The same week that the Trump White House had to let go two staff members who were accused of domestic abuse against women, President Trump did something that he has periodically done since the earliest days of his campaign.
He tried to protect men who feel attacked in a society where the #MeToo movement is forcing Americans to examine how men in power treat women.
Trump, who is facing nearly 20 accusations of sexual misconduct himself, appeared on Saturday to side with men accused of domestic abuse or sexual misconduct — after he was criticized for not even mentioning the women who were allegedly abused by former White House staff secretary Rob Porter.
The president tweeted:
“Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused — life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
Trump is known for defending men connected to him who have been accused of similar offenses:
- When Roy Moore, the GOP Senate nominee in Alabama, was accused of engaging in sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was in his 30s, Trump endorsed him. “He totally denies it,” Trump said. “He says it didn’t happen.”
- When Trump's longtime friend Bill O'Reilly was fired from Fox News Channel amid multiple sexual harassment scandals, Trump told reporters that O'Reilly had done nothing wrong.
- Even in the 1990s, after Trump earned millions sponsoring former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson's boxing matches, he appeared to blame a woman accusing Tyson of rape for going to the boxer's hotel room “at her own will” and said she looked “happy as could be” the next day. Trump called Tyson's rape conviction a “travesty.”
The president's latest tweet appeared to be a continuation, calling on society to more broadly question its direction in responding to abuse allegations from women.
At a time when people are being asked to “believe women” who reveal abuse, Trump seems to be saying, “Not so fast.”
This kind of defense of men probably helped Trump win the male vote in the presidential election and to continue to perform well with them even as he has struggled with other demographics. Some men see in Trump someone who will advocate for their interests in a society that they fear has turned them into enemies.
I previously wrote this about Trump's rejection of feminism:
“No, I wouldn't say I'm a feminist. I mean, I think that would be, maybe, going too far. I'm for women, I'm for men, I’m for everyone,” he told British television host Piers Morgan.
And I also wrote that although Trump continues to struggle with women, he is making gains with men:
Most men — 52 percent — voted for Trump in the presidential election, according to exit polls. Some found his “strong man” image attractive and supported him pushing back against what his supporters call “political correctness” in a cultural climate that is becoming increasingly vocal about the impact of patriarchy.
As critics of Trump continue to vocalize their belief that his policies disadvantage women, some men’s support of him grows.
Weeks before the 2016 election, the Atlantic's Olga Khazan wrote about why so many men were drawn to a man who was called a sexist by more liberal members of the electorate:
“Many men, in fact, see Trump as the candidate who can restore men’s status in society. According to several recent analyses, about half of men feel American culture has become too soft and feminine, and they feel men are suffering as a result. Many seem to find comfort in Trump’s talk of male dominance and success.
“Men who fear the rise of women can bask in the reflected glory of Trump’s testosterone-revved, macho persona,” she added. “Trump hearkens back to a time when men were on top.”
Heading into the election, a poll by the Atlantic and the Public Religion Research Institute found that Trump supporters were more likely than supporters of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supporters to think that society punishes men simply for acting like men.
But the question Trump and the Republican Party as a whole may have to ask themselves is whether they will be punished for being viewed as a political community that does not protect women. Multiple recent polls, including a Washington Post-ABC News survey, confirm what Republican National Committee Chairman Ronna McDaniel told White House staff members in December: The GOP is losing support among women.
If conservatives want to maintain their control of Congress and the White House, doing so without the support of women will be difficult. But perhaps the more important point is that the topics being discussed are much bigger than politics. Trump is one of the United States' foremost culture warriors, and how women are treated in this country is a cultural issue.
As Jennie Willoughby, one of Porter's former wives, wrote in Time magazine when she perceived the president siding with her alleged abuser:
“Ultimately, this is not a political issue. This is a societal issue, and the tone has just been reset by the White House. If the most powerful people in the nation do not believe my story of abuse in the face of overwhelming evidence, then what hope do others have of being heard?”