Say this for Donald Trump: When it comes to sex, he’s less of a hypocrite than Harvey Weinstein. Until Weinstein’s abrupt downfall amid proliferating accusations of sexual assault and harassment, he posed as a backer of women’s rights. He made films with substantive female leads (82-year-old Judi Dench joked that she’d tattooed his name on her butt in gratitude), donated money to politicians supporting feminist policies and contributed to endow a chair at Rutgers University honoring Gloria Steinem. He even attended the Women’s March at Sundance. Yet privately, he appears to have been a sexist ogre, using his power to exploit and humiliate women. After the truth about his conduct was widely revealed, he was cast out of his professional community and rendered a pariah.
Trump is more consistent. He is a pig in public as well as behind closed doors. In 1992, New York Magazine reported that he said the best way to deal with women is to treat them like excrement, though he used a more vulgar term. He has followed his own advice. His first wife, Ivana Trump, accused him of raping her in a fit of rage. (She later denied that the events she’d recounted were rape “in a literal or criminal sense,” but stuck to the underlying story.) Trump reportedly pressured his second wife, Marla Maples, to pose for Playboy. He owned beauty pageants and, by his own admission, would barge into changing rooms to ogle the naked contestants. The makeup artist Jill Harth said he tried to rape her. Multiple women have accused him of groping and sexual harassment. Those charges appear credible in light of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump boasted of grabbing women by their genitals. After the truth about his conduct was widely revealed, he was elected president of the United States.
Somehow, in the wake of the Weinstein revelations, the president’s supporters appear to believe they hold the moral high ground. Donald Trump Jr. — a man who once said that women who can’t handle workplace sexual harassment “should go maybe teach kindergarten” — has been tweeting about Weinstein incessantly. Appearing on CNN, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, Ronna Romney McDaniel, attacked Democrats for taking Weinstein’s money, insisting that there’s no comparison between Weinstein and Trump because the president “didn’t have eight settlements.” (According to an exhaustive investigation by USA Today, at least 20 lawsuits have accused Trump and managers at his companies of “discriminating against women, ignoring sexual harassment complaints and even participating in the harassment themselves.”)
On Fox News, a network that Roger Ailes ran like his personal sadomasochistic brothel, Tucker Carlson feigned outrage at the Weinstein news. “Many powerful people knew what Harvey Weinstein was doing, and not only ignored his crimes, but actively took his side against his many victims,” Carlson said. (Fox News is under federal investigation, in part for payoffs made to Ailes’ victims.)
Bad faith on the right does not mitigate the deep, perverse cruelty of Weinstein’s alleged crimes. If anything, it makes the fallout more painful. For the past 11 months, many feminists have been reeling from the defeat of the first female major-party presidential candidate by a predatory misogynist. The confirmation that a hugely powerful man who is supposed to be on our side is just as bad as Trump is shattering. While many women are showing defiance — outing the Weinstein types in their industries, using hashtags like #MeToo to demonstrate the ubiquity of abuse — it’s hard not to feel crushed wondering how many men really see us as full human beings.
Still, Weinstein’s disgrace is a sign that even if patriarchal sociopathy is more pervasive than we like to imagine, it can be defeated when a culture adopts other values and is forced to live up to them. After decades in which Weinstein cavalierly destroyed women’s lives, his impunity has come to an end. He has lost his job and been expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. France has taken steps to strip him of his Legion of Honor award, the country’s highest civilian distinction. He is being repudiated for violating progressive ideals about sexual consent, workers’ rights and the fundamental equality of men and women.
The people now ruling this country don’t share those ideals. Yes, Ailes had to leave Fox News after charges that he’d demanded sexual favors from women in exchange for professional opportunities. But in the aftermath, conservatives did not ostracize him. Instead, Trump defended Ailes and defamed his accusers, then brought him on as an adviser. Most Republican voters and officeholders, in turn, implicitly condone Trump’s treatment of women.
Now that Weinstein has been exposed, conservatives are jeering that Hollywood has lost the right to lecture anyone about sexism. “Liberals love to be so sanctimonious, holier than thou, but they’re really hypocrites,” said Fox’s Sean Hannity on Oct. 10. Perhaps, but Trump supporters acting shocked by sexual harassment are in no position to complain about hypocrisy. The movie business is corrupt, depraved and iniquitous — and still morally superior to the Republican Party under Trump. Betraying the principle of gender equality is bad. Rejecting it is worse.