For well over a year, Donald Trump has been running a campaign based on blatant racism, sexism, anti-immigrant tirades, and fear-mongering. He has incited violence and encouraged vigilantism. He’s mocked people with disabilities. He has disrespected veterans, former prisoners of war, Gold Star families, the sitting president, and federal judges. He’s equated all refugees with terrorists and called for surveillance of mosques. He’s called women “pigs,” persistently criticized and objectified women for their looks, reportedly groped and harassed women who worked with him, and repeatedly even made suggestive comments about his own daughter.
Through all this time, the GOP establishment has continued to support him both explicitly and implicitly. On Friday, the dam finally broke with the release of what I would call Donald Trump’s “sex tape,” in which Trump brags about his ability to sexually assault women with impunity because of his so-called star power. The tape has brought condemnation by national and state level party leaders across the country, some of whom are calling on him to withdraw from the race.
And many of us are left asking: “What took so long?”
The answer lies in the deep pathologies of the GOP agenda, which are shaped in turn by the fundamentalist corporate and religious forces that now control the party, and a shared Madonna-Whore approach to women foundational to the GOP platform.
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Because their dominance is under threat, these corporate and religious forces seek to win and maintain power by diverting voters’ attention from real problems—access to education, health care, clean water, living wages, affordable housing, and accountable financial institutions among them—and instead rallying a base of increasingly ill-informed and angry white voters who feel their political dominance slipping away. Until now, they’ve used a strategy that began with the Powell Memo in the ’70s, and continued through the time of Lee Atwater and then Karl Rove to create and manage what they hoped would be a “controlled burn” of anger among their base, thus enabling the passage of laws—such as those stripping voters, women, and people of color of their rights—and installing judges who support their agenda to establish a foundation of control strong enough to withstand an inexorable tide of demographic change that is making the United States ever more diverse.
Then came Trump, the unaccountable, unfiltered, anti-establishment id of the contemporary GOP. Where the GOP used coded language, innuendo, manufactured crises, and appeals to “morals” to rally voters based on preserving nationalistic white evangelical supremacy and corporate power at any cost, Trump made unabashed statements that threw gasoline on the fire, turning it into an uncontrolled blaze. All the while, he bragged incessantly he could “do anything,” including shooting someone in the street, and his people would still support him.
The GOP establishment went along because their ultimate goals were in sync. It placed a bet that if Trump were elected, it could continue its consolidation of power through law and the courts, and especially now the U.S. Supreme Court. Former GOP presidential aspirants and Trump competitors, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and others, such as Arizona Sen. John McCain—who had been the object of some of Trump’s most personalized attacks—all fell in line by endorsing him, as eventually did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. All because they shared common goals.
Indeed, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a fundamentalist Christian conservative who eagerly accepted the invitation to join Trump as the vice presidential nominee and called Trump a “truly … remarkable man” and “plainspoken,” made the synergies crystal clear when, in a July interview, he told CBS News’ Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes that it’s “obvious to people that our styles are different. But I promise you, our vision is exactly the same.” [Emphasis added.]
Their visions are indeed exactly the same, and it was Pence that helped consolidate establishment support for Trump by assuring leaders that the religious and corporate right could maintain power under a Trump presidency. So while Trump called Mexican immigrants “criminals” and “rapists,” and then broadened his attack to encompass all Latino immigrants, the GOP leadership, which has persistently blamed immigrants for unrelated economic problems to stoke white anger, stayed silent. When, as the official GOP nominee, Trump “courted” white supremacist groups and blamed people of color for the outcomes of racist policing, the GOP establishment stayed silent because, in part, its power relies on suppressing the Black vote. When Trump attacked a U.S. judge because of his Mexican heritage, the GOP establishment stayed silent because controlling the courts is essential to its domination. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan lamented the “racist” comment, but reconfirmed his support for Trump.
When Donald Trump claimed he would “punish” women who had abortions, the GOP leadership, which has spent more time and money at the state and national level passing laws to regulate women’s bodies than to educate children or accomplish virtually any other pressing goal, stood by him (though the GOP denies this is its agenda and Trump later recanted). In the first half of 2015 alone, GOP-controlled state legislatures passed 51 abortion restrictions, for a total of 282 such restrictions passed since 2010. These restrictions have included, among others, mandating trans-vaginal and regular ultrasounds even though these were not medically necessary; forcing women into “counseling” based on lies about the safety of abortions; depriving women of time and income by forcing them to endure unnecessary waiting periods before they can obtain an abortion; and denying low-income funding for abortion care. We’ve had GOP members of Congress expound on “legitimate rape” and assert that women lie about rape to obtain abortions, while the GOP leadership has done everything it can to prevent passage of key pieces of legislation dealing with sexual violence. Pence himself, who has been called “one of the pioneers in the assault on Planned Parenthood,” co-sponsored efforts in Congress to “redefine” rape. At the core of a great many of these efforts is the fear that not enough babies are being born to white and Christian families and to blame women for sex, even unwanted sex.
While Trump wants to corner women and probe their bodies with his hands for personal gratification, the GOP wants to probe and control women’s bodies for their ideological and political gratification. To Trump, women are sex objects. To the GOP, they are valued only insofar as they can reproduce children or serve their husbands. That is a world in which Donald Trump is very comfortable. Their vision is indeed the same.
So why was the sex tape the end? It has nothing to do with “locker-room talk,” to which I am sure even Mike Pence is no stranger.
Instead, Trump violated a key tenet of the GOP’s Madonna-Whore complex: “Hands off married white women.”
The now-infamous tape, in which Trump is heard bragging about an attempt—when he was newly married to Melania Trump—to pressure also-married NBC television personality Nancy O’Dell into sex—established Trump as a sexual predator of married white women, and ultimately of the “wives, mothers, daughters, sisters” of a male GOP lawmakers that sees such women as their charges, and who Trump threatened through “legitimate rape.”
So the GOP leadership that looked the other way—from reports, such as an extensive article in the New York Times in May, that Trump had persistently and aggressively pursued and sometimes harassed women who worked for him; when he attacked Alicia Machado, the Venezuelan-born naturalized citizen who is a former Miss Universe; from the numerous reports over the years of Donald Trump sexually objectifying his own daughter and concurring when Howard Stern called her a “piece of ass”—could no longer look away when it came to Trump’s bragging about attacking and assaulting white married women without consequence.
Tellingly, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who was until yesterday a staunch supporter of Trump, withdrew his support after the tape, saying:
If anyone spoke to my wife or my daughter or my mother or any of my five sisters the way Mr. Trump has spoken to women, I wouldn’t hire that person. I wouldn’t hire that person, wouldn’t want to be associated with that person, and I certainly don’t think I’d be comfortable hiring that person to be the leader of the free world.
In other words, none of the well-documented abuse counted until now.
The man who called Mexicans rapists is himself an admitted predator, but now it’s a problem because those women are the property of white men, and dominion over property is at the heart of the GOP agenda.