As regular visitors to this blog will be aware, I have written in support of the candidacy of Donald J Trump ever since he announced his run back in 2015. In the intervening period, the myriad accusations and denigrations offered by the mainstream media have done little or nothing to diminish this support. I have found that the Republican has been treated grotesquely unfairly by the press and most – if not all – of the arguments against his election have been based in soft, muddy ground.
However, I am not a fanatic, nor a devotee. Trump is not my God and my enthusiasm is conditional. I have always been prepared to criticise him in the face of troubling evidence. And troubling new evidence – about his character and judgement – has now arrived.
To go over the basics, Trump’s campaign was dealt a terrible blow on Friday with the release by the (pro-Clinton) Washington Post of video/audio tape depicting the Republican nominee making crass and idiotic remarks about the fairer sex. Here is a transcript of the most controversial parts:
Trump: I moved on her, actually. You know, she was down on Palm Beach. I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it.
Billy Bush: Whoa.
Bush: I did try and fuck her. She was married.
Bush: That’s huge news.
Trump: I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping… She wanted to get some furniture. I said, “I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.” I took her out furniture — I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.
…Trump: I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
Billy Bush: Whatever you want.
Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
To be clear from the start, these comments shouldn’t mean anything politically. They were not made openly (that is, publically) and nor were they made by a man contemporaneously engaged in a political campaign (the comments are from 2005). However, there is no respect paid to ‘shoulds’ in politics and certainly not in this Alice-in-Wonderland election. The comments do matter, therefore, and will make a political impression. They are already being seen as a window into Trump’s character, into who he really is behind the spray-on tan and oratorical polish. It hasn’t been quite enough to say that Trump was joking, or that the comments merely represent the kind of ‘locker room talk’ all men engage in away from the earshot of women. Trump is not running to be the president of a student fraternity. He is running to be leader of the free world.
Still from the tape depicting Trump with TV personality Billy Bush in 2005
Trump’s remarks are also offensive to his own base in a way his previous remarks have not been. As Avik Roy put it in Forbes magazine – “Few Republican lawmakers have Muslim relatives. Few Republican lawmakers are of Mexican heritage. Few Republican lawmakers have faced discrimination based on the colour of their skin. But all of them have white female relatives. And therefore, when Trump talks about grabbing white women by the genitals, they can directly relate.”
But does the tape spell the end for Trump’s chances of election? That is the million dollar question being relentlessly repeated by every media outlet this (Sunday) afternoon. The answer surely depends on what happens tonight in St Louis, Missouri. How will Trump deal with the tape at the debate? Will he deal with it at all, or ignore it (and hope that his opponent ignores it, too)?
Personally, I think it is vital that he does deal with it – and quickly and decisively enough that the rest of the debate is left clear for a debate on policy. Whatever the first question put to Trump is, he should politely request an opportunity to first make a brief and heartfelt apology (in addition to the inadequate one already issued) to the nation and women in particular for his reported indiscretions.
He should most definitely not attempt to get even by going after Clinton’s past family issues, since this will only invite retaliation against his own rather dubious marital record. The priority must be to return the centre-point of gravity to policy and ideology.
America is still a majority-Christian country, one that emphasises the value and importance of forgiveness and being ‘born again’. If Trump is to get out of this quagmire alive, he will need to convince the believing section of society in particular that his sense of shame is real and sincere. This cannot be achieved with surface gestures, but only with spontaneous and heartfelt emotion. Put simply, Trump will need to apologise and mean it.
It’s not just you. I also sense a real injustice as to how all this is playing out. I still believe that Trump has been the victim of massively disproportionate media opprobrium this past nine months. He has invited much of this, but certainly not all of it. The shabbiness and murky dishonesty of Hillary Clinton has been hardly mentioned in any of the major newspapers or television networks (with the exception of Fox News), while even the tiniest of blemishes upon Trump’s record has been magnified to the highest possible definition. This simply isn’t fair. The odds are stacked in one corner’s favour.
It is worth reminding ourselves what exactly is at stake in this election, lest all this irrelevant nonsense lead us to forget it. We (the West) are a glittering civilisation at war with barbaric filth. We are being challenged violently by people who would force us to regress centuries in science, women’s rights and economic and philosophical clarity. Yes, Trump is goonish, unrefined and often stupid. But he is also strong, unrelenting and brave. Even if he is about to implode, we need not be ashamed at having put our faith in him.