences. Reversing this culture starts with abusers publicly facing repercussions, not just to make other would-be abusers think twice, but also to encourage other victims and witnesses that if they come forward they will be believed.
Recent takedowns of titans of various industries begin to chip away at the power imbalance. But as influential as someone like Harvey Weinstein may be, no person or position compares to the president of the United States. What message does it send to victims that the Oval Office’s occupant shrugged off 17 women and multiple tapes? What do they think when he publicly doubts the thoroughly reported allegations against Moore? And what better way to shake the system that seems to have let Trump to get away with his record than finally forcing him to face consequences or at least investigations? With Republicans in control of Congress, any such probes are months or years off. But Trump’s behavior should be at the center of the sexual harassment conversation right now.