Somewhere between the descriptions of casual groping and the lengthy investigation of Trump’s possible involvement in a threesome with an underage girl, you long to scrub your memory bank with bleach, to douse yourself with disinfectant.
And yet. Even though the book elicits disgust and anger, it never shocks. It never shocks you that the man sitting in the Oval Office is the person accused of such vile behavior. That’s because so many of the book’s central anecdotes and allegations already have been discussed in the media: the affair with Karen McDougal, the sex with Stormy Daniels, the sexual intimidation of Ivana Trump, the gutter talk with Howard Stern, the ogling of half-dressed Miss Universe contestants, and the personal insults hurled at women ranging from Megyn Kelly and Rosie O’Donnell to former beauty queen Alicia Machado.
Nothing in “All the President’s Women” is shocking because this is the president the public has come to know. All of it, however, is exhausting.
Authors Barry Levine and Monique El-Faizy describe the emotional and physical abuse that Trump heaps on so many different women that their stories begin to blur. But just in case a reader still has the stomach for more grotesquerie by the time the main narrative is finished, there’s a 70-page appendix filled with truncated tales of lascivious behavior — bonus nuggets of lechery.
The theme of this book is quite straightforward: The president is a pig. But is Trump, who was not interviewed by the authors, something more than that? Is he a sexual predator? An actual criminal?
Two anecdotes most directly raise these questions. The first is the story of a civil lawsuit that was filed, dismissed, filed and withdrawn by a woman using the alias Katie Johnson. According to a 1994 lawsuit, Johnson alleges that “a woman she met took her several times to [Jeffrey] Epstein’s mansion.” (Epstein is the convicted sex offender who died by suicide in his cell at the Manhattan jail where he was awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges.) On one of those occasions, Johnson alleges that Trump, who she says knew she was 13 years old, “tied me to a bed, exposed himself to me and then proceeded to forcibly rape me.” In 2016, Trump called the allegations “a hoax” and politically motivated.
The second story involves flimsier reporting and centers on a sex worker known as “Tri” who was active in the Times Square area in the 1980s. According to a petty criminal called “Tino” who worked with her, Tri, Trump and a mysterious underage girl had sex, the book reports. Tino recounted this information to one of the book’s authors as Tino was contending with terminal cancer. But despite much digging by the authors, the story remains unsubstantiated.
So what is the reader left with, if not a smoking gun? Reminders that the president used to spend a good portion of his free time ogling women at parties and beauty pageants. “He was a model hound,” says a fashion photographer. “He was always chasing models. . . . He was a predator. Absolutely.” The book reports that Trump liked to walk in on women when they were in various stages of undress, and he liked to paw their shoulders, cup their bottoms, grab at their breasts and plant sloppy kisses on them when they least expected it.
The authors consider how his past behavior toward women, both alleged and documented, has carried over into his presidency. We have seen his biases play out in the way he deals with sexual assault allegations among his own staffers or during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. It all reflects the disregard he has had for women over the years.
But the question — three years after The Washington Post made the infamous “Access Hollywood” video public — is not what, but why? Was Trump born a lecher, or did the environment of his youth create one?
The authors don’t really grapple with this complicated and perhaps unanswerable question. The book begins with a glancing look at Trump’s relationship with his mother, who remains largely a blur rather than a clearly defined presence. Mary Trump is mostly depicted as a woman who did as she was told by her husband and refrained from ruffling feathers. Her husband, Fred, was the dominating presence in the family. When Donald Trump was about 2 years old, his mother was hospitalized for an extended period of time after giving birth to one of his siblings. A psychoanalyst is quoted suggesting that this kind of separation would be especially scarring for a toddler. Okay, but what else? Trump has been accused of too much unconscionable behavior to have it all pinned on missing his mommy.
What cultural forces shaped Trump? Was he created by some collision of generational, social and demographic storms? Is he a volatile result of a tectonic shift in gender roles? Pastor Paula White, speaking in support of Trump, tells the authors that he is a Christian and that he’s always treated her respectfully. What moves him to give some women respect but not others? Does he abuse the ones he’s attracted to? Or the ones who don’t whisper admiring bromides in his ear? Is Trump the way he is simply because he can be, because he’s never faced repercussions for actions driven solely by his id?
“All the President’s Women” assembles Trump’s cruelties and transgressions into one neat volume. As a matter of historical bookkeeping, this is useful. But for all the effort, the citizenry is not better informed, only more deeply disgusted.
All the President's Women
Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator
By Barry Levine and Monique El-Faizy
Hachette. 360 pp. $29