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Fiction, Fake News and Trump’s Sexual Politics

On July 16, 2016, presidential-candidate Donald Trump signed a pledge promising that, if elected president, his administration would enforce existing laws against pornography, especially child pornography.  The pledge, from the conservative group, Enough is Enough, stated:

Pledge to do your part as an American citizen to protect children online and offline, whether they be your own children, or the children of others. Support the tenets of the Presidential Pledge for the next President of the United States to uphold the existing federal laws designed to prevent the sexual exploitation of children online.

Enough is Enough was formed in 1992 to promote anti-pornography legislation and has long focused on online and child pornography.  It played a key role in securing the adoption of the Communications Decency Act (CDA, 1996) that the Supreme Court, in Reno v ACLU (1997), found partially unconstitutional.  It followed up promoting the Child Online Protection Act (1998), which federal courts rejected, and the Children’s Internet Protection Act (2000) currently in force.  (The House is currently considering a revision of the Sec. 230 of the CDA, “No Immunity for Sex Traffickers Online Act of 2017,” making publishers liable for a third-party’s “obscene” content.)

On February 23rd, Pres. Trump came out against trafficking, declaring:

I want to make it clear today that my administration will focus on ending the absolutely horrific practice of human trafficking. … It’s getting worse and it’s happening in the United States in addition to the rest of the world, but it’s happening in the United States, which is terrible.

It’s a very, very terrible problem. It’s not talked about enough. People don’t know enough about it.  And we’re going to talk about it, and we’re going to bring it out into the open and hopefully we’re going to do a great deal to help prevent some of the horrific — really horrific — crimes that are taking place.

And I can see — I really can say, in this country, people don’t realize how bad it is in this country, but in this country and all over the world.

Trump’s comments came in response to Sen. Jeff Sessons (R-AL) testimony before the Senate hearings over his nomination for Attorney General.  Sessons supported anti-porn laws, insisting: “Those laws are clear and being prosecuted today and should be continued to be effectively and vigorously prosecuted in the cases that are appropriate.”  However, when Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) asked Sessions whether he would consider re-establishing the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force (OPTF) within the Justice Department (DOJ), the nominee seemed confused, uninformed as to issue: “So that unit has been disbanded, I’m not sure I knew that. But it was a part of the Department of Justice for a long time and I would consider that.”

The OPTF was a special unit of the DOJ established in 2005 by the Bush-II administration to stop the alleged flood of “hardcore” pornography spreading throughout society.  It was a sop to the Christian conservatives for supporting Bush’s election, giving rightwing moralists a platform to wage their censorship wars – and they exploited it masterfully.  The task force focused on two issues: pornography and “sex trafficking,” especially involving underage teens and children.  Often forgotten, the OPTF was not created by an act of Congress, but established by the DOJ as a moral guardian of the nation’s sexual standards.

In the spring of 2011, the Obama administration quietly closed the OPTF.  According to a DOJ spokesperson, it was no longer necessary to maintain a separate task force, “the prosecution of obscenity violations [would be folded] into the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section.”  This action, in DOJ speak, “provides for increased collaboration among experienced attorneys and agents, and gives our prosecutors the most solid foundation possible for pursuing their mission.”

The OPTF’s closure drew the ire of Republican conservatives.  Hatch lambasted the action: “As the toxic waste of obscenity continues to spread and harm everyone it touches, it appears the Obama administration is giving up without a fight.”  Hatch and 41 other senators urged the DOJ to bring criminal cases against “all major distributors of adult obscenity.”  No cases were brought and one can only wonder when Sessions will reestablish it.

Sessions faced a set of very different questions from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) who asked him if he considered grabbing a woman by her genitals without her consent a sexual assault?  “Clearly it would be,” Sessions said, but added, “The president is subject to certain lawful restrictions and they would be required to be applied by the appropriate law enforcement official if appropriate, yes.”  However, the nominee claimed he did not know whether Trump’s remarks constituted an unwanted action.

Sessions comments were a revision of a statement he made in October 2015 concerning the exposé of Trump’s misogynist comments captured by Access Hollywood.  Accompanied by program host Billy Bush, the leaked tape shows Trump making lewd comments about women.  At the time, Sessions told the Weekly Standard, “I don’t characterize that as sexual assault. I think that’s a stretch.”

Leahy pressed the nominee, “My question is very simple.  Is grabbing a woman by the genitals without her consent, is that sexual assault?”  Like pulling teeth, Sessions finally asserted, “Yes.”

***

During the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, an alleged scandal broke out dubbed, “pizzagate.”  It was a tall-tale that claimed Hillary Clinton was somehow involved in a child sex-trafficking ring.

As reported by The Washington Post, in late October 2016 “someone tweeting under the ­handle ­@DavidGoldbergNY cited ­rumors that the new emails ‘point to a pedophilia ring and ­@HillaryClinton is at the center.’  The rumor was retweeted more than 6,000 times.”  It then gained momentum as both 4chan and Reddit picked up the story and then far-right websites like Infowars promoted it.  Talk-show host Alex Jones pushed it beyond mere gossip.  “When I think about all the children Hillary Clinton has personally murdered and chopped up and raped, I have zero fear standing up against her,” he proclaimed.  Adding to the drama, Jones promoted the false-fact that John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, indulged in satanic rituals.

