Months from now, as we look back at the 2016 presidential election, we’ll argue about several possible tipping points that moved voters towards Hillary Clinton. Was it when she survived FBI Director Comey’s speech about her emails? Was it when she decisively defeated Donald Trump in the first presidential debate? Was it one of Trump’s tweet-storm fugues? It was Michelle Obama’s speech on October 13th.
Speaking at a New Hampshire Clinton rally, Michelle Obama departed from her prepared speech to deliver a scathing rebuke to Donald Trump. (http://www.npr.org/2016/10/13/497846667/transcript-michelle-obamas-speech-on-donald-trumps-alleged-treatment-of-women) The President’s wife is in a unique position to comment on Trump’s sexual avarice. She’s the most admired woman in the U.S. And a woman who has experienced sexism.
Since October 7th, the nation had been reeling from the impact of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” videotape showing Trump making aggressively sexual remarks about women. In the October 9th debate, Trump pushed back suggesting this was “locker-room talk” and when asked, “Have you ever done these things?” responding, “No, I have not.” On October 11th, several women came forward with stories of their abuse by Trump.
On October 13th, Michelle Obama addressed Trump’s behavior: “The fact is that in this election, we have a candidate for President of the United States who, over the course of his lifetime and the course of this campaign, has said things about women that are so shocking, so demeaning that I simply will not repeat anything here today. And last week, we saw this candidate actually bragging about sexually assaulting women… And I have to tell you that I can’t stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted. So while I’d love nothing more than to pretend like this isn’t happening, and to come out here and do my normal campaign speech, it would be dishonest and disingenuous to me to just move on to the next thing like this was all just a bad dream.”
Michelle Obama continued, “This is not something that we can ignore… This wasn’t just locker-room banter. This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior.”
Shortly after Michelle Obama’s speech, Donald Trump responded. (http://www.npr.org/2016/10/13/497857068/transcript-donald-trumps-speech-responding-to-assault-accusations) “These vicious claims about me of inappropriate conduct with women are totally and absolutely false. And the Clintons know it, and they know it very well. These claims are all fabricated.”
Trump continued, “Nevertheless, I take all of these slings and arrows gladly for you. I take them for our movement so that we can have our country back. Our great civilization, here in America and across the civilized world has come upon a moment of reckoning… it is our corrupt political establishment that is the greatest power behind the efforts at radical globalization and the disenfranchisement of working people. Their financial resources are virtually unlimited, their political resources are unlimited, their media resources are unmatched, and most importantly, the depths of their immorality is absolutely unlimited.”
In other words, Donald Trump was unrepentant and doubled down. On October 14th, Trump suggested that his victims were too unattractive to assault. (http://www.politico.com/story/2016/10/trump-jessica-leeds-accusations-229805) “Believe me, she would not be my first choice.”
The history of Trump’s campaign has been that he says terrible things — such as mocking Senator John McCain for being a prisoner of war — and the media predicts the end but Trump survives and grows stronger. Indeed, a cornerstone of his campaign has been to flaunt “political correctness.” Given this history, why would we expect Trump not to survive the revelation of his history as a sexual predator? Two reasons.
The first is the sequence of the Trump revelations. It began with the release of the “Access Hollywood” videotape where Trump bragged about his sexual-predator behavior. Two days later, during the second Presidential debate, Trump denied that he had done the things he bragged about. Then women began to come forward saying, “Yes, Trump did the things to me that he bragged about on the ‘Access Hollywood’ videotape.” (According to Mother Jones, “17 women have gone public with more tales of unwanted sexual touching or inappropriate behavior by Trump.” (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/all-women-whove-accused-trump-sexual-assault)
The second is that fact that Trump’s predatory behavior (almost exclusively) affects white women, the single largest voting bloc. Since the release of the “Access Hollywood” videotape, American women have conducted a national teach-in on sexual assault.
The latest survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6308a1.htm) indicated that 19.3 percent of American women have been raped during their lifetimes and 43.9 percent have experienced “other forms of sexual violence.” (15.2 percent of women have been stalked.) I believe that these numbers are deflated because many women do not report sexual assault; the women in my family tell me that most American women have experienced sexual violence.
In the most important speech of the 2016 political campaign, Michelle Obama not only called out Donald Trump as a sexual predator, she also enabled millions of American women to talk about their personal histories of sexual abuse.