Trump's snicker politics confront a new reality
In the midst of a national discussion about the reprehensibility of sexual harassment and its consequences for powerful offenders, what possessed President Donald Trump to issue a sexually suggestive tweet aimed at a U.S. senator?
Despite the protestations of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, that is precisely what the president did in response to New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand after she told CNN Monday that the president should resign in the wake of allegations of sexual misbehavior from numerous women.
Gillibrand, a Democrat, had previously said that fellow Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota should resign after several women alleged he had behaved improperly. She was not the first senator to call for the president's resignation — the list had grown to four men and three women by Friday. Yet Trump singled out a woman in the group.
The now infamous tweet goes like this: “Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!”
Questioned by reporters about the implications in the tweet, press secretary Sanders retorted, "Only if your mind is in the gutter would you have read it that way."
Not so. It doesn't take a dirty mind to read the snicker between those lines, and anyone who was nice-minded enough not to have gotten the innuendo a year or so ago has now been educated by the president as to how he talks about women.
The Day is not ready to join in calls for the Republican president's resignation — even though Franken and Rep. John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan, and other powerful public officials have had to step down. Voters knew about Donald Trump's behavior before the election and his opinion that, as a rich, famous man, "You can do anything." Including, said Trump on tape, grab a woman's genitals.
The still-astonishing fact is that so many nevertheless chose him as president.
The question is on the table, however, given his track record, his failure to come out clearly against such behavior and instead launch his sexually tinged response. The incident has sparked a call by more than 100 Democratic members of Congress for a House of Representatives investigation into allegations against him.
Men and women, whether parents, coaches, teachers or other mentors who try to guide young people to appropriate standards of respect and civility, must be flinching with frustration. They can point to the leader of the United States only as an example not to follow. It recalls the quandary of the Massachusetts teacher who asked, after the 2016 Republican convention nominated the once-unthinkable candidate, "How can I assign a student to take his position in our traditional mock debate?"
For the record, Federal Election Commission records show Trump donated $4,800 to Gillibrand for Senate in 2010 and $2,100 to the Gillibrand Victory Fund in 2007. CNN cited a source close to Gillibrand who said the senator did visit Trump in his office in 2010, noting that his daughter, Ivanka Trump, was there.
Impressionable young men, in particular, could find in Trump's example a way to pass off allegations of sexual harassment as no big deal. A prime example of the ripple effect was Eric Trump expanding on his father's tweet in a WABC radio interview — meant to reach those in the public who don't use Twitter.
No one, he said, wanted to get into his father's office more than Gillibrand, who he said was there "every three days" for campaign contributions. And then he borrowed another of his dad's favorite tactics: changing the subject while accusing others of changing the subject. "That's been the playbook in our government for so long: distract, disrupt, hurt, bash, defame, do whatever you can for your own political gain. It's sad that we don't have more morals or character or whatever it is."
Morals and character are what it is, all right. We may have to look for them in other places, such as the voting booths of Alabama, where citizens this week rejected a candidate with serious allegations of sexual misbehavior against him. But the lesson shouldn't be lost on anyone planning to run in 2018. How elected officials behave, how powerful men treat women, and how those in public life react to allegations against others in power are part of the new playbook.
Trump can't tweet that away.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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