Sex, Dice, and the Trump Tapes

Yesterday, the Washington Post revealed that it had obtained a videotape featuring Donald Trump bragging, in the most graphic and ugly terms, about women he’s groped, harassed, demeaned, and more. Within 24 hours, the tape seems to have transformed the political landscape, with legions of Republican leaders now calling on Trump to step down from the ticket.


Across social media, people are wondering why this particular story has proven so explosive for Trump. Given that everyone already knew the vileness of his views on women and the viciousness of his behavior toward them—not to mention Muslims and Mexicans—what’s so different about this story?

I suspect it’s the profanity. People forget this, but one of the things that most hurt Richard Nixon during Watergate was the release of the White House tapes. The transcripts were laced with what was politely called in the media “expletive deleted,” and even though some of the expletives were rather mild, it made Middle America sick to think that their straight-laced president might be slinging “fuck” and “shit” with all the abandon of an unwashed hippie.

But I also think it matters, a lot, that the New York Times, rather than relying on coy evasion, went all in and actually quoted Trump, in its article, using words like “fuck” (“I did try and fuck her. She was married”), “tits” (“She’s now got the big phony tits and everything”) and “pussy” (“grab them by the pussy…You can do anything”).

Thinking back on Watergate, remember when Carl Bernstein woke Attorney General John Mitchell in the middle of the night to tell him that the Washington Post was going to run a story the next morning saying that Mitchell was the head of a secret slush fund to spy on the Democrats? Mitchell warned Bernstein that Post publisher “Katie Graham’s going to get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.” In the movie version, Ben Bradlee, played by Jason Robards, tells Bernstein not to include that quote. “This is a family paper,” he says.

Not anymore.


In the end, I don’t think the tape is going to be the nail in Trump’s coffin.

I’ve been saying for months that Clinton is going to destroy Trump. Back in March, I wrote, “There is a silent majority in this country. And it hates Trump.” But if this latest revelation has any effect on the election, it won’t be the tape; it’ll be the apology, which Trump issued last night.

Misogyny is not an issue for Trump’s base. And it may be that profanity isn’t either. But weakness is, as Jodi Dean taught us in a memorable post from August of last year. With this apology, Trump will be thought of as a wimp, a weakling who caved into the forces of feminized political correctness.

Of all the commentators on the RNC Convention this past summer, only Lauren Berlant caught the full tenor of anti-PC ideology among the ranks of Trump’s supporters. This tape was Trump’s moment, to borrow Berlant’s terminology, to demonstrate just how a free man he is. But with that apology, he only shows that he, too, has been captured and tamed by the forces of PC.


That said, it’d be a shame if the tape were used merely to delegitimate Trump. After all, Trump really has nothing to answer for here; we’ve known all along that he speaks and acts like this. The real crew that needs to answer for this tape is the Christian Right.

Throughout the campaign, white evangelicals have overwhelmingly supported Trump—often with higher majorities than Romney got from them. Despite Trump’s obvious flouting of the sexual puritanism they claim as their brand. And as of last night, their leadership was still firmly behind Trump.

Rather than discredit Trump, this tape should destroy that movement, its leaders, and the cottage industry of enabling journalists and academics who’ve told us for decades that we need to take “people of faith”—by which they mean white evangelicals—more seriously.


But tonight the story is whether the tape will force Trump to step down.

I have my doubts. To put it more pointedly: it’ll never happen.

This is a party whose leadership was incapable throughout the primary of keeping Trump off the ticket. Now that he’s demonstrated that he’s the party’s top vote-getter, and has been crowned as its leaders, how will they force him to step down?

And why would Trump, for his part, voluntarily agree to do it? He’s never been accountable to the party leadership. He won, despite their opposition to his candidacy. He doesn’t owe them a damn thing. And in the world he comes from—not real estate, remember, but reality TV—this kind of shit show is just a good night of sky-high ratings.

Even if he did step down, I don’t see how it would change the outcome of the election.

It might actually be a disaster for the GOP if Trump stepped down. It would only confirm that the party is the three-ring circus it has seemed to be, completely incapable of selecting a responsible leader.

