I apologize that the above title is somewhat flip about sexual assault, a topic that is deeply and personally painful for so many people. However, I feel I am under no obligation to take the subject more seriously than the public at large, and we’re straight-up ignoring a rape allegation against the President, so…
In 2016, Donald Trump was being sued. There has never been a moment of his adult life for which that statement has not been true, but unlike his usual exercises in driving stiffed contractors to legal exhaustion, he was being accused of a violent crime in this case. The plaintiff, then 35 years old, claimed that Donald Trump beat and raped her when she was 13 years old at the home of Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted teenage-girl-trafficker and “friend” of the future president who was also named as a participant in the brutal attack.
Trump had said this about Epstein: “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy… He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it, Jeffrey enjoys his social life.” Much like the offhand reference to inflows of Russian money that Eric made to a golf magazine, that statement was a casual admission that should’ve been much more damning than it turned out to be.
Meanwhile in 2016, Donald Trump was also running for president, but the lawsuit story never got traction. It was background noise to a carnival act unlike anything America had ever witnessed, and “Katie Johnson” never showed her face to the public, speaking only through her legal filings and a crop of notably sketchy never-Trump Republicans (who presumably fell in line with Dear Leader once he locked the nomination). Democrats couldn’t touch the story because of Bill Clinton’s deeply unfortunate chumminess with Epstein. Undoubtedly cowed by the awesome power of the presidency, the plaintiff dropped her suit shortly after Trump’s election.
The real thing she had working against her, other than the constant threat of bat-wielding Russian Mafia goons, is that Donald Trump had never publicly shown the face of the person she described. We knew he was a handsy misogynist who constantly demeans women, and at the very least aspires to violate them — I started writing this blog with a direct response to the Access Hollywood tape. We can infer that he despised his weak mother for allowing his father’s abuse, and that he also resents women for their perceived disrespect towards his weird penis. Despite being a germaphobe with a mortal fear of bodily fluids, he disdains both condoms and withdrawal, giving the impression that he sees the defilement of women as the object of sex. What we know about him is not great, in other words.
However, the picture Katie Johnson painted of the man, of brutal sexual violence and pitch-black hatred of women, is a step further than what we’d been shown. Frankly, from the perspective of a Trump opponent, the True Detective child-rape tableau portrayed therein felt a little too good to be true. In that, it’s similar to Juanita Broaddrick’s allegation against Bill Clinton: the accused crime was by no means outside the realm of possibility, but the description of Hillary’s cartoonishly Machiavellian mustache-twirling made it feel a bit too much like Rush Limbaugh’s wet dream to be widely believed.
So it was for Trump’s anonymous accuser. Those of us with the inclination could easily extrapolate the monster she describes from that godless orange animal’s behavior, as well as the countless disgusting sentiments he’s expressed about women over the years; it probably bears repeating that he’s literally in the business of laundering money for sex traffickers, a vocation which put him on a path to his current position. Still, the kind of evil described in that legal filing hadn’t shown itself in daylight, at least not enough for us to readily believe the allegations of some anonymous accuser whose stability would be in question by default.
That’s precisely what makes E. Jean Carroll’s account of rape in the dressing room of Bergdorf Goodman so damning: the man she described isn’t some dark possibility of who Donald Trump could become in the shadows. The man she described is Donald Trump, full stop.
To wit, I knew that “She’s not my type” would be Trump’s toxic response from the moment I read the headline. Bearing in mind his firm stance against expressing moral reservations about any felony (let alone feeling them), I could sense the engrams of that putrid notion coalescing within his thick skull from afar. As soon as I read that the accuser was 52 at the time, I immediately checked Google Photos for a picture of Jean Carroll in 1995, finding the image of a gorgeous blonde size 2 with the sort of angular features and 80’s-hotness that Trump so values in his sexual prizes. It’s worth mentioning that she presently looks better than Ivana does, despite Ivana being six years younger and presumably able to afford better work.
