Best Responses to the Trump Video

It seemed like everybody had to comment. These people just did it better than the rest.

By now all the people who want to — and probably a lot who never wanted to — have seen the video of Donald Trump talking to Access Hollywood co-host Billy Bush in 2005, apparently without realizing he was being recorded. The Washington Post released the video Friday, Trump released what has been oxymoronically described as a “defiant apology” late Friday night, and the resulting firestorm dominated the news shows leading up to last night’s town-hall debate with Hillary Clinton. Many big-name Republicans who had tolerated Trump’s previous outrageous statements finally withdrew their support. [1] Trump’s running mate Mike Pence has not withdrawn his support, but has kept Trump at arm’s length, saying

I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them. [2]

When asked about the video by Anderson Cooper early in Sunday’s debate, Trump dismissed it as “locker room talk”, a phrase he apparently wanted to leave vague, but Cooper (to his credit) insisted on unpacking: Was Trump saying that he did or didn’t do the things he bragged about, like kiss women without their consent or “grab them by the pussy”? After several attempts to get away with a general affirmation of his respect for women, Trump finally claimed that he had not done those things, i.e., that he had been lying to Bush. So Trump’s defense is that he is not a sexual abuser, he just likes to impress other guys by claiming to be one.

Cooper did not explore the trying-to-have-sex-with-a-married-woman confession in the video, so (as far as I know) Trump has not had to say whether that really happened. [3]

Obviously, there are many angles from which to react to this series of events. I’ve picked out a few that I found more insightful than the rest.

Best debate tweets. 

Erin Chack: Scary Halloween costume idea: Dress up like Trump, go to a party, and stand 3-5 feet behind successful women.

Jake Beckman posts a similar image with this caption:

Here’s the debate where Donald Trump tries to not look like a sexual predator.

And Erin Judge chimes in:

Every woman watching has had a creepy dude pace behind her.

Aren’t you guys supposed to be religious? Naively, you might think that the people who would abandon Trump first over stuff like this would be the family-values folks, particularly evangelical Christians. But the reverse seems to be true: Even as elected Republicans head for the exits, evangelical leaders like Ralph Reed and Jerry Falwell Jr. are standing by Trump.

The best comment I’ve seen on that is the image on the right. If looks to be a illustration from the Bible story of the three men in the fiery furnace. During the Babylonian Captivity, three young Jewish men refuse to bow down to a golden statue of King Nebuchadnezzar, and are miraculously saved from his punishment.

The image has been annotated by having one of the kneeling men say, “He’s going to appoint pro-life supreme court justices.” In other words: If you want to bow down to the ruling power, you can always find some reason to do so. In the actual Bible story, the three heroes do not discuss Nebuchadnezzar’s policies before deciding what to do.

How abusers talk after they’re caught. In a tweet storm captured by Valerie on, Leah McElrath responded to Trump’s “defiant apology” by taking it apart phrase-by-phrase and framing it as

an eerie replica of psychological manipulations made by abusers after episodes of abuse.

What McElrath hears in Trump’s video is less an apology than an attempt to make his accusers doubt themselves and their experiences. For example

“these words do not reflect who I am” = the reality you just experienced didn’t actually happen (gaslighting)


“We’re living in the real world” = I’m sane and you’re crazy

His contrast between himself and Bill Clinton, who “has actually abused women” translates to “the abuse you experienced wasn’t *really* abuse”.

McElrath’s interpretation explains Trump’s bizarre demeanor throughout this video: He is glowering and angry, not contrite or ashamed.

After reading McElrath, I see the apology video as an expression of the essence of a privileged and entitled attitude: It is up to me to judge whether or not I have done wrong, and if so, what I must do or say to make it right. Anyone who won’t accept the atonement I have assigned myself and move on is being unreasonable, and if they persist I will be forced to get angry with them.

Where have you guys been? Liz Plank does the 2016ish video series on Vox. (I got several of the tweets above via her retweets.) In this video, she raised the question: “The GOP is standing with women, but what took them so long?

Dear GOP dudes who are suddenly realizing that Donald Trump is a flaming misogynist after more than a year of women telling you that he is, in fact, a flaming misogynist. Thanks for joining us and welcome to the club, or, as other people call it, planet earth. … So what was the moment that gave it away for you?

My favorite part of her video on this is her response to the line from Trump’s apology: “Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am.”

Anyone who knows you? You go out of your way to demean women. That’s your thing. That’s your brand. It’d be like saying that Mr. T doesn’t pity the fool.

How this looks if you’re black. CNN’s Van Jones went off on an epic rant, though not on CNN.

What if a black man — Candidate Obama in 2008, say — had been caught on tape talking about forcing kisses on women, groping their genitals, and trying to tempt married women into infidelity? To begin with

If Donald Trump were black, the very first word used to describe him would be thug. … The fact that we’re talking about “locker room banter” … what locker room you in?

If he were black, we’d be talking about crime.

Let’s just be very clear: Donald Trump has confessed to a sex crime. … When black people do stuff, we quickly rush to criminality. When white people do stuff, it’s like “OK, well, this is frat-boy behavior.” Whereas with us it’s thuggish behavior. … If I were to go up to Donald Trump and grab Donald Trump’s crotch and try to kiss Donald Trump, I would go to jail. I would be arrested. That’s called sexual assault. It is a crime.

… You have somebody running for president of the United States, who has confessed on tape to committing sex crimes, and people are talking about it as if there’s something wrong with the language. We’re talking about him using “lewd speech”. I don’t care about the speech. I’ve heard those words before. What I care about is the activity, the deed that he is describing.