Frankly, I think Clinton’s margin of victory would be even higher if Trump did step down. Trump’s voters, his fervent base of support, would be absolutely devastated. And what kind of mass constituency does Pence have? Half the time, I can’t even remember his name and have to look it up.

But if it did happen—and it won’t—it would be an even bigger confirmation of my “Trump is the George McGovern of the Republican Party” thesis.

After all, the McGovern campaign also saw a head of the ticket forced to step down after a public controversy. Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton had been McGovern’s VP candidate, until it was exposed in the media that he had been hospitalized for depression, and McGovern removed him from the ticket. The result was the same as what I described above with respect to Trump: it only confirmed people’s sense that this was a campaign, and a party, that was not in control of itself.


The only thing that’s interesting about all this maneuvering to get Trump off the ticket is how legalistic, almost quasi-constitutional, it is.

The presidency, as any high school civics student can tell you, is supposed to be the agent of constitutional efficacy, the one institution in the American firmament, as Hamilton understood (“energy…unity…duration”), that truly could act on behalf of the whole.

Yet here we are, less than 20 years after Bush v. Gore, confronting yet another massive political, quasi-constitutional, crisis, centered around…the presidency.

Presidents may not be Green Lanterns, but, damn, do they generate a considerable amount of constitutional chaos.


I would be remiss if I didn’t note here the panic among Clinton supporters that all this talk of Trump’s possible stepping down has provoked.

On Facebook, quite a few people seem genuinely unnerved by the possibility that Trump would step down, leaving Pence or some other improbable figure (John Kasich?) to rally the Republicans to victory. With just five weeks to go until the election.

Here’s a message for my Clinton-supporting friends: You can’t scream for months that Donald Trump is a unique threat to humanity, different from all other Republican threats we’ve seen, going back Goldwater, and then, when it seems like we might finally and happily be spared this unique fascist threat, panic. Just because you fear that it would mean your candidate won’t win. That kind of response undermines everything you’ve been saying these last few months.

When I pointed this out on Facebook and Twitter, several intrepid souls tried to counter that though Trump was a unique threat, he offered the Democrats the possibility of not merely winning an election but destroying the GOP along with him.

Now I’ve been on the record as saying that if the Democrats had played their cards right, this could have been a realignment election, in which the GOP was thoroughly repudiated.

Even so, wanting Trump to remain on the ticket, just on the off chance that it might destroy the GOP, seems like an awfully big risk, an awfully dangerous rolling of the dice, for Clinton supporters to take. After all that they have said about Trump being a fascist.

It makes them sound like none other than Ernst Thälmann, the German Communist they love to invoke (as a cautionary tale against the left), who famously said, “After Hitler, our turn.”


  1. Andrew Joseph Pegoda October 8, 2016 at 11:14 pm | #

    Interesting and important post. I like your point connecting the outrage about “this” Trump revelation with the media’s use of the specific and offensive language Trump used. A few hours ago I wrote an article about these issues too focusing on issues of Whiteness and womanhood, which I think are also important.

    I’m very much a fan of believing that we need to sometimes specifically use and discuss “offensive language.” My students in Intro to Queer Studies have discussed words like “fag” a few times. People, the general Facebook public, I am seeing today does not know the difference between using an offensive term like “pussy” and discussing its use/why it is offensive.

  2. xenon2 October 8, 2016 at 11:22 pm | #

    As someone with a father, brother, & husband, I’m concerned about the toxicity of US locker rooms. Men should be protected & cherished!
    1,418 retweets 3,042 likes
    via @hhavrilesky

  3. Bryan October 8, 2016 at 11:42 pm | #

    Some observations:

    1. I’ve yet to see any solid evidence that Trump has been seriously injured by this. My reading of his apology is different than Corey’s. When you listen to the whole thing, it doesn’t sound as much like a capitulation as it first seems. He pledges to come out swing on Sunday and I certainly agree he’s not going anywhere purely on the say-so of the GOP leadership. They’re just losers to him.

    If he battles Clinton to a draw Sunday night and scores some rhetorical points, I expect his numbers won’t fall and may even tick up.

    2. Let’s take Lauren Berlant’s lesson to heart. Two things animate Trumpism above all else: the fantasy attachment to the idea that “my life will matter again,” and utter contempt for corporate media and its self-certain pronouncements. They’re not unrelated. Once you’ve been given hope that you won;’be treated like a piece of shit any longer, whether or not there’s any basis in fact, you not inclined to give it up all that easily.

