Oxford Dictionaries defines its official Word of the Year, post-truth, as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” This month, we will briefly highlight each day a major moment from 2016 that most exemplifies the concept of post-truth. Many of these moments will, inevitably, pertain to our president-elect.
Sociopaths do not experience guilt or shame the way normalish people do. Instead, they immediately look to blame others for what they have done. The domestic abuser’s refrain, for instance, is most often, “This is your fault.” The abused brought this on him- or herself and owes the abuser an apology for making him or her be this way.
If anyone was still on the fence about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s sociopathic tendencies at the point when 10 unconnected women came forward with credible charges of sexual abuse near the end of his campaign, his response to these accusations was to announce that he, himself, was the victim. Of course, by that point no reasonable person should have still been on the fence. His entire campaign was rotten with overt sexism, haphazardly wallpapered over with the insulting, oxymoronic mantra, “Nobody respects women more than Donald Trump.”
Long before it became relevant as a political issue, Donald Trump’s sexual history was well documented and eye-rolled upon in the Manhattan media landscape. He took an adolescent pride in the New York Post headline where future second wife Marla Maples bragged of their extramarital affair: “Best Sex I Ever Had.” The wife he cheated on with Maples later claimed, during divorce proceedings, that Trump had abused her—although later on she clarified that it was just emotional abuse. (So, you know, no big deal.) Beyond the scope of print media, he took misogyny to the broadcast networks when, in a scene from the show where he fired people with his children, Trump mused out loud about how appealing one female contestant would look on her knees.
Then there was his odd relationship with daughter Ivanka. On an episode of The View in 2006, Trump notoriously replied to a question about whether Ivanka might ever pose for Playboy—and by the way: cool question, The View—by saying, “I don’t think Ivanka would do that, although she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” Trump’s assistant later assured the media that Trump had merely been horsing around, just a good and normal joke for a parent to make on television. He was apparently also joking when he told Howard Stern it was okay to call Ivanka “a piece of ass,” which begs the question: is it possible to be too good at jokes?
It was partly Trump’s history with women that brought him to an early low point in his presidential campaign. During a debate in August of 2015, moderator Megyn Kelly asked whether a man who referred to women he didn’t like as “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs,” and “disgusting animals,” had the temperament to be president. Trump later told Meet the Press that he hadn’t said some of the things Megyn Kelly accused him of, but of course he did. When asked about the confrontation with Kelly after the debate, Trump doubled down on misogyny. He said that she had “behaved very badly,” a chillingly paternal way to speak of a professional adult woman, and that “she had blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” which may or may not be a veiled reference to menstrual blood. Eye of the beholder.
His views aren’t just despicable in terms of creep factor and lack of respect, though. They are also blatantly backward and outdated, harkening to an era where women strictly inhabit a sphere of domesticity. He did a hard-180 on abortion so that he is now pro-life in a “repeal Roe v Wade” kind of way. And in a 2004 interview with NBC’s Dateline, Trump said of pregnant women: “The fact is, it is an inconvenience for a person that is running a business.” Perhaps women shouldn’t work at all. Make America Pre-Mad Men Times Again!
Hillary Clinton found herself in the singular position of being the first-ever female presidential candidate, with a stacked record as a champion of women’s rights, going up against the most transparently misogynist opponent in modern history. Although she certainly didn’t hesitate to paint Trump with that brush, declaring him part of the “war on women,” she only did so selectively. She wisely dodged her opponent’s child rape lawsuit, for instance, as tempting as it must have been to make it into a talking point, because it was extremely suspicious.
Trump did not refrain, however, from running an overtly sexist campaign. Before he even officially began, he threw down the gauntlet, manually retweeting the message that “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?” This is a joke that made Donald Trump smile in April 2015, and he has done nothing since to indicate any growth in his views toward women. Instead, he countered all of Clinton’s charges of misogyny by pointing out several times that “The only card she has is the woman’s card.” He nourished his crowd’s tendency to chant “Lock her up!” at his rallies, places where shirts that read “Trump That Bitch” and way worse were not uncommon. He also brought optics into the mix, claiming that Clinton did not have “a presidential look,” and that he wasn’t impressed with how she looks “from behind.” The focus on Clinton’s gender came to a head, though, in the first presidential debate.
During the debate, moderator Lester Holt asked Trump to clarify what he meant by his comment about Clinton’s non-presidential look. His response was to first agree with the statement (“She doesn’t have the look”) and then pivot to a lie (“She doesn’t have the stamina. I said she doesn’t have the stamina.”) Later in the debate, Clinton returned the focus to Trump’s views on women by bringing up his treatment of former Miss USA, Alicia Machado. (Reminder: the president-elect used to own and operate an annual beauty competition.) Clinton pointed out that after Machado gained weight as Miss USA, Trump body shamed her with the nickname Miss Piggy, and also the racist nickname Miss Housekeeping–a revelation that nicely bookended a campaign that kicked off with Trump charging that Mexican immigrants are rapists. Trump didn’t make it any easier on himself either, tensing up and interrupting Clinton for the umpteenth time that night to demand “Where did you find this? Where did you find this?” like a Scooby Doo villain. Little did he know that this was just the beginning of a three-week period in which, finally, all anyone wanted to talk about is how Donald Trump is terrible to, for, and about women.
