Sex and the presidency

Like a lot of people I know, I spent Sunday night cringing in front of the television set, wondering what new scumbaggy lows the Republican nominee for president could inflict on the American public. I watched the debate with a combination of all-out dread, through-my-fingers embarrassment and a gnawing, nauseating fear that it all could get worse. For everybody.

Like a lot of people, of course, I blame Donald Trump. Plummeting in the polls that he once so proudly tweeted about, blindsided by his own super-scumbaggy words about women that were dug up by the Washington Post, Trump has undertaken a crazy — really, it’s crazy — last-ditch, burn-this-shit-to-the-ground strategy for getting elected.

Near as I can tell, this is it:

Hillary Clinton’s husband Bill is scummier than I am. I’ll show you. Then you’ll have to vote for me.

I can’t stop shaking my head over this.

One of the reasons this is so sickening — this might be hard to handle for some of my left-leaning friends — is the possibility that some of what Trump says might actually be true. This, of course, is what he wants us to think. Trump wants us to wonder about Bill and Hillary and all the rumors surrounding them, instead of looking at him and his misogynistic, racist, depraved and dumbass ways. Which are legion.

It’s classic deflection. It’s classic sleight of hand.

I, of course, fell for it.

Let me reverse for a second: Just before Sunday’s debate, Trump lined up three women (of many) who have accused Bill of sexual misconduct. One flat-out accused him of rape. Trump also brought in (his campaign paid her way to St. Louis) another woman who hates Hillary because Hillary defended a man who was accused of raping the woman when she was 12 years old.

This was some serious stuff that Trump was flinging, even if it barely has anything to do with the person he’s actually running against. (That’s Hillary, not Bill.) So I spent some time before the debate, and some since, scouring the Internet looking for stories. Because, for one, I’m no way believing what Trump says without checking it out first.

This all goes back to something I’ve mentioned before: Finding the truth in politics is hard. Much of the media is slanted, one way or the other. Post-speech fact-checking is a thing now. Soak on that for a bit: We have to have people checking our public speakers to tell us whether they’re telling the truth. And, very often, they’re not.

Hoo, brother.

The point is, being an informed voter … it’s hard. So I looked into the history of Bill and the women who have accused him, and whatever part Hillary played in it.  I don’t want to get too into the weeds on this. Because these are some thick weeds. But here’s some of what I read:

    1. This story on Vox (since amended), explaining Bill’s alleged sexual assault of Juanita Broaddrick, long before he was president. My takeaway: Bill’s a scumbag. He probably assaulted her (though he’s always denied it). I’m not convinced Hillary “threatened” Broaddrick, which the right claims. At all. Watch the interview of Broaddrick with Hannity. You tell me. Certainly doesn’t seem menacing. Most people, I think, figure Hillary was thanking Broaddrick for her silence.
    2. This story on Vox on Kathy Shelton, who was raped at 12 by a man who Hillary later successfully represented (pleading down to a lesser crime). My takeaway: Hillary was doing her job as a public defender. It’s a bitch of a job. But the accused have rights to representation in American, too, and Hillary was appointed to represent the man. So she did. Lots has been made of Hillary’s “laughter” when discussing the case with a reporter a decade or so later. The tape can be heard on the bottom of this Fox piece. Maybe I’m too left-leaning. But it seems to me that Hillary is chuckling at the absurdity of some aspects of the case, not at the victim. It’s not any backroom guffawing or conspiratorial giggling. It’s not rip-roaring laughter. It’s a retrospective look, a decade later, at a tough case and the challenges that came with it. But you make the call.
    3. A roundup of the cases against Bill, on Breitbart, a conservative site, focusing on Hillary’s treatment of the women who accused Bill of wrongdoing. My takeaway: First off, the grouping of subheds (we’re talking journalism now!) on the story is misleading. Hillary never used the term “bimbo eruptions.” The quote “I would crucify her,” refers to a possible cross-examination of an accuser — meaning Hillary did not believe the accuser (in this case, it was Gennifer Flowers).  I just don’t see many of these cases as damning to Hillary. For sure, Bill’s a scumbag.
    4. This roundup, from the Washington Post. My takeaway: Much like the other pieces, it concludes that Bill’s the king of scumdom but lays little at the feet of Hillary. This one goes deeply into how fervently Hillary defended Bill in the Lewinsky affair — before he finally told his wife the truth. Whatever, there’s little evidence she did anything terribly wrong other than defend Bill. Her bad.
    5. Snopes.com exists to check on the veracity of rumors. Here’s their rundown on the Kathy Shelton accusations. My takeaway: Snopes says that the claims that Shelton and others make are mostly false. It’s a reasonable conclusion. Read it. Your call.

And then there’s this, from what has long been considered a bastion of journalism, though the right thinks it’s clearly a liberal tool: (Note that this was from January, too)

My takeaway: Yeah, Bill screwed around. A lot. But declaring Hillary complicit in what he did … no. I don’t see the connection. It’s like saying any of Trump’s wives were at fault for his infidelities. And he’s admitted to plenty.