    Why are media so hated? Because they’re (rightly) perceived to have abandoned the ‘decent folk’ in their quest to join the political class. It’s been 40 years in the making, and the searing quality of that hatred is the touchstone of this campaign season. The more giddy the media are in pronouncing Trump to be dead, the stronger he’ll be clung to.

    3. Campaigns are about winning, and the Clintonites will say and do almost anything to create the appearances they believe they need to create to carry her over the line. She was always going to crush him in the debates, but if he were the fascist menace they’ve proclaimed him to be then how on earth debating him in front of the nation be justified? You don’t give fascists a platform on principle, no matter what the political fallout. But no one seriously believes Clinton’s camp would ever do anything on principle that might politically disadvantage them. With all respect, fuck them.

    I can understand wanting to lay Trump at the feet of the Christian Right, but the production of the duopoly as the sole bastion of legitimate political thought requires intimate cooperation btw the two major parties and the supplicant press. Clinton and Trump are members of the same class and the families may be fairly characterized as friendly. There are trees, and there are forests. Forest need controlled fires to retain their health. Be nice if we had one. But one of the main reason that remains out of reach is the collusion represented by the Commission on Presidential Debates to keep a wider range of ideas from being presented to the public when people have been trained to pay attention.

  4. fosforos October 9, 2016 at 12:10 am | #

    The mouth was Thälmann’s. The voice was Stalin’s.

  5. Foppe October 9, 2016 at 1:59 am | #

    Will we ever see a day on which this is at least considered equally vile (if not less so) as “we came, we saw, he died”? (Sure, it could not have happened to a nicer guy, but the people who occupy positions of power only care about niceness when it suits them, so that is irrelevant. And that country is an absolute mess now, worse off even by the metrics used by the WH.)

  6. freetofu October 9, 2016 at 2:26 am | #

    Well, the latest revelation is that Trump is planning on attacking Clinton on Juanita Broaddrick at the next debate. It should be interesting.

  7. mark October 9, 2016 at 5:05 am | #

    The [not so much] first blast of the Trumpet against the monstrous regiment of women.

    Yesterday, I looked up why is was, when Sarah Palin was unveiled in 2008 – which caused even Niall Ferguson to baulk – she came onto stage to Van Halen’s Right Now.

    Well, there is a piece by Michael Scherer April 18, 2011 which explains all:

    ‘For years, Republican candidates and politicians have been using Van Halen’s song, Right Now, as the walk-in jingle at rallies and events. The first time I recorded its use was November 5, 2006, when then-President George W. Bush used the tune to enter a rally in Greeley, Colo., not far from the slaughterhouse in a hall that smelled of cow manure. McCain used it in 2008, and over the weekend, Sarah Palin used the song to enter a rally in Wisconsin over the weekend. Connoisseurs of early-1990s hair rock know this is funny, even if Palin, Bush, and McCain never seem to get the joke.

    The song was cut for Van Halen’s ninth studio album, “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge,” which not only refers to criminal sodomy in its title, but also makes a snappy, not-so-Republican acronym…Perhaps the greatest irony is that Van Halen has long tried to stop Republicans from using the song at events. After McCain piped it in after announcing Palin as his running mate in Ohio, Van Halen’s management released a statement to TMZ saying, “Permission was not sought or granted nor would it have been given.”‘

    In Trump they have the worst of both world: scanty morals and nothing of liberal creativity.

  8. Dave Timoney October 9, 2016 at 7:19 am | #

    I disagree that this is about profanity, it’s about droit de seigneur.

    The GOP establishment’s fundamental beef with Trump has never been his sexism, racism or stupidity, but his desire for pre-eminence, his quasi-monarchical ambition. That much was evident in Mitt Romney’s scathing remarks back in March.

    What the “as a father of daughters” tweets sound like is a nobility turning on an absolute monarch for having threatened their own property.