What if Obama had had five children by three women, as Trump has?

If [Trump] were a brother, they’d be talking about the breakdown of the black family and all sort of stuff. What’s wrong with this man? Second of all, can you imagine if Barack Obama had been caught on video saying … he’s grabbing people’s crotches, he can kiss anybody he wants to, he’s a star, he’s a celebrity, he can do whatever he wants to, they like it. It would be over. We would be talking about the breakdown of values and what’s wrong with black men, and black male violence and all that sort of stuff.

To people who are sick of women “playing the gender card”, Jones asks:

What if Hillary Clinton were going around grabbing people’s crotches? Would we having this conversation or would she be on the first ship to Mars? … No black man in America could be in this situation without the entire universe coming down on the whole black community, number one. And number two: No woman could even think about going around grabbing nobody’s crotches and bragging about it, male or female.

Whose locker room? Like Jones, lots of men have a problem with describing the Trump video as “locker room talk”. Lots of men have come forward to say something like “I don’t hear that kind of talk in locker rooms.” But actually, this is a hard case to make either way, because there is no Locker Room Today that establishes national standards.

What we mean by “locker room” is groups of men talking to each other in ways they wouldn’t if women were present. And almost by definition, each of those groups is unique. For all I know there could be groups of serial killers who get together to trade stories about their latest kills. I personally don’t find myself in such groups, but really, who knows?

But we should at least pay some attention to professional male athletes, who spend large chunks of their lives hanging around with other men in literal locker rooms. AP collected several of their comments, like this one from Kansas City Chiefs receiver Chris Conley

Have I been in every locker room? No. But the guys I know and respect don’t talk like that. They talk about girls but not like that. Period.

This matches my personal experience of crude man-to-man talk: You’ll hear comments that objectify women (“Whoa, check out that butt.”) or fantasize about sex (“I wouldn’t kick her out of bed.”) or make exaggerated claims about a man’s own attractiveness (“I could totally nail her. She’s into me. You can tell.”). But even in a locker-roomish environment, I’d find it creepy and over-the-line to hear somebody brag about forcing himself on a woman the way Trump did. I don’t believe most men would confront a guy who talked like that — and I won’t claim that I would, because I think that’s a situation you have to experience before you can be sure what you’d do — but at a minimum I would expect the other guys in the room to quickly change the subject, or back away and find excuses to be somewhere else.

[1] The New York Times is keeping a list of them. For the most part, the Republicans rejecting Trump were never gung-ho about him, but previously had not been willing to take a stand against their party’s nominee. The explanation of 2008 nominee Senator John McCain is fairly typical:

I thought it important I respect the fact that Donald Trump won a majority of the delegates by the rules our party set. I thought I owed his supporters that deference. But Donald Trump’s behavior this week, concluding with the disclosure of his demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults, make it impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy.

In return, Trump has declared war.

On Twitter, Mr. Trump attacked the Republicans fleeing his campaign as “self-righteous hypocrites” and predicted their defeat at the ballot box. In a set of talking points sent to his supporters Sunday morning, Mr. Trump’s campaign urged them to attack turncoat Republicans as “more concerned with their political future than they are about the country.”

Someone must have pointed out to Trump that if McCain, Rob Portman, and Kelly Ayotte do get defeated and he himself somehow wins, he’ll face a Democratic Senate. But it’s not clear he cares about that.

[2] Trump, in turn, backhanded Pence during the debate. After moderator Martha Raddatz read him something critical Pence had said about Russia’s actions in Syria, a position apparently at odds with what Trump had just said, Trump’s response was bizarrely cold and abrupt: “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree.” Try to imagine President Obama saying that about Joe Biden.

[3] By several accounts, the unnamed married woman discussed in the video was Billy Bush’s co-host, Nancy O’Dell.

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  • Jeff Rosenberg  On October 10, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    I thought this was a pithy comment:
    So essentially Trump is saying, “Don’t judge me on the man I was 10 years ago, but please judge Hillary by the man her husband was 20 years ago.” Have I got that right?

    • 1mime  On October 10, 2016 at 3:35 pm


    • jh  On October 12, 2016 at 9:04 am

      I think it would go like this…

      “I’m great. Look at Hillary. What a loser. She’s the real criminal.”

      Trump would never acknowledge that he has done something bad in his life. His modus operendi is to blame others and brag about how great he is. In essence, he’s a walking advertisement no different from the Tide commercial. That other detergent can’t get the stain out but Tide can.

  • Susan L Andrews  On October 10, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    I wish someone would talk about the moral lessons Trump is sending to boys and girls. Here’s what I think my grandchildren might have heard: 1. you can say anything you want about girls if you say you’re in a locker room. 2. If you get called out for doing something mean or demeaning argue that the other person did it first, whether they did or not. 3. When your behavior is criticized, point out that everybody does it. Or, change the subject and attack your critic. Is this what Mike Pence teaches his grandchildren?

    Sent from my iPad


    • Jeff Rosenberg  On October 10, 2016 at 7:45 pm

      Susan. Check out this from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

      “Earlier this year, we issued a report documenting that many children of color fear they may be deported, separated from their families, or even subjected to violence after the election.

      At the same time, teachers reported an increase in the bullying, harassment, and intimidation of children whose races, religions, or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates.

      Read The Trump Effect.”

      The Trump Effect is available via SPLC’s web site.


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