We began this week with the now-usual, unhelpful conversation about whether Donald Trump is a jerk for going on about a former Miss Universe and her weight and ethnicity. Lost in the noise around Alicia Machado’s value as a human being (Mary Matalin called her a “tart”), was the leering, grotesque womanizing personality of Trump, which Hillary Clinton framed for 100 million Americans in the first debate when she said:
And one of the worst things he said was about a woman in a beauty contest. He loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them. And he called they woman “Ms. Piggy.” Then he called her “Ms. Housekeeping,” because she was Latina. Donald, she has a name.
This caught Trump off guard because how could it not? For a man who lies multiple times every minute, who plays domination games as constantly as he fills his lungs with air, these kinds of accusations are lost in the supreme catastrophic wake of his life. What woman hasn’t Trump directed a hostile, predatory, or sexist remark? What Latinx person has not brought forth a comment about Mexico, especially after he used them in declaring his candidacy? To be Trump is to force the world into his matrix of understanding, which is narrower than the eye of a needle—are they with me or against me? Do I want to be like them or can I mock them?
We have watched sixteen months of Donald Trump do his best presidential act, which from the sum of his words, behaviors, and responses to pressure, he thinks is some kind of caricature of strength and showmanship. That the President should also be diplomatic is to be weak; to be fair-minded is to be “low energy,” to be concerned for all Americans is to be establishment; to be open to compromise is to be “politics as usual.” Trump’s own rhetoric has painted him into a corner on nearly every domestic and foreign policy issue, and along with it, he has dragged the Jekyll/Hyde Republican Party with him. Unless voters want to flip off the other 192 UN member states and any American who thinks that Trump is a fool, most people have decided to stay out of the corner. There are now very few people willing to vote for Trump who aren’t motivated to vote out of ideology.
For the Trump train, however, this week has demonstrated that the offensive statements he has made have had real effects, not just on the electorate, but on attitudes among Americans and on the boundaries of communication over issues, as well as violent forms of communication. Take this harrowing account from a journalist who was barraged by Trump supporters, one of whom even tried to induce a seizure:
The video was some sort of strobe light, with flashing circles and images of Pepe [the frog] flying toward the screen. It’s what’s called epileptogenic—something that triggers seizures. Fortunately, since I was standing, I simply dropped my iPad to the ground the second I realized what Mike had done. It landed face down on the bathroom floor.
The racist tweetstorm unleashed against Leslie Jones, simply for starring in a redux of Ghostbusters that featured women instead of men in the lead roles, is hard to imagine without the animus whipped up against women and people of color that takes place at nearly every Trump rally. I wrote for Bitch Media earlier this year that his criticisms of Clinton far surpassed critiques of her policy stances and voting history and plummeted into outright harassment, if not incitement to commit homicide. Caught up in the hostilities at his rallies and among his supporters are fears around terrorism that the alt-right insists on linking to Muslims (while turning a blind eye to white nationalism), on fears about immigrants, foreign nations’ presumed stealing of our factories and jobs, Black rioters and looters who hate the police, immoral queer people who have desecrated marriage, and trans women who make all of our toilets unsafe.
The incessant sound bites, the trance journalism pieces that can’t seem to replay every awful, careless thought out of Trump’s mind has generated this national shitstorm, and so it is a little bit surprising that the latest revelation on Friday, that Trump bragged with Billy Bush about harassing and sexually assaulting women because he knew he could get away with it, would shock the GOP establishment enough to warrant a tide of unendorsement and condemnation. Among the exiters are politicians who voted to defund Planned Parenthood, who sponsored or backed so-called “bathroom bills,” who refused Syrian refugees refuge in their state or who publicly wondered if refugees would harbor terrorists, who reject even the idea that Black Lives Matter, and who had until Friday excused Trump’s statements and antics. Some political analysts have concluded that because Trump’s poll numbers were already weak and because the GOP can’t win any of its major races without white women voting in large numbers, that the better strategy was disentanglement with the standard-bearer than to continue anemic support.
So here we are, a few hours from the second presidential debate in which the candidates will be answering questions directly from citizens, the people who give them or refuse them this highest executive office. It is one of now few remaining political taboos standing — never to be disrespectful to a voter, especially in a public forum. One hundred million people watched the first debate and with this newest scandal swirling around Trump like his own personal Category 5 hurricane, from which he is sure to be defensive and looking for a bare-knuckled fight with Clinton, viewership is expected to be high again. Will Trump be able to hold it together when in the first few minutes this tape is brought up? I don’t own a magic 8 ball anymore but signs point to no.
This election has seen the worst in people—the GOP’s dystopian vision of a crumbling America, the knee-jerk reactions against Muslim people every time ISIS (not an organization run by observant Muslims) claims another attack, the violence online and in person against supporters of candidates other than Trump, and just all the yelling—it is such uncharted territory one wonders how much worse things can get in the next scant month before Election Day.
But hell, imagine it if Trump gets elected. We may look back on this week and say, wow, that’s when the campaign really shifted. Or it may be the beginning of four years of political, economic, and cultural garbage.