  9. John Merryman October 9, 2016 at 9:23 am | #

    36 years ago, Carter said put on a sweater and Reagan said put it on the credit card. Now it’s 4 in the morning, drunks are passed out all over, Clinton and Trump are drunk dancing over by the empty punch bowl, holding each other up and there are sirens in the distance. Neither will be president in 2021. Worry about Chaffitz. Both after this election, when the articles of impeachment get drawn up and in 2020.

  10. medgeek October 9, 2016 at 9:32 am | #

    Regarding point 3, about the Christian right: that movement has never been about morals and “family values.” It’s been about the Republican right wing pandering to poor and middle class people so they could get their support. Of course, then they enact policies that benefit the rich at the expense of the vast majority of folks that voted for them.

  11. Pelham October 9, 2016 at 10:13 am | #

    Re evangelicals: What the left doesn’t understand about them is that they sincerely value redemption. Sinners who sin a thousand times and only then turn to God are beloved, perhaps more than others, like the prodigal son.

    Non-Christians may not get this. But it really is a special thing to turn one’s life around, requiring more grit and humility than anything exhibited by someone who always sticks to the straight-and-narrow and thereby runs the risk of rendering holier-than-thou judgments, as evident in Clinton’s statements about an “irredeemable” “basket of deplorables.”

    Personally, I’m not seeing much evidence of this kind of grit and humility in Trump, although tonight’s debate may reveal much. But I believe evangelicals really want to see these qualities in him and are cutting him more slack than he probably deserves.

    • Gavolt October 9, 2016 at 5:57 pm | #

      For people who are supposedly sincere in their general love of redemption, they sure are particular about which types of people deserve that kind of latitude. Thought experiment: what if Trump had been a woman saying very similar things? Would the religious right be as accommodating as they have been of Trump? That’s a rhetorical question. We know the answer.

  12. Sechumanist October 9, 2016 at 10:28 am | #

    These events, like others, suggest to many that the republican party will likely be destroyed or at least seriously damaged. Never happen.

    There will always be people who are easily swayed by emotion, lack critical thinking skills, and love authoritarian (religious) figures who tell them who to hate.

    These cretins will always need a place to call home and conservatism, republicanism and libertarianism provide it.

    We’re doomed to perpetual crisis as a result.

  13. bt1138 October 9, 2016 at 4:42 pm | #

    Here’s how this works for the GOP:

    -You can call Mexicans and The Blacks rapists and murderers.
    -You can call for the opponent to be shot.
    -You can swear all the time, if referring to a democrat, as Donald did over and over for the last year.
    -You can insult the military, you can insult entire religions and countries. You can call a storied POW a loser for being caught.
    -You can invade a country and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent women and children.
    -You can be a thrice married adulterer.

    None of this is disqualifying.

    But, you CANNOT talk about the Lady Sexy Parts in public. You can’t talk about actual sex, in any real way or form, because it’s awful and dirty and disgusting. This is forbidden territory (the man on man stuff is even worse!).

    That is the GOP. This is what moves their consciousness. And Donald went there, and now he must be excommunicated.

  14. Roquentin October 9, 2016 at 6:23 pm | #

    I don’t know about you, but the overall theme of this election for me has been empty posturing and hypocrisy. Maybe among liberals Trump’s retort that “Bill Clinton has said and done worse,” doesn’t have a lot of pull, but on the right it certainly did. I know that Hillary isn’t responsible for her husband’s actions, but if anything shocked me it’s the total lack of self-awareness on the left at just how hypocritical it is to to clutch their pearls and feign outrage while pretending the multiple occasions Bill Clinton sexually harassed women never happened.

    I just don’t have the patience for this sanctimonious bullshit anymore. Not from the Hillary backing liberals, not from the Evangelicals, not from anyone. These comments will fade from the headlines inside of week, and that will be end of it. None of it means anything. None of this election means anything. It’s white noise on a television, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    I’d also go so far as to say these calls from Republicans for Trump to step down aren’t because they’re scared he’ll lose, it’s because they’re scared he’ll win. Since the party establishment of the GOP has basically gone all in on distancing themselves from him, they know they won’t have much control over him if he does. That’s why they are scared. Do you honestly think they give the first shit about his vulgarity? They’re frightened because they might not be calling the shots anymore.