(Side note: Isn’t it funny — I mean sad funny — that, by all accounts, Hillary is the only one who isn’t screwing around on her spouse, yet Trump is effectively putting her on public trial?)

The only relevant part in any of this that pertains to Hillary’s electability, that I see, is whether she threatened anyone or worse. Again, I’d urge you to listen to the Broaddrick tape linked above. If you can make up your mind off that, more power to you.

To me, it’s entirely plausible that Hillary, in at least some of the cases of Bill’s infidelities, believed her husband was innocent and was trying to defend him. It’s possible she blames the women for others. It’s also possible she knew he was screwing around but believed his affairs were consensual and didn’t want them to get in the way of what she was doing. At the absolute very worst, she knew Bill sexually assaulted someone (or someones) and wanted to preserve her own blind ambitions — ostensibly, making a better life for people and/or becoming president of the United States — and she wasn’t letting her husband or anyone else get in her way.

The evidence seems to point more toward the benign. Certainly, there’s no proof of the sinister.

***

After all that reading, I’ve come to these conclusions about this election:

  1. Hillary, as we all know, is a hardened politician. She will not give up. Trump said so himself at the end of Sunday’s debate. She will use every tactic she needs — some, perhaps, a little shady; some people might say illegal or worse, though there’s no proof of that — to get what she wants. Including just smiling while Trump self-immolates.
  2. She isn’t evil, as Trump called her, as near as I can tell. But see No. 1.
  3. She doesn’t have “hate in her heart,” as Trump said, near as I can tell. Her many charitable works and her years of working for little people behind the scenes seem to confirm this. Honestly, there are thousands of women who are better off in this world — thousands are simply alive — because of Hillary Clinton’s work. But see No. 1.
  4. She doesn’t have “bad judgment,” as Trump said Sunday so many times — certainly no worse than Trump’s. She’s made mistakes. Voting for the Iraq war. The e-mail server. Sticking up for Bill. The “basket of deplorables” crack. Being too secretive. I’m sure there are more. But, really … do you think Trump has made any bad calls, done some stupid things? Sheesh.
  5. She undoubtedly has a better temperament than Trump.
  6. She’s much cooler under pressure than Trump.
  7. She has a much thicker skin. Trump is constantly a cross-eyed tweet away from exploding. Nos. 5, 6 and 7 may be the same thing, but they’re important. You have to be under control. Trump always seems on the verge of careening into … well, look where we are now.
  8. She is so, so, so much more qualified. Trump has no idea how to navigate around Washington. That’s not a good thing. He keeps pointing to her 30-plus year of public life — some call it public service — as a negative. He’s spent his whole life, almost literally, having people serve him. That’s a positive?
  9. She is so much smarter. It’s note even close. Listen to her answers about the issues Sunday; about Syria, health care, energy, taxes, Islam. Then listen to his. Granted, he was in attack mode during the debate and cared less about addressing issues than bringing her down. But when Trump wasn’t attacking … listen. He waffles between ignorant and incomprehensible.
  10. Trump simply cannot be trusted to do the right thing, which is something that many people just now are grasping. He wouldn’t know the high road if he had a foot on it. Which he doesn’t. Maybe never has. There was some doubt during this campaign about whether he actually wanted to win. His new burn-it-to-the-ground strategy should squash any of those notions. Fact is, he’ll do anything at this point to get elected, and if it takes pulling everyone and everything down into this quagmire — not just Hillary and Bill, but Bill’s and Hillary’s accusers, the Trump family, everyone who ever appeared on The Apprentice, Barack Obama, Billy Bush, John McCain, the entire Republican party, anyone who disagrees with him, everybody who licks his boots (Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich literally do not know shit from Trump’s Shinola), class, decency, democracy and John Q. Public — Trump will do it with the smug, self-righteous smile of an entitled frat boy who thinks he’s never wrong and wouldn’t admit it if Trump Tower was crumbling down on his overblown comb-over.

I almost included Paul Ryan with Christie, Rudy and Newt, but he deserves something special. I chopped a YouTube video of Samantha Bee giving the speaker the business. So worth this link. Honest.

Anyway, we have one more of these debates in a couple weeks. And a lot of crap-slinging to endure before it. You’d be right to wonder at this point: Can this thing can go any lower?

Yes. Yes it can. And it probably will. This is Donald Trump we’re talking about. No telling how low this guy can go.

***

POSTSCRIPT: After I finished this post, this ran on CNN. It asks, specifically, if Hillary attacked Bill’s accusers and concludes that “Trump’s blanket charge that Clinton “viciously” attacked these women to be an exaggeration too far.” CNN is left-leaning, no doubt. But you can read for yourself and make up your own mind. I’ve made up mine.

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