President Trump spent parts of Tuesday telling reporters and then supporters in Mississippi that America was no longer a safe place for young men.
Here’s how James Hohmann described Trump’s warnings at the rally in today’s Daily 202:
But the president also offered a full-throated critique of the broader [MeToo] movement that has prompted untold women to publicly share their stories since movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s downfall a year ago. Trump argued that things have gone too far because innocent men are being falsely accused of sexual harassment and suffering for it. “Think of your husbands,” Trump told the women in the crowd, who cheered him. “Think of your sons.” At one point, Trump mimicked a son asking his mom for advice on how to respond to a false accusation. “It’s a damn sad situation,” he said.
Earlier he gave a version of this “woe is men” speech to reporters at the White House before leaving for the rally.
“It’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of. This is a very difficult time,” Trump said. "In this realm, you’re truly guilty until proven innocent. That’s one of the very, very bad things that’s taking place right now.”
The comments were an extension of Trump and his base’s feeling that men — specifically powerful or famous men like himself and Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, along with the men who support them — are increasingly under threat, a feeling that has bubbled to the surface in the wake of the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh.
The president at the rally openly challenged one of Kavanaugh’s accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, who last week testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying the nominee sexually assaulted her while both were teenagers in Maryland.
“ ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’ ‘Upstairs? Downstairs? Where was it?’ ‘I don’t know. But I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember,’ ” Trump said of Ford.
“ ‘I don’t remember,’ ” he said repeatedly.
The laughter, cheers and applause from the crowd after Trump appeared to mock Ford’s testimony suggested those in attendance agreed with the president’s assessment that men are living with an increasing threat of being falsely accused of sexual assault.
What Trump and his supporters appear to miss in those statements is that life has always been hard for some men; men who have lived in fear of being prosecuted unjustly. Trump himself helped perpetuate some of those fears, as NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe pointed out to Sarah Huckabee Sanders in Tuesday’s White House press briefing.
“In the past, with the Central Park Five, he put out an ad basically calling for the death penalty before they had been found convicted, and even after they were exonerated, he still basically said that they may be guilty,” Rascoe said. “Is there a disconnect between when the president is interested in due process for some but not for others?”
Trump weighed in heavily in the 1989 case of the Central Park Five, a group of black and Latino teens accused of raping a woman in Central Park. Trump spent $85,000 on full-page ads in four major New York daily newspapers that called to “Bring back the death penalty. Bring back our police!”
Trump wrote of the group that “muggers and murderers … should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes. They must serve as examples so that others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence.” The accused were convicted in 1990, but in 2002, DNA evidence found that the woman was raped and beaten by another man — not the five teenagers.
Sanders did not address the dissonance between the treatment of the Central Park Five and the men Trump is so concerned about now. “I’d have to look back at the specific comments,” she said when pressed on it.
And if Trump and his supporters believe that there has been a monumental shift in recent years, as exemplified by the treatment of Kavanaugh, that suggests a disconnect with the realities of many men in America, including in Mississippi, where he held his event.
While “innocent until proven guilty” is the American judicial norm, it’s one that frequently throughout history has not been applied to black men and boys. Perhaps the most famous example is that of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old who was lynched in a small Mississippi town in 1955 after a woman falsely accused him of making sexual advances toward her.
The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, which Trump visited last December, tells the story of just how differently men of color have been treated in this country when suspected of crimes — including those that perpetuated the stereotype that black men were a threat toward women.
More recent examples include the rash of killings of unarmed black men by police, like Botham Jean, who was recently shot dead in his own home by an off-duty white police officer.
Back to Trump and Tuesday’s remarks. He acknowledged at the rally that he, himself, has faced many allegations of sexual misconduct, but he labeled them false.
“I’ve had many false accusations. I’ve had it all. I’ve had so many. And when I say it didn’t happen, nobody believes me,” he said.
Trump’s implication is that false allegations are common, but the data doesn’t support that. According to the Mississippi Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the rate of false reports of rape is 2 to 3 percent.
The president, who won the male vote in 2016 and continues to count white men among the groups that support him most, seems to be unaware of how different groups experience crime — and accusations about crime — differently. But Trump’s newfound concern about men falsely accused of crime seems to ignore that the situation he now describes as a new reality has been a long-term reality for decades for many men in America.