But it’s not the prey that sells the story — it’s her description of the predator. I immediately recognized the initial mix of ‘lusty bravado’ and playfulness, riven with a sense that he knew how ridiculous he was. I see the bastard I’ve come to know so well in that sudden, violent downshift into sadistic, domineering petulance, and his assertion of his physical size during the attack recalled the very same thug who stalked Hillary Clinton across that debate stage. To reiterate: the man in this story is Donald J. Trump.
The whole story reeks of his typical base motives, too. Ever resentful of his betters, perhaps he wanted to put her in her place for the WASPy refinement that marked her as a creature of the New York elite whose acceptance he so craves. Maybe the fact that she was 52 years old was what made it a freebie in his twisted mind: Who’ll believe that the guy who just took down Marla Maples needs to rape an old lady? They’ve got her laughing on the security cameras. I’ll sue her ass if she says anything.
Either way, anyone who is willing to face the truth can recognize the subject of that story as the man who lives rent-free in all of our heads. I’ll grant that we should view any account from a distinguished writer with suspicion, because Trump has laid bare so many disgusting idiosyncrasies that any scribe worth their salt can craft a specific, rich portrait of the man’s multi-faceted deficiency. But her chosen offering of details — not to mention the doubts and acknowledged inconsistencies in her story — all felt real to me, none more so than the cheap shot she took at his penis size, which I’ve noticed is something that female victims of sexual crimes often do in spite of how it comes across.
So why can’t we pay sustained attention to such an earth-shattering story? I know the answer is probably just Trump fatigue, but we have a name and a face, and a vivid description of a woman’s suffering. On background, we have the Access Hollywood tape, and Ivana’s deposition alleging marital rape, and 21 other accusers. Even the erstwhile Katie Johnson has seen her story firm up as Jeffrey Epstein’s case has been reexamined. This time, we aren’t going entirely on the word of an anonymous Floridian, whose only known biographical fact is that she was once a teenager with a deeply screwed-up home life. Ms. Carroll is a respected writer with contemporaneous witnesses. Is the fact that she wrote a book about her assault really the reason that we can’t be bothered to take a second look?
Sad as it is to say, maybe it’s the 21 other accusers that are diluting the impact of the story. One of the core premises of #MeToo is to give all sexual violence effectively equal weight, so that no victim’s pain is marginalized, but it’s the unique horror of rape that is marginalized when we flatten that hierarchy. If we equate all the talk of “pussy-grabbing” and casually molested strangers with what Ms. Carroll alleges, it indeed feels like we’ve been through this before, as if it’s just another routine act of lecherousness from the leader of the free world.
There is nothing routine about this, even by Trump’s perverted standards. Being a species for whom childbirth is so uniquely dangerous, rape is experienced as an act of mortal violence, and when the media brings up the 21 previous accusers who were fondled or otherwise subjected to pedestrian acts of dishonor by that piece of shit, I feel like that number doesn’t condemn the man as much as it downplays the severity of the present allegation. Summer Zervos and the rest are brave for coming forward, they all deserve to be heard, and they deserve justice, but none of them have said that they haven’t had sex in a quarter-century because they were so traumatized by what Donald Trump did to them. E. Jean Carroll did.
I know that nothing will come of this, and not just because the statute of limitations expired over a decade ago. His supporters have long since forsaken the God of Israel, and there’s no sense expecting any kind of moral judgment from the GOP at this point. Witnesses can be shrugged off as easily as Christine Blasey Ford’s therapist’s notes. Their syphilitic emperor’s ravings on the subject will be excused with ease. Our highest office will continue to be defiled by the anti-morality of a known mob associate and known-ish rapist, and life will go on.
But those who choose to ignore this story and all the other sins of this presidency are incurring a grave moral debt with that silence, and we cannot become so numb that we can’t even bring ourselves to mark the ledger.