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E. Jean Carroll’s Accusation Against Donald Trump, and the Raising, and Lowering, of the Bar

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Jia Tolentino writes about E. Jean Carroll’s memoir, in which she writes about being raped by Donald Trump, and about the tepid response that the allegation has elicited.

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A lot of hearts seem to have hardened not just in response to Carroll’s story but in the long lead-up to it. When the piece appeared online, there was an immediate unspoken sense, I thought—although it’s certainly possible that I’m projecting—that it would tell us only what we already knew. Trump accused himself of sexual assault, on tape, in 2005, while filming “Access Hollywood,” and we found out about it just before the election, and, because any man who boasts about grabbing women by the pussy is likely to have done so and worse, repeatedly and with no compunction, it’s all been extremely, deadeningly predictable from there. The White House said in a statement that Carroll’s story was “false and unrealistic” and was “created simply to make the President look bad.” Trump later stated that Carroll was just trying to sell books, and claimed that he had never met her, despite New York running a photo of the two of them talking at a party. “It is a disgrace and people should pay dearly for such false accusations,” he said. On Monday, in an interview with The Hill, Trump, deploying a blatant grotesquerie that was surely intended to play to his base, said, “Number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened.”

But a public figure accusing the President of rape is news. Even though Carroll is at least the twenty-second woman to accuse Trump of sexual misconduct, she is only the second to accuse him of rape. (The first was Ivana Trump, who later downplayed her story.) Though Carroll received the pride of place at New York that she deserved, appearing on the cover of the magazine, her story did not make the front page of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, or the Chicago Tribune. The New York Post deleted a story about Carroll’s allegations on Friday. The Times was slow to feature the story online and didn’t run its piece in print until Sunday. Weekend talk shows mostly ignored the topic; on Sunday, Brian Stelter, on CNN, discussed the lack of attention the story was getting, citing the possibility—the reality—of media fatigue. There have been so many accusations against Trump that none has been able to receive the undivided attention that it ought to, Stelter suggested. And the news cycle itself is so quick-moving and chaotic that every important story, regardless of its subject, is metabolized too fast.

There are other explanations, too, though none of them are particularly satisfactory. Newspapers tend to prioritize stories that they’ve broken in house. There are also good journalistic reasons for seeking independent confirmation of a story before giving it prominence. But, on Monday, Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the Times, acknowledged that the paper had “underplayed the article.” Though Carroll’s account was vetted by New York—two friends confirmed that she told them the story contemporaneously with the event—it was a first-person account rather than an investigative report. And it gets harder to tell this story over and over and over, as a lesson we learned in 2016 only becomes clearer: there are many people in this country, including, apparently, the majority of Republicans who hold national office, who don’t believe that rape is that big of a deal. As we saw during the Kavanaugh hearings, a portion of those people may grow to like a man better after he is accused of sexual assault. In her essay for New York, Carroll acknowledges the risk that she might make Trump more popular by telling the story of how he raped her. In these cases, the accuser is not so much disbelieved as conscripted into a narrative of women attempting to victimize men by arousing public sympathy. The powerful solidify their power by pretending that they have been threatened and attacked. This dynamic is central to both fascism and abuse.

 

Edited by prettylight

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"It has felt impossible, in the Trump era, to hope even for a second that our governing systems will operate on any standard of morality. What we have instead is a standard of consistency. If the President had ever convincingly espoused ideas of respect for people who are not like him, or of equal rights for women, it’s possible that he would be held accountable for his actions. Instead, he promised mass campaigns of cruelty against undocumented immigrants, and he is delivering. He said that he grabbed women by the pussy, and many women—twenty-two, so far—explained that, yes, he did that, or something like it, to them. Carroll’s essay—exceptional, devastating, decades in the making—has made me consider how hard it is to understand right away that you’ve been exhausted into submission, especially when submission and endurance feel inextricable. It’s reminded me of how high I’ve let my own hideosity bar get lately, and also of the fact that no one can lower it again but me. "

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