After the debate, Trump spent a dark night of the soul tweetstorming about Clinton and Alicia Machado. One of those tweets even included the almost heroically un-presidential request that his followers “check out sex tape.” As we saw in his encounter with Megyn Kelly, when Trump defends himself against charges of misogyny, he often doubles down with more misogyny, and this case was no different. In a phone call to designated Trump-friendly media space Fox & Friends, Trump gently explained that after she became Miss USA, Machado’s weight gain was “a real problem.” The haunted expressions on the hosts’ plasticine faces foretold all the momentum that was about to move in Clinton’s direction. If this whole episode was a huge blow to Trump’s reputation, though, then what happened next seemed like a cheekbone-smashing knockout punch.
On October 7, someone decided to show the world how seamlessly Trump’s private views on women cascaded with those he made in public. This person leaked to the Washington Post a behind-the-scenes video from Trump’s visit to Access Hollywood in 2005, during which he describes how he “moves on” women. Newly married to current wife Melania, Trump walked Bush through his tactics of furniture shopping, unprovoked kissing, and the immortal technique of grabbing ‘em by the pussy. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he says, confirming that he is a person who takes consent for a given. Billy Bush was soon fired from his job after the leak, for merely being entertained rather than repulsed by the future president of the United States.
The release of the Access Hollywood tape ushered in a moment that blended together Trump’s dual wind streams of lying and misogyny into the ultimate El Niño of toxic masculinity. For the first time in perhaps the entire 21st century, Donald Trump was made to apologize for his actions. Of course, less than one minute after his apology, he turned the tables and opted for a new tactic: attacking Hillary Clinton’s husband. “I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people,” Trump said, perhaps forgetting that his words had described a pattern of actions. “Bill Clinton has actually abused women and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims,” he continued. None of the accusations Trump alludes to here have actually been proven, but that’s a minor detail and details are for losers.
Bill Clinton did indeed carry on a consensual sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, which he was impeached for lying about, but none of the other allegations have borne out—especially those about Hillary Clinton intimidating the women who made them. “All the [Hillary] accusations remain unproven, as do the specific allegations against Bill Clinton,” writes the nonpartisan fact check site, Politifact. If Donald Trump reads online that something happened, though, he feels free to repeat it to his rabid fanbase until it becomes canon. “All I know is what’s on the internet,” he said, back in March, perfectly encapsulating the meaning of post-truth.
In the wake of the Access Hollywood tape, several women came forward to challenge Trump’s claim that the tape represented mere words and not actions. There were the women who claimed Trump advanced on them in elevators or groped them on a plane. There was the People writer who alleged that he forced himself on her at his Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago, in 2005, near the height of his Apprentice fame. One woman revealed the lawsuit she filed against Trump in 1997 for groping her in his daughter’s bedroom. And the accusations kept on coming.
These claims were deemed credible by professional fact-checkers, but Trump pretended otherwise.
“Nobody has more respect for women than I do—nobody,” he contended during the second presidential debate. “And frankly, those stories have been largely debunked.” There’s no way to not sound like Ron Howard’s Arrested Development narrator when fact-checking Donald Trump, but those claims had not been debunked. And in trying to defend himself against them, Trump once again doubled down again on misogyny with the unconvincing argument that he wouldn’t assault some of these women because of how not good-looking they were. This is a vicious and cruel insult to every woman who has ever been sexually assaulted and not believed for it. If nothing else, it shows that Donald Trump lives in a world where all women are probable liars and sexual assault can be laughed away with flippant remarks—a worldview echoed by the website formerly run by his chief strategist.
The focus on Bill Clinton turned into an exercise in wild, paradoxical hypocrisy with the second presidential debate. An hour beforehand, Trump held a “press conference” with four of Clinton’s accusers and streamed it on Facebook Live. Instead of fielding any questions, though, Trump let the accusers reiterate their allegations against Bill Clinton, who it should be noted was not running for president in 2016. Trump even planned to accompany these women to the debate, like Robert Palmer’s phalanx of identical female backup dancers, to sit in the front row and intimidate his opponent. He was barred from doing so, by an act of decency on behalf of the committee behind the debates. Beyond false equivalency and the lack of relevance, though, Trump’s tacky tactics here make it obvious that he thinks women who accuse men of sexual assault should only conditionally be believed. This is the worldview of a person who has zero empathy for women. This is the belief of a sociopath.
More revelations of Trump’s inappropriate behavior with women followed the debate—that he bragged about walking in on half-dressed teenagers at the Miss Teen USA pageant, that he said he found 12-year-old Paris Hilton hot—but it was all soon drowned out by a pronounced late-election return to the focus on Hillary Clinton’s emails. In the weeks just before America went to the polls, barely anyone continued raising the issue of Donald Trump’s misogyny, and how it might seep into his policies as president. Clinton’s lead in the polls shrank and then evaporated around the release of the infamous Comey letter. Now that Trump’s been elected, though, there are already glimmers of how his backwards views toward women may become codified.
By electing Donald Trump, America has sent a signal to women around the world that what Trump said to Billy Bush was just locker room talk, despite the fact that he was not actually in a locker room when he said it, but rather a professional situation with a microphone on his lapel. I recently got into an argument with a Trump supporter about this issue and when I brought up Trump’s statements to Bush, the supporter responded, “Everybody talks like that.” The post-election, post-truth reality is that a lot of people now believe that everybody does. And the women of America are going to have to reckon with that. Big league.