The articles can ascertain that she was indeed with the future president: He’s in the photographs, too, sitting next to her at the tennis tournament she attended with her boyfriend, putting his arm around her in a VIP box.
The articles include the kind of corroboration we’ve come to require of credible accusers: Dorris told her mother and friends about the incident years ago, before such an allegation would have had political consequences.
Does it have political consequences now?
Because it seems like the answer is no.
The president of the United States has been accused of sexual misconduct by many, many women. He has denied all allegations, including this latest one by Dorris. Four years ago, accusations from 11 women — mostly, unwanted touching and kissing — were not fatal to his campaign, but they were at least widely discussed.
Four years ago, the public was still shocked by Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape, in which he admitted to exactly the genre of “grabbing” and “kissing” behavior described by Dorris. Sitting Republican members of Congress said they were “sickened.” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) called the tape “repugnant”; Sen. John Thune (S.D.) tweeted that Trump should “withdraw” from the campaign and allow Mike Pence to take his place.
Trump didn’t withdraw. He won. He won the presidency, and he won the battle of mathematics: No amount of women, added together, could offer testimonies equaling more than this one powerful man. Natasha Stoynoff claiming he’d forcibly kissed her when she tried to interview him for People magazine didn’t matter. Jessica Leeds claiming he’d tried to put his hand up her skirt on a flight didn’t matter. E. Jean Carroll describing an alleged rape didn’t matter. (Location: a dressing room at Bergdorf’s, wearing a black coatdress she could never stand to put on again. Corroboration: two friends.)
Since then, the number of Trump’s accusers has grown, and the attention paid to them has waned.
Dorris’s allegation was reported by the Guardian, then by additional news organizations. Her name was briefly all over Twitter. But was the revelation accompanied by a bipartisan avalanche of elected officials demanding serious investigation into the matter, saying that it raised questions about the president’s fitness for office? No.
On Thursday, Thune did not tweet about Amy Dorris, though he did tweet about a woman he thought was being victimized. The woman was Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). The perpetrator was the New Republic, which had published a profile that Thune found “shameful.” McConnell tweeted a Wall Street Journal article about the economy.
One person you’d expect would be talking about this allegation is Trump’s opponent. But Joe Biden’s campaign didn’t release a statement about the allegation, and if the candidate has said anything, it’s hard to find. Perhaps that’s because, by this point, another Trump accusation is de rigeuer. Perhaps it’s because he felt he had plenty else to talk about: Trump’s irresponsible handling of the novel coronavirus, Trump’s alleged contempt for war dead and POWs, Republicans’ vow to seat a new Supreme Court justice despite their refusal to do the same during President Barack Obama’s last year in office — all topics that have never been more consequential than now.
The more jaded read: Biden has also been accused of sexual assault, by a staffer who worked for his Senate office in the 1990s. He’s vehemently denied it, but the allegation still opens the former vice president up to a battle of I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I, where the goal isn’t to prove you assaulted no women but to prove your foe assaulted more.
Politicians talk about what they think matters. Not just what matters to the fate of their political allies and opponents but also what matters to the country, its values and its culture. That’s why many politicians, Democrat and Republican, spoke up after “Access Hollywood.” You couldn’t not talk about it, because how the president treats women matters.
Except, apparently, it really doesn’t. Not enough, not in 2020, an election year in which Amy Dorris is likely to end up a footnote on a footnote.
Three years post-#MeToo, I find myself repeatedly unable to wrap my brain around this state of not-mattering, this sense that a parade of women have come forward, opening themselves up to scrutiny, threats and ridicule, when by now they must know that it doesn’t matter.
I have had a hundred discussions about the mechanics of the not-mattering: Is it because Trump’s defenders believe all of the women are lying (All of them, together, really?)? Or is it because they believe that rich and famous men often have to fend off advances from groupies or hangers-on — and that’s what these women probably were? Do they believe this was all a long time ago, and so there’s no need for an apology or even an acknowledgment? Or do they believe the women are telling the truth, they just don’t think it’s as important as, say, another shot at another appointee to the Supreme Court?
Which of these options are you most comfortable explaining to your daughter?
There is a dull sameness to the way these allegations land now. A sense of being on a roller coaster, grinding up to a crest, wondering if this time you might see something new — but no. You’re on a set track, so it’s just going to be the same loop-de-loop, until maybe you lean over the side and throw up your cotton candy.
No fewer than half a dozen friends texted me last week to express dismay and grief over the arrest of Jerry Harris, a star of Netflix’s “Cheer,” who was charged with soliciting sex acts from teenage boys. They couldn’t believe it; they were shocked. But as for Dorris’s allegations, which became public the same day? Shock-free. The allegation couldn’t make the friends who hate the president hate him any more. And it couldn’t make those who love the president love him any less.
If there are more allegations, those probably won’t matter, either. If a woman came to me with a story, it’s hard to imagine encouraging her to come forward publicly. It would be a lie to promise her that her story would change anything.
The most she could hope for would be a reckoning in the future, and a willingness to suffer public scorn to be counted. That way, in three or four decades, when historians try to piece together this era and how it got like this, they would have an accurate tally of things: Back in 2020, 12 women, or 18 women, or 26 women had all come forward to say they had been abused by the same powerful man, and the country decided none of it mattered.
Monica Hesse is a columnist writing about gender and its impact on society. For more visit wapo.st/hesse.