Before we go forward, let’s make one thing clear: Donald J. Trump, Republican candidate for president, is a loathsome vulgarian. I knew that long before the tape of his conversation with Billy Bush, and I suspect you did too. However, there’s no arguing that his comments about grabbing woman by the “pussy” and hitting on married women (quite possibly while married or engaged himself) and kissing women without waiting for permission are the clearest examples yet of his despicable character. (Also fun—his wife was pregnant when he made the comments.) By admitting to sexual assault—or boasting about it falsely—he shone a light on his inner nature that was a little brighter than all the other times he proved to be a remorseless slimeball. I guess. It wasn’t surprising, at least for me, but it was definitely the most overt example yet.
Since then, the media and the political establishment (including Republicans) have been rightfully piling on. Some of them are demanding that Trump withdraw from the race (probably too late), others are hoping to shame him for being a disgusting cretin (impossible, as his “apology” proves), while others still just want to open the public’s eyes in the hopes that he eventually loses the race (a good bet).
But let’s ask ourselves a question: Are Trump voters going to give a shit about any of this, at all? It’s a cynical question, yes, but I would draw your attention to the fact that anyone with a brain already knew that Trump was awful. It was obvious, guys! This is not a revelation!
Now that he’s supposedly been exposed, though, let’s revisit the two groups that are trying very hard to put him in a political coffin:
1. The political establishment
2. The media
Those two entities have always been against Donald Trump, with the only brief deviation coming when a few cowardly Republicans lacked the integrity to officially oppose him and risk the wrath of the deplorables among their constituency. Crucially, a huge part of Donald Trump’s appeal came about precisely because he was opposed by these two groups. If you produced a Venn diagram of the groups that oppose Trump, along with the groups that Trump supporters hate, they would perfectly overlap. Here’s the complete list:
1. The political establishment
2. The media
3. Oh yeah, minorities too.
It’s possible to see the WaPo video as the death knell of the Trump campaign, and if you subscribe to that worldview, I sincerely hope you’re right. But isn’t it also possible to see it as a last desperate gasp by the two-headed monster—the political establishment and the media, again—to accomplish what they’ve failed to accomplish for the past year, which is to convince Trump’s critical mass of rabid voters that they shouldn’t vote for him? Or, more broadly, to assert their historic influence when recent events have shown that influence to be waning precipitously among the American public?
I mean, if this doesn’t work—if the new polls come out next week, and Trump’s numbers aren’t significantly diminished, and if we’re still in a reasonably close race—what then? Does it just prove that for a certain group of Americans, it really, really, all-caps REALLY doesn’t matter what either group says?
On a deeper level, why would we expect anything to change? Maybe it’s not unreasonable to hope that a few of his female supporters might be turned away, but let’s be honest—when, in this race, have Trump voters ever been swayed by facts or real-life occurrences? When have they ever operated outside the strictly emotional realm, with an emphasis on the emotion of hate? When has Trump’s ugly, demagogic behavior ever dismayed them in the past? Why do we think they’ll suddenly be horrified by three minutes of dialogue that they can easily dismiss (and indeed are already dismissing) as “locker room talk,” and which will further feed into their ironclad belief that the powers-that-be are conspiring against their hero? Why do we think they can’t pull off the usual mental gymnastics and turn this back on Clinton, by painting her as a long-time enabler of a man they now imagine to be a serial rapist? Why won’t they believe that she had this tape released specifically to overshadow the leaks of her infamous paid speeches?
Again, I realize this is cynical and also dismal, in its view of our fellow Americans. And again, I hope I’m mistaken. But I think that if we really look at the past year, that cynicism is justified. In the political minds of those who worship Trump’s dangerous rhetoric, and are sick of being hectored by a political establishment and a media they don’t like or trust, what is it about the latest rhetoric, and the latest round of hectoring, that will make them behave like reasonable, responsible citizens?