Clinton’s alleged trafficking ring supposedly operated out of the Comet Ping Pong, a Washington, DC, pizza joint.  Sadly, the dubious conspiracy turned out to have sharp teeth.  In early December, a 28-y/o white male Trump supporter from North Carolina took offense and shot up the place; the perpetrator has a criminal record that includes two drug-possession charges yet owned an AR-15 rifle, a .38-caliber revolver and a shotgun.  In the wake of the shooting, the pizzagate scandal petered out as but another politically-inspired hoax.

A similar case of fictitious reporting took place in February 2017, shortly after Trump’s inauguration.  Liz Crokin, a conservative commentator, posted an article on TownHall.com, a rightwing site, proclaiming, “Since President Donald Trump has been sworn in on Jan. 20, authorities have arrested an unprecedented number of sexual predators involved in child sex trafficking rings in the United States.”  She added, “there have been a staggering 1,500-plus arrests in one short month …”

She claimed that arrests in California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee and Virginia not only signaled a new era in the prosecution of sex traffickers, but that this all-important development had gone unreported in what she dubbed the “MSM” — aka the mainstream media.  Set against rants defending Milo Yiannopoulos and assailing Lena Dunham, she concluded her piece asserting: “The recent pedophile arrests are just the tip of the iceberg and … this story will eventually get so big that they will be forced to cover this horrific epidemic that has plagued our country for too damn long.”

The article drew much praise from numerous conservative commentators and websites, most merely restating her assertions as facts.  In a follow-up piece, she wrote:

I concluded it’s partly because the MSM and the left don’t care about protecting children if it doesn’t enable them to destroy their political opposition. … Not only did the MSM continue to ignore this issue, I received dozens of messages from readers complaining that social media forums were censoring my column.

She went on to argue that a “shadow government” was organizing a “coup” against Trump, insisting:

We also know that General Mike Flynn was taken out after addressing Hillary and Bill Clinton’s ties to sex crimes and Russia was used as a scapegoat. Now the opposition is targeting Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions, and surprise, they’re using Russia as the scapegoat, again.

Crokin gained support for her claims about the round-up of traffickers when she appeared on Alex Jones talk-show.  She boosted her standing with claims that she was the victim of death threats.

As with pizzagate, Crokin’s false-fact story began to unravel as researchers dug into the alleged “data” she used to make her assertions.  Most revealing, Elizabeth Nolan Brown argued that Crokin’s numbers were completely made up.  One example is illustrative: while 478 people in California were busted on some sex-related charge (most men for soliciting an adult woman for prostitution), there were “zero sex-trafficking arrests.”  She insists, “No, there haven’t been an ‘unprecedented’ number of child sex-trafficking rings busted since Donald Trump took office.”

A second critique was raised by the site, AnonHQ.com, We are anonymous, that took up Crokin’s story as it was reported in Sputnik, the Russian propaganda site; it included a detailed accounting of her data.  It concludes, “Were Trump truly concerned for victims of sex crimes, he’d arrest himself.”

***

Donald Trump’s sexual predilections are, like his tax returns, a mystery.  Analogous to his self-purported “vast” business enterprise, Trump’s sexual proclivities seem equally vast and unknowable.

In the wake of the leaked Access Hollywood tape, some two-dozen women have publicly declared that they were groped or otherwise sexually assaulted by the nation’s 45th president.  Summer Zervos, a former contestant on “The Apprentice,” is the latest.

Trump may love sex as much as money, both embodiments — assertions — of power.  Who knows how far a once oh-so hip, adventurous Club-54 regular would push the boundaries of sexual pleasure?  Hey, with a hit of coke, why not s&m play, hookers galore, homo-eroticism (but always as the top) or sex with an “underage” female?

Trump’s wife, Melania, may be the 21st century version of the First Lady.  She seems to combine Jackie Kennedy’s poise with Marilyn Monroe’s sexuality, overcoming 20th century moral hypocrisy.  The mother of 11-y/o Baron, she once posed nude for GQ and a French men’s magazine; in July 2016, the New York Post, a Murdoch-controlled tabloid, published on its cover page a nude shot of the future First Lady.  And Melania is the president’s third wife, signifying the instability of the most intimate aspect of postmodern private, personal life.  Does Trump’s campaign promise to make America great again signify a return to traditional marriage with all its 1950s restrictions?

In 1990, Playboy magazine featured Trump on the cover of its annual issue, along with a self-promotional interview.  He also – fully clothed! – appeared in three Playboy soft-core films.  In 1994, Trump appeared in Playboy “Centerfold in which he plays part of a group searching for the magazine’s 40th anniversary Playmate.  In 2000, he was featured in Video Centerfold, a video that featured 2000 Playmates Darlene and Carolin Bernaola.  And in 2001, he promenaded in a video centered on a fashion show with Betsey Johnson.

In 2013, Trump opened his first strip club; one can only imagine how many he’s been to as a real-estate hustler on the make.  During this period, he owned the Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City, NJ.  He reportedly paid $25 million for 36,000 square feet of “adult” entertainment within the casino.  As one report notes, “It featured ‘modified lap dancing’ and women stripping down to G-strings and pasties, among other live porn activities.”  He is reported to have often rated women on a scale of 1 to 10 based on their sex appeal.  Howard Stern quotes Trump saying, “A person who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a 10.“

Four years later, Trump is – almost magically — president of the United States and has relaunched the culture wars.  He pledged: to appoint a special commission to explore effects of pornography on Americans; to re-establish the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force (OPTF); to enforce the Children’s Internet Protection Act; and to “advance other public policies to protect children from pornography.”  Remarkably, in all these pronouncements, pornography is not defined.

Be warned: Trump’s renewed culture wars have only just begun.

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David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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