2017 political news contained two preeminent images: Donald Trump and sexual assault. Trump’s objective has been to be dominate the news each day. Nonetheless, beginning with revelations about the sexual behavior of movie producer Harvey Weinstein, Trump tidings were pushed aside by reports of celebrity sexual misconduct. (Time Magazine recognized this by naming “the silence breakers” their persons of the year.) The two images are connected. Trump has been accused of sexual assault. And the Republican Party is engaged in systematic assault on American workers.
A little over a year ago, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was momentarily derailed by the release of a salacious recording where Trump bragged about assaulting women: “When you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything... grab them by the pussy.” Amazingly, Trump survived this. His most ardent supporters came to regard the recording as “fake news.” Mainstream Republicans adopted the attitude, “Whatever Trump may have done in the past, he’s preferable to Hillary Clinton.”
During 2017, Donald Trump put his imprint on the Republican Party and, in the process, “normalized” sexual assault, for the Party faithful. We see this in GOP support for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. Multiple women have come forward with tales of Moore’s sexual misbehavior ― one of the women was 14 when Moore assaulted her. The mainstream Republican response is, “Whatever Moore may have done in the past, he’s preferable to the Democratic candidate.”
Republicans have adopted the dubious ethical maxim: “the end justifies the means.” And they have gone further; they’ve adopted the tactics used to denigrate sexual assault victims. We can see this in the Republican tax plan that passed the Senate in the early hours of Saturday, December 2.
The first of the Republican tactics is the lie. Trump claims that the women who accuse him of sexual assault are lying. Alabama Senate candidate Moore also claims that the women who accuse him of sexual assault are lying. Similarly, when confronted about problems with their tax bill, Republicans respond with lies; for example, the tax cuts will benefit America’s working families ― when actually the GOP tax plan will primarily benefit corporations and the wealthiest one percent. Republicans have also lied about the impact of the tax bill on the economy; they claim it will cause the economy to grow because of the “trickle-down” effect ― when actually there is little evidence that the GOP tax plan will have long-term positive impacts on the economy (to the contrary, there is a lot of evidence that increasing economic inequality will have long-term negative consequences).
The second of the Republican tactics is to demean the victim. Trump and Moore have suggested that their accusers came forward because they wanted publicity. Congressional Republicans have argued that the rich deserve tax breaks because they’ve worked hard to make their money and, in contrast, the poor do not deserve tax breaks (or social services) because they have not worked hard (this conforms to the long-time Republican contention that the poor are shiftless).
It’s only a small step from the Trump and Moore statements to the classic rapist contention: “she asked for it.” In court, rapists often attempt to discredit their victims by claiming the woman “asked for it,” suggesting that the assault victim was a person of loose morals or “incited” the rapist by dressing in a provocative way. Similarly, Republicans in Congress are suggesting that working-class voters “asked for it” because they have not amassed enough funds to be able to pay for social services.
A recent study of 41 convicted rapists found they had three dominant justifications for their behavior: 79 percent opined, “it is a dangerous world and you have to treat others as they would treat you.” 51 percent described women as sex objects, “whose function is to be sexually available to men.” And 44 percent “expressed feelings of entitlement, assuming that as a man they could take what they wanted from the woman.”
Sadly, these horrific sentiments are similar to those expressed by Donald Trump and other senior Republicans. Trump infamously never apologizes, stating that when he perceives he is under attack, he responds in kind. This is an expression of Trump’s governing philosophy, “it is a dangerous world and you have to treat others as they would treat you.”
Furthermore, Trump historically has treated women as sex objects. And it’s hard to imagine any American who expresses a stronger feeling of entitlement than does Trump. This is shown by his remark: “When you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything... grab them by the pussy.”
With regards to their tax plan, the Republican leadership has expressed similar feelings of entitlement. Witness the statements of Trump, Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin, Secretary of Commerce Ross, and Chief Economic Adviser Cohn. They’ve all made comments to the effect, “When you’re rich, you can do anything...”
During 2017, Donald Trump put his imprint on the Republican Party. In the process, he both normalized sexual assault and encouraged congressional Republicans to assault America’s working families.