Breaking news: Donald Trump’s latest debacle is so embarrassing that he has apologized publicly for the first time in his campaign.
Or did he?
In conversation, Good Men Project’s Michael Kasdan has pointed out that Mr. Trump consistently represents the antithesis of what this organization represents: His racism and sexism are toxic, he is overbearing and avoids any sort of responsibility, he lies compulsively, and he mocks emotional displays and people he sees as weaker.
Donald Trump is the poster exemplar for fake masculinity. It is hardly surprisingly that so many of us are dismayed and frustrated that so many American males are supporting him.
Trump’s latest scandal involves unaired video footage recorded for Access Hollywood in 2005. While host Billy Bush eggs him on, Donald Trump brags lewdly about how easy it is for him to attract sexual relationships with women. Trump talks about trying to seduce a married woman, and then suggests that he’s so rich he can literally sexually assault women and get away with it.
Trump’s first response was a three-prong statement, all three paths being representative of the Bad Man prototype he has come to represent.
The first tack: It’s just typical “locker room” banter.
As a high school teacher, I can attest that I’ve heard some truly vile talk coming from boys about girls. I work to address it, but there’s a lot of it.
This should not be an acceptable defense from someone who wants to be the Prime Role Model for the United States of America. We talk a lot about how the President is the Commander-in-Chief, or how the President represents the country abroad, or how the President sets domestic policy… all of these are true, and important.
At the same time, the President is also a role model. Children ought to be able to look up to the position; when they say, “When I grow up, I want to be President,” it ought to be a matter of pride. Presidents like Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, and Dwight Eisenhower have taken that role seriously, even if we haven’t all agreed with their politics or their positions.
Donald Trump is not the first Bad Role Model to get this close to the Oval Office. Bill Clinton lied under oath to try to avoid accepting consequences for his actions. George W. Bush feigned ignorance when the fabricated data he’d provided to justify a war in Iraq turned out to be false. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson… there have been some poor role models in the White House.
But Donald Trump might well be the Worst Role Model. Whether or not this is “typical locker room banter,” it’s something that the President of the United States should be disavowing. We all make mistakes. It was in the past. Fine.
However, it was a mistake, and it needs more humility than “hey, we all talk like that.” The Boys of America are looking to you, Mr. Trump. Stop teaching them the wrong things.
The second tack: The other guy talks that way, too.
Hillary Clinton has had two major scandals. We know this because that’s the only thing the GOP Scandal Machine can lay on her. Emails. Benghazi. Benghazi. Emails. Over and over.
Other than those two issues, she has been virtually unimpeachable through all of her years of service. Mistakes of judgment, sure. Major scandals: Emails. Benghazi. That’s it.
Because it’s difficult to attack her directly, it’s become pro forma to attack her husband, instead. So goes the narrative: Her husband is a misogynistic, adulterous lecher.
Yes, he is. He has done his time in the Prison of Public Opinion, and is currently out on probation. He was impeached for lying under oath; he only admitted to having had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, a work subordinate, after she produced indisputable evidence. Shame on him, indeed.
He’s also not running for President. Ms. Clinton’s worst crime here is in not divorcing her husband, and we’re not her. We have no idea what sort of conversations she’s had with him. She’s apparently made peace with him, and that’s her prerogative.
Earlier in the week, Rudy Giuliani had already used this defense, in a broad-sweeping fashion. When asked about his own infidelities, Giuliani said, “Everybody does.”Everybody does.”
No, they don’t. And even if some do, so what? “They did it too!” is not an acceptable defense. We don’t accept it from boys, we should not accept it from men.
This is not the way that respectable men behave. Pointing to another man who may well have behaved in just as vile a manner is not an acceptable defense.
The third and worst tack that Trump took is to “apologize.”
Back in the 1970s show “Happy Days,” the Fonz showed how it wasn’t cool for men to show remorse, choking repeatedly on “I was wrong.” That was a sitcom; this is real life.
“I apologize if anyone was offended.”
This is the sort of glib non-apology that bullies deliver when they’re being forced to apologize. “If” is the most important word here: He’s not willing to acknowledge that actual harm has been done. He’s not willing to acknowledge that his words were on-their-face offensive. “IF” anyone was offended, “I apologize.”
I’ve heard this before. I’ve heard it as a child, in the Principal’s office, when the kid who pushed me into a locker or called me a “spaz” was trying to avoid being suspended or expelled: “I’m sorry if I upset you.” The Principal heard “sorry” and was content; I heard “if” and knew what that meant.
It’s possible that I’ve even said it myself. It’s a dodge that men are trained to use. We’re upset, we’re embarrassed, our social position is challenged: This is not a time we’re excited about admitting to an error.
So: “If.” That allows us the escape hatch. Later, we can disavow the true apology to our friends. Those suckers, they fell for it.
That’s not an apology.
After the fact, Scripted Donald Trump (a product of Breitbart News Network) has delivered a real apology. That doesn’t change what Off-the-Cuff Donald Trump has said, though, and Off-the-Cuff Donald Trump is the one that would be making most of the decisions, and would be showing American’s boys how a Real Man behaves.
As a culture, we cannot afford to have this prototype for toxic masculinity inhabit the most influential position in the country.
Originally published on The Good Men Project.