Who Deserves Due Process?

Photo credit: Hearst Communications, Inc. All rights reserved
Photo credit: Hearst Communications, Inc. All rights reserved


This weekend, Donald Trump made a desperate plea for “due process” in the wake of Rob Porter's White House exit; the now-former aide had had his permanent security clearance held up by the FBI after his two ex-wives raised credible accusations of domestic violence against him.

In a press conference, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted that Trump condemns all forms of domestic assault when no one else is around. But when given opportunities to do it in public, he has repeatedly chosen to cast doubt on women’s allegations and draw attention to the (largely mythical) idea that men's lives are shattered due to false accusations.

In other words, it’s not the first time Trump has done backflips to protect the reputation of an alleged abuser. In fact, when Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore faced chilling accusations of child molestation, Trump didn’t denounce him - he endorsed him. And before that, the president defended both "good person" Bill O’Reilly and "great guy" Roger Ailes, two men ousted from Fox News after it was revealed that they’d paid off millions of dollars in settlements to women who'd accused them of harassment and assault.

But it’s not like Donald Trump always shies away from calling out violence against women. After all, he did launch his presidential campaign with a declaration of war on so-called Mexican "rapists." Although he didn't mention the word "woman" even once in his most recent State of the Union speech, he dedicated a substantial portion of it to two teenage girls who were brutally murdered by men believed to be associated with an MS-13 gang, a dangerous group primarily made up Salvadoran immigrants. And in 1989, years before his political career got started, he famously condemned the rape of a white woman who’d been jogging through Central Park, paying $85,000 to take out full-page ads in major New York newspapers to call for the death penalty for the men convicted of the crime. Four of them were African-American. One was Latino. It turned out they were all innocent. But even when they'd been cleared, Trump never retreated from his position. Where was due process for these men?

When we start to tally the times the president has drawn attention to violence against women, it fits a clear pattern: Donald Trump cares about sexual abuse, so long as it’s black and brown men who’ve been accused, a classic trope used by white nationalist movements to justify institutionalized violence against people of color. The men whose due process Donald Trump defends all have one thing in common: They’re mostly men who look like him.

When Donald Trump suggests the innocence of men like Rob Porter, Roger Ailes, or Roy Moore, he’s not protecting them - he’s protecting himself. Although he claims to believe that "there is no recovery" for men who are accused of sexual abuse, he knows that there is - he is living proof of it. Trump didn’t simply recover from accusations of serial sexual abuse, he got a big promotion, catapulted to the highest office in the land.

If Donald Trump’s continued defense of abusive white men feels at odds with our current #MeToo moment, it’s because its existence poses a direct threat to his presidency. We are living through a unique and unprecedented era, as women raise their voices and topple the powerful men who’ve abused them. Donald Trump knows he could be the next man to fall. In fact, it was his aforementioned call for "due process" that prompted Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to cleverly offer to hold congressional hearings for his 19 accusers. If the Democrats preserve their political momentum and the House of Representatives flips in 2018, it's entirely possible that these women will be given the chance to detail their alleged sexual abuse at the hands of the president on the House floor, with all Americans watching.

Like a plant needs water, Donald Trump requires sexism to thrive. He cannot survive a culture that respects women - that no longer claims to “cherish” women in public, and see them abused in private. As the president’s former chief-strategist-turned-apparent-feminist-expert Steve Bannon claims in Josh Green’s book, The Devil’s Bargain, the new wave of feminist activism has the power to fundamentally alter our world:

“You watch. The time has come. Women are going to take charge of society. And they could not juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch. This is a definitional moment in the culture. It’ll never be the same going forward.”

Steve Bannon knows #TimesUp. And Donald Trump, defensive and protective of the accused abusers who look like he does, seems to understand that his might be up soon too.