“You take a look. Look at her. Look at her words. You tell me what you think. I don’t think so.”
This was Donald Trump at a rally on Thursday, speaking about Natasha Stoynoff, a former reporter for People magazine who says that Trump kissed her without her consent when she was on assignment covering his and Melania Trump’s first wedding anniversary. Trump’s implication was clear: Even if he does what he said he does on that 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape –“It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait” — Stoynoff is too ugly to have inspired Trump to grab her.
It’s not the first time. For a long time, it has been abundantly clear that Trump bases his valuations of women, including his own daughter, on their appearance. But he also has a record of suggesting that women he deems unattractive are somehow unreliable or incompetent in other ways or that there’s something wrong with men who are attracted to women Trump himself is not.
On Thursday evening, the Hollywood Reporter published outtakes from a 1994 interview that Trump did with Nancy Collins for the ABC show “Primetime Live.” And while Trump says a number of striking things in the transcript, he returns to the same defense when Collins presses him on remarks he made to the New York Times’s Marie Brenner in an infamous interview for Vanity Fair. Trump had told others that he got revenge on Brenner by pouring wine down her dress and tried to discredit Brenner by trashing her looks.
“I didn’t say that. The woman’s a liar, extremely unattractive, lots of problems because of her looks,” Trump told Collins.
It’s not exactly news that Trump thinks that women in particular, but people in general, live and die by their looks. Just as the Republican nominee for president appears to believe that all African Americans live in apocalyptic hellscapes, he seems convinced that everyone who isn’t a supermodel is somehow living a life of grasping desperation and incompetence.
In the same interview with Collins, he recounts the infamous meeting between his first wife, Ivana Trump, and his second, Marla Maples, in Aspen, Colo., and recalls that however awkward he felt, he was comforted when “this not very attractive man, probably 300 pounds, says to me: ‘It could be worse, Donald. I’ve been in Aspen for 20 years and never had a date,’ which really gave me perspective.”
But there’s something particularly pernicious about the idea that women whose appearances don’t meet some mysterious determined-by-Trump threshold lie or are bad at jobs like reporting because of their looks.
In the context of sexual abuse allegations, Trump is trotting out the tried-and-true “she was too ugly for me to want her” defense. This is a nasty bit of alchemy, in that it implies not only that the sexual misconduct in question didn’t happen, but also that the person who alleged that misconduct actually made or desired an advance. (Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski trotted out his own version of this when he suggested that Michelle Fields, a former reporter for Breitbart whose arm Lewandowski grabbed earlier this year, was an “attention seeker.”)
And with regard to Brenner’s reporting, Trump also seems to believe that there is something more broadly defective about people whose exteriors don’t look a certain way, that their lives are tragic and their ability to do their jobs is somehow compromised.
By his lights, even being attracted to anyone other than a supermodel says something dubious about a person. Before his newly discovered interest in sexual harassment, Trump’s most significant critique of Bill Clinton’s treatment of women was that he lacked good taste. Famously, he implied that the reason people were upset over Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky was that the president hadn’t chosen “a really beautiful woman of sophistication.”
While it’s true that both men and women deemed unattractive do face some substantive disadvantages, those problems aren’t because the people in question are bad or weak or deranged. The source of those challenges? The very people making judgments about appearance in the first place. (Fascinatingly, the District of Columbia protects its citizens from discrimination based on personal appearance, among other characteristics.) If Trump is so worried about the problems of women he deems ugly and the men who are attracted to them, he might start examining his own record as an employer and a human being, rather than trying to match what he’d like to believe of people’s hearts to what he thinks of their faces.