When President Trump opened his mouth on Friday to defend ousted White House aide Rob Porter in the face of accusations he’d abused his two ex-wives and a girlfriend, leaving his first wife with a black eye, I couldn’t stop hearing a Saturday Night Live skit from more than 40 years ago — a time when the women’s liberation movement was still breaking news and comedy was more outrageous and less politically correct.
The 1977 skit gently mocked the women’s movement and less gently mocked the patriarchy with a TV talk show called “You’ve Come a Long Way, Buddy” that promoted the work of male painters like Vincent Van Gogh (who “influenced many artists. And he was a man.”) while music written by men, like Beethoven, played in the background, The skit reached its absurdist crescendo when a cigar-smoking John Belushi appears as a character who’s launched a 24-hour rape hotline … for men who’ve committed a rape. Belushi’s “Sam Montgomery” says the hotline gives rapists “an opportunity to talk to someone who understands what he’s gone through” — and it’s completely anonymous.
“Very often, to be known as a rapist is a social stigma, and it can ruin a man’s life.”
That’s a quote from SNL and what was supposed to be biting social satire, in a time when the future absurdity of Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States, was beyond the ability of comedy writers to imagine. But when Trump addressed reporters on Friday who asked about Porter — who’d funneled America’s most important secrets onto the president’s desks for months while top aides knew his sordid past had blocked him from a security clearance — his words could have been ripped directly from that farcical skit four decades ago.
“We wish him well, he worked very hard. We found out about it recently and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well and it’s a tough time for him,” said Trump, showing his not-satirical concern for how the social stigma of wife-beating can ruin a man’s life. “He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career and he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it and certainly he’s also very sad now.”
It’s also sad to learn that apparently we haven’t come a long way, buddy. Less than a day later, as some critics dared to note that Trump’s lack of empathy for women that Porter had allegedly (backed up by almost irrefutable evidence) abused had all but erased them from the picture, the president did what he did best and doubled down with a tweet that went after the essence of the #MeToo movement that seeks to redress centuries of patriarchical abuse in the workplace and in the broader society.
“Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” tweeted Trump on Saturday, missing an apostrophe and adding with weird Trumpian capital letters: “Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
Like most of Trump’s tweets, it would be easy to take the president’s 280 characters and spin off 2,800 words of outrage, about all the places and times that Trump or his administration hasn’t believed in “Due Process,” from the big stuff like keeping Gitmo — a global monument to lack of “Due Process” — open and the current cruel and flimsily supported immigrant roundup to the small stuff like accusing Ted Cruz’s dad of killing JFK (and especially his outrageous statements about the innocent “Central Park Five“). I’m also breaking a loosely enforced personal rule here, and writing about the same topic (the Porter scandal) two columns in a row, when there are other things going on in Trump World (like his secret war powers memo, and his ongoing obstruction of justice in the Trump-Russia probe) and in the wider world of ideas (like forgiving America’s massive student debt) that gasp for oxygen in this deprived environment.
But Trump’s behavior in the case of Porter (and now a second ex-aide facing similar accusations) has shone a gigantic floodlight on something fundamental to where we are as a nation right now, hiding in plain sight during the president’s mind-boggling rise to power, that is no longer possible to ignore: The United States is led by a man who’s not capable of seeing the women who comprise 51 percent of his constituents as fully formed human beings. Trump, with his outrageous comments, inaugurated himself as president of the United States of Men — and the dire consequences of this depressing state of presidential mind resonate across his bifurcated land.
It’s not that women don’t exist in Trump World — as the Access Hollywood tape reminds us, they are never far from his cerebral cortex — but they exist as one-dimensional role players, pawns in a giant chess game where they can glorify or impede the grand movements of the male knights and the king. Most of these pawns in Trump chess are playing the role of sex objects, as the future president made clear in his many appearances on Howard Stern’s radio show, where he rated women and assessed their breasts, boasted about walking in on the Miss Universe dressing room and even seemed to be incapable of not sexualizing his own daughter, Ivanka.
At least 19 women have come forward with stories of groping, unwelcome kissing, or other gross forms of sexual misconduct involving the future president of the United States — and clearly that pressure to ignore that gigantic problem has fed the warped climate inside the White House where no one wanted to admit the wife-beating charges against Porter were a big deal. But “potential sex conquest” is just one limited supporting role in the Trump movie — female critics are routinely dismissed as fat (Alicia Machado) or ugly (Ted Cruz’s wife). Perhaps besotted by his years of watching blond women deliver a conservative message on Fox News (when run by the late Roger Ailes, a serial sexual predator), Trump does like putting women in communications roles — Sarah Sanders, Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway. But when it comes to the true power roles like chief of staff, your chances are better seeing a UFO than seeing a female in those jobs.
This plays out in many ways. Some 80 percent of Trump’s political nominations have been men — the worst rate in at least a quarter century. Only three of the 53 U.S. Attorneys nominated so far by Trump have been women — in a nation where females now comprise more than half of law school graduating classes. When Trump took office, half of the pending judicial nominations by Barack Obama were women; but only 19 percent of Trump’s new nominations have been female.
Maybe you could make the argument that Trump is just a 71-year-old Neanderthal whose outdated ideas on gender can be dismissed because it doesn’t really impact government policy. Except it does impact government policy. Trump’s Education Department — ironically, led by one of his few female appointees, Betsy DeVos — is working hard to reverse the dynamic on reporting campus sexual assault, which has affected at least 19 percent of female undergraduates, in favor of the Trumpian notion of “Due Process.” That means some women will again be afraid to come forward. Among the jobs that haven’t even been filled by Trump are White House adviser on violence against women, State Department ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, and head of the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, which Team Trump has threatened to eliminate since Day One of the administration. The cruel reality is that one man’s blind spot toward violence against women is going to cause more women in his United States to get hurt.
And that doesn’t include the psychic damage of a government that looks right through its women, that instead — as Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere put it — believes the men. As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick noted in arguably the best piece so far about the disgraceful way Trump’s White House had handled these assault allegations, the refusal to take them seriously even when raised by well-educated women traveling in elite circles like Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby — Porter’s ex-wives — powerfully demonstrates why women generally are reluctant to report abuse.
Taken together, all the grown-ups in the room protected, privileged, and covered for Rob Porter despite everything they knew about his pattern of abuse, because his career was important to them. Even well-educated, high-status, articulate white women who were lawfully married to Porter didn’t matter enough to be taken seriously. Please stop asking why women don’t come forward. These women did. They believed that once the police, the FBI, the White House, and John Kelly knew what they knew, Porter would stop ascending in their ranks. They were wrong. Rob Porter’s father wrote eloquently about the presidency and “a tone from the top.” The tone from the top of the Trump administration has unerringly been that women are to be cherished and protected right up until the moment they stop being docile and decorative, and then they are to be dismissed and humiliated.
That’s an unconscionable message, not just to “our wives and daughters” (which is what male writers always say) but to the more than 160 million human beings who live in America and who are not men. There are many ways that Trump has blown up the contract to be a president of all of the American people, but this mindset that leads the president to offer his well-wishes to a credibly accused wife-beater is particular abhorrent. November’s midterm election will be a chance to prove that a would-be autocrat can’t succeed by suppressing a majority group, but I’m also sick and tired of well-meaning men waiting for women to save America at the ballot box. It’s time for men to acknowledge we haven’t come a long way, buddy. Let’s all work together to topple Trump’s United States of Men.