  15. lazycat1984 October 9, 2016 at 6:34 pm | #

    I remember hearing Trump saying the same kinds of things many years ago on the Howard Stern radio show. So how is this news? The media gleischaltung that Bill and Hillary rammed through created a ‘mainstream media’ that now roars full throatedly in anguish about this supposed revalation while meanwhile doing all it can to stifle the actual revalations of Hillary’s shocking speeches to Goldman behind closed doors. Figure it out. We’re ruled by an oligarchy that feels its power under threat just as it felt that total global domination is within its grasp. Suddenly there is opposition popping up everywhere. I should hope that it will continue to come from this quarter. Does anyone really believe the Russian GRU is behind the anti-fracking movement?! ( Let’s get real, please. Oh and if Hillary gets in there, we can be sure that there will be an attack on alternate internet based information sources under the guise of ‘protecting the children’ or ‘stopping terrorism’. Or probably both.

    • Roquentin October 9, 2016 at 8:31 pm | #

      I agree. The media onslaught isn’t going to stop once November hits. At a minimum, there will be a couple of years trying to make everything Hillary does in office look good so they can save face for convincing us all we had to vote Clinton OR ELSE. It will almost be funny to watch that propaganda machine slowly sputter out, perhaps a couple of years from now, as they lose the ability to stem the tide of cognitive dissonance and will at long last be forced to admit Clinton was always a center-right neoliberal put into power to do the bidding of the elite. An elite with no loyalty to anything except its own hold on power. It will also be mildly amusing to see what tripe they serve up as justification when they can no longer just point to Trump and blame it all on him.

  16. Will G-R October 9, 2016 at 10:39 pm | #

    I’m just going to make a provocative statement — “Donald Trump is right” — and hopefully egg people on to read this by Carl Beijer:

    Donald Trump’s [latest] inflammatory remarks, just publicized from a 2005 recording, have sparked an extraordinary and much-deserved political backlash – even within his own party. A lot of the outrage has simply been directed at the “extremely lewd” character of his remarks, as when he calls a woman “a bitch” and ridicules her “phony tits”; some critics have been most offended by the “vile degradation” of “hitting on married women”; others have criticized his “boasts about sexual assaults”.

    One aspect of Trump’s comments that has been largely overlooked, however, is his explicit admission of the way that power licenses his odious behavior:

    When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything…grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.

    The few responses to this have been telling. When Joe Biden decries such behavior as “an abuse of power“, he isn’t actually criticizing the power that lets people like Trump “do anything” — he’s simply condemning its “abuse”. … Within liberal feminism, the opportunity to abuse power must be defended, and even the opportunity to abuse women; if your “freedom” to acquire ungovernable economic power puts women at risk, so be it. Liberal feminism allows us to do things like “condemn” patriarchy, and shame it — but any collective action that actually mobilizes the arm of the state is prohibited, as this would be an imposition on “freedom”.

  17. jonnybutter October 9, 2016 at 11:22 pm | #

    I think Bejier has a point or two – for one, that what Trump said is factually correct to some extent. But he (Bejier) gets his argument screwed up by the end (or else *I’m* screwed up). It’s not true that ‘any collective action that actually mobilizes the arm of the state is prohibited’. However insufficient, here has been collective action that mobilized the arm of the state, in the form of laws against, e.g. sexual harassment. Not saying that all is well, just that liberalism is not shy about ‘mobilizing the arm of the state’.

    I agree with him that calling it ‘abuse of power’ is telling, a la Biden. But the overall argument is half baked imo.

  18. Fae Aeryn October 16, 2016 at 12:38 am | #

    Trump should have been a pariah with his racist announcement rants. Certainly when he advocated murdering the family members of suspected terrorists. But then we are apathetic to the deaths of others when their deaths serve our fears and our “interests”. The GOP feeds on the passions of an ignornaunt and shallow citizenry, and will likely not starve, even if it splits apart to fight over the remains. We will see at Clinton’s hands what we received at Obama’s:. temporary reprieve from a particular catastrophe, in this case the leadership of a malignant narcissist with no knowledge or self control. I’m assuming catastrophes should be thwarted. Beyond that the tea leaves are hard to see. We learn so slowly and change so late, and our thinking is pathetically weak by design. Hard to imagine an awakening without the shatteringly of illusions that motivate our manufactured wants.

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