correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly described The Post’s Saturday front page. This version has been corrected.
When we look back on June 2019, we’ll say that this was the time when a credible allegation of rape was made against the president of the United States, and he had already shown himself to be such a loathsome character that it was treated as a third-tier story, not worthy of much more than a passing mention here and there in the news.
After New York magazine published author and advice columnist E. Jean Carroll’s account last Friday of an encounter she says she had with Trump in a Bergdorf Goodman that ended with him raping her in a dressing room, many of our most important news outlets reacted with only minor interest. Most of the nation’s biggest newspapers — aside from The Post — left it off on their front page the next day. None of the five Sunday shows mentioned it at all.
There are many reasons to find Carroll’s allegation credible. She’s a fairly well-known public figure. Her description of what happened to her — him slamming her against a wall, mashing his face against hers, yanking down her tights, and penetrating her — accords not only with the allegations of multiple other women but Trump’s own words on that infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which he bragged that he can sexually assault any woman he pleases. “I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Just to remind ourselves, these are just some of the accusations women have made against the president:
- Kristin Anderson says she was in a bar when Trump reached under her dress and grabbed her genitals.
- Jessica Leeds says Trump groped her when they sat next to each other on a plane.
- Natasha Stoynoff says Trump got her in a private room, pushed her up against the wall, and kissed her against her will. They were interrupted by a butler, allowing Stoynoff to get away.
- Jill Harth says she was exploring a business opportunity with Trump when he pushed her up against a wall, then kissed and groped her.
- Summer Zervos says she went to Trump to discuss career opportunities, whereupon he kissed and groped her.
To repeat, these are just a few of the many allegations of sexual misconduct against the president. What they have in common is Trump allegedly acting in precisely the way he bragged that he could.
Yet Trump’s position on Carroll’s allegation is the same he has taken on all the others: She’s a liar. He doesn’t say it was a misunderstanding or it was consensual, just that she’s a liar. That is also the position taken by his aides, his supporters and pretty much every Republican who has been forced to address the president’s horrific history: These women are all liars.
This is a common and ludicrous myth propagated by alleged sexual predators such as Trump, Harvey Weinstein or Les Moonves, and the people who defend them: that women regularly accuse powerful men of sexual assault because doing so is such a great career move. It’s actually a great way to have your life ruined. What woman wouldn’t want to render herself unable to find work and be targeted with hate mail and death threats?
Which is why we have to ask: For every E. Jean Carroll or Natasha Stoynoff or Summer Zervos, how many women experienced something similar at Trump’s hands but made the perfectly rational decision not to go public? How many said, “What’s the point? What does being the 10th or 15th or 20th woman to accuse him get me? I’ll be destroyed, and he’ll get away with it just like he always has.”
That’s what Carroll grappled with right after this incident and in the years since. Here’s what she writes:
I told two close friends. The first, a journalist, magazine writer, correspondent on the TV morning shows, author of many books, etc., begged me to go to the police.
“He raped you,” she kept repeating when I called her. “He raped you. Go to the police! I’ll go with you. We’ll go together.”
My second friend is also a journalist, a New York anchorwoman. She grew very quiet when I told her, then she grasped both my hands in her own and said, “Tell no one. Forget it! He has 200 lawyers. He’ll bury you.” (Two decades later, both still remember the incident clearly and confirmed their accounts to New York.)
As Alyssa Rosenberg notes, Weinstein and Moonves paid at least some kind of price; they lost their positions and in Weinstein’s case might face criminal charges. But Trump’s supporters have so much invested in him that they will disbelieve any allegation no matter how compelling, and will do everything in their power to protect him from accountability.
But the rest of us need not acquiesce to their dismissal of these stories out of some supposedly savvy assessment of political realities. We can speak the truth:
If the allegations are true, the president of the United States is certainly a sexual predator, and most probably a rapist. We will never know for sure how numerous are his victims, but at a minimum they might number in the dozens.
To those who say, “That’s awful, but what matters now is what he does as president,” I understand. But this all must be part of the reckoning we eventually make with this sickening era in our history. Not just his boundless corruption, his bigotry, his cruelty, his eagerness to allow hostile foreign governments to twist our elections. This, too: One of our great political parties selected as its champion the single most odious and immoral figure in American public life, then went to every length they could to defend him.
I have no illusions that Republicans will ever face the accountability they deserve for their tireless service to Trump, any more than he will face accountability for his own actions. But we can’t ever stop saying it, crying it, shouting it: This is who you gave us. You are complicit in all he is and all he has done. I’d say you should be ashamed, were it not for the fact that you’ve proved you have no shame.
History, at least, will remember — if we make sure it does. It’s not nearly enough, but it’s something.