“I moved on her like a b – h.”
“Grab ’em by the p – y.”
“I don’t even wait. When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
It goes without saying that a 2005 recording of Donald Trump speaking to fellow celebrity Billy Bush on a soap opera film set has given political pundits and cultural commentators plenty of material with which to work for the remainder of the 2016 election season, and perhaps for years afterwards. When it comes to thinking and writing about a piece of recorded content that is so crass, so demeaning, and so shocking-yet-not-shocking-at-all, there are countless angles, countless questions to ask.
“Mr. Trump, how can voters in the United States believe you when you say that you treat women with the highest respect, when a tape like this proves, and doesn’t just “seem” to prove, otherwise?”
“Mr. Trump, you talk in this recording about pursuing an intimate relationship with a married woman, even after recently celebrating your own wedding to your third wife, Melania Trump. What does a tape like this say about your commitment to the sanctity of marriage, or your respect for contracts, treaties, and promises?”
“Senator A/Governor B/Congressman C, you maintained your endorsement of Donald Trump after ‘they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime; they’re rapists,’ ‘I like people who weren’t captured,’ ‘knock the crap out of them,’ ‘maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say,’ and ‘I don’t know anything about David Duke.’ Why has it taken you so long to ‘see the light’ when it comes to the nature of Donald Trump’s candidacy?”
“Mr. Bush, why are you laughing as Donald Trump uses such degrading language to describe your own co-worker?”
Obviously, these are several questions that someone could draw from watching the video released by the Washington Post, and I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t asked some of these same questions myself.
Yet, there’s another question that’s taken up residence in my mind, and I haven’t heard anyone else asking it. It’s a question that stands at the intersection of conversations about Donald Trump’s views concerning women, his choice of words in environments where he thinks that the cameras that have contributed so much to his celebrity aren’t rolling, and, more fundamentally, his pursuit of the most powerful office in the entire world.
My question is this: “Mr. Trump, what do words like this, sexism and chauvenism and misogyny and cruelty and bile aside, say about how you view the use of power?”
“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
But what about if you’re the president of the United States?
You see, I’m bothered by the words that Donald Trump uses in this recording to describe what he thinks about women, about what is acceptable even when bound within the confines of marriage, about the twisted fascination with which he sees a woman’s body.
I was raised by a talented, hardworking, caring woman and a respectful, brilliant, honorable man, both of whom were raised by women and men who were also caring and hardworking and honorable and respectful. My parents also raised my sister, who is an equally talented and brilliant woman in her own right. Men like my father and my grandfathers would never talk about women like my sister and my mother and my grandmothers like Donald Trump talks about women in that video.
But what also concerns me in the midst of and in addition to these discussions about Donald Trump’s sexism-on-the-record is what this same recording indicates about how he viewed the power that came from his celebrity at the time, and how he might use (better: abuse) the awesome power that comes with the presidency.
In fact, some of America’s founding minds were also concerned with the idea of politicians, the power they wield, and the perils of its abuse. The pillars of the system that they built are based on some of these very concerns: the separation of power into three branches, the division of authority between states and the central government, and the Bill of Rights come to mind. In The Federalist Papers (No. 47), James Madison wrote the following:
The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.
If you’ve watched the tape released by the Washington Post, you should be alarmed, but perhaps not surprised, by the crass way in which Donald Trump talks about women. But you should also be alarmed, perhaps even more so, by what a video like this says about what a man like Donald Trump thinks about power, what it’s good for, and how it can be used.
Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, waded into the riptide of controversy when he responded on CNN last night to the news of the video by saying, “We’re not choosing a Sunday school teacher here.”
In ways that he didn’t intend, Corey Lewandowski was right. We aren’t electing a Sunday school teacher. We’re electing the next president of the United States. We’re choosing the next occupant of the most powerful office in the world. With his ideas about women, and with his ideas about the abuse of power, can Donald Trump be vested with the authority of that office?
That’s a good question.