Trump & Sex: From Up-Market Hedonist to Down-Market Moralist 

President Donald Trump’s July 26th Tweets calling for the reinstatement of the ban on transgender Americans serving in the U.S. military caught many by surprise.  Over a period of 13 minutes, he proclaimed:

After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow……

….Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming…..

….victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you

When, if ever, his pronouncements turn into military policy is yet to be determined.

On the same day that Trump released his Tweets, the Justice Department filed a brief in New York’s 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that sexual discrimination protections in the workplace do not extend to gay people.

These actions are the latest salvos in the renewed culture wars.  Promoted by Trump, the campaign is overseen by VP Mike Pence, a born-again evangelical who – as he declared – was a Christian first.  It is being implemented by key Cabinet officials — notably Attorney General, Jeff Sessions; Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price; and Secretary of Education, Elisabeth “Betsy” DeVos — and aggressively promoted by the Republican-controlled Congress.

One of Trump’s first actions upon taking office in January was to issue an executive order reinstating the global ban on the discussion of abortion by individuals and organizations receiving federal funding for overseas medical projects.  He followed with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, a conservative in the mold of former Justice Antonia Scalia, to the Supreme Court.

In February, Trump signed an executive order reversing Pres. Barack Obama’s earlier order protecting transgender youths under Title IX from so-called “bathroom” bills.  Shortly thereafter, the Supreme Court ordered a pending case involving Gavin Grimm, a self-identified male student prohibited from using the boys’ bathrooms at his Gloucester Country, VA, high school, returned to the local federal court.  Sadly, the outcome looks bleak given the appointment of a strict conservative to the Court.

The two principal targets of the campaign are the de-funding of Planned Parenthood and to further curtail – if not overturn — Roe v. Wade.  Trump reversed the Johnson Amendment (named after former Sen. – and later Pres. — Lyndon Johnson) that restricted religious leaders from endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit by the loss of their tax-exempt status.  Other targets including restricting teen birth control and sex education as well as limiting the rights of gay and transgender people.

There will likely be greater efforts by conservative forces – religious, political and corporate — in localities throughout the country to suppress unacceptable adult sex.  Campaigns are being launched – or might be promoted — to restrict (if not outlaw) such “consensual” activities as commercial prostitution; private sex gatherings (e.g., strip clubs, s&m clubs); public sex gatherings (e.g., street fairs, marches, rallies); pornography; and local retail sex-toy shops.

The sex offender is the 21st century witch and is the symbolic arrow-head in the spear of the renewed culture wars.  He is the “stranger danger,” the threat posed by an alleged growing number of sexual predator.  Sadly, the nation is rife with stories of pathetic people committing horrendous acts of sexual abuse.  Most recently, a guy on a flight from Seattle to San Jose was busted for sending child porn message; the women who received them was also busted.  A month earlier, on July 26th, Ohio executed Ronald Phillips for the 1993 rape and murder of his girlfriend, Sheila Evans, and her 3-year-old daughter, Fae Amanda, who he brutally beat and raped in the days before he killed her.

The Congress and AG Sessions have targeted on-line pornography.  In May, the House passed H.R.1761, the “Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act of 2017,” that seeks “to criminalize the knowing consent of the visual depiction, or live transmission, of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.”  It seeks to expand current legislation and make “sexting” — teens texting each other explicit images and words – a federal criminal offense with prison term of 25 years and more.

In June, AG Sessions asserted, “Because of technology, no place is safe for our kids — not even our homes or schools.   Any child with access to a smartphone or tablet is vulnerable to predators.”  He added, “the proliferation of cheap cameras in phones and other devices has made it easier than ever for pedophiles to produce child pornography and share this filth with countless others.”  Further legal restrictions on Internet publishing and citizen acquisition of content of their choice are likely in the works.


Trump’s championing of the culture wars is rooted in his personal story.  He is a once-upon-a-time up-market hedonist who, like a recovering alcoholic, has morphed into a down-market super-moralist.  He embodies a profound contradiction: he seems to love money as much as sex, both assertions of primitive masculine potency, power.  The leaked Access Hollywood tape revealed the banality of his misogynistfantasies.  To date, more than a dozen women have publicly declared that they were groped or otherwise sexually assaulted by the nation’s 45th president.

During the tumultuous 1970s, Trump was an oh-so-hip partygoer who pushed the boundaries of sexual experience.  Trump-the-younger grew in Queens and fulfills the sad fate of the American dream.  He wanted to live out the John Travolta fantasy of Saturday Night Fever (1977), but ended up president.

His grandfather, Friedrich Trump, was a German-American U.S. immigrant businessman who ended up running a restaurant, bar and brothel in British Columbia, but ultimately settling in the U.S.  His son, Fred Trump, was a real-estate conman and long-time racist. On Memorial Day 1927, sympathizers of Mussolini and the Italian fascist movement and the Ku Klux Klan rioted in the Bronx; Trump, along with six other fascists, was arrested in Queens among 1,000 white-robed Klansmen marched through his Jamaica neighborhood.

Donald is Fred’s protégé, a real-estate huckster who became a branded spectacle and was elected president in an odious campaign.  His first penthouse apartment was on the swank East 65th Street and he was driven around town in a silver Cadillac limo with “DJT” emblazoned on the license plates.  He was introduced to the world of Manhattan high-flyers by no less an authority of immorality than Cohn.

Cohn gained initial notoriety as the lead prosecutor in the 1951 espionage trials of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg; they were convicted and executed, the only Americas to be put to death, electrocuted, as victims of a political show-trial.  In the mid-50s, he served as Senator Joe McCarthy’s principle assistant in his anti-communists witch-hunts.  By the ‘70s, he was a Big Apple lawyer for big-money interests, including Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Mafia boss Carlo Gambino.

Cohn and the Trumps, father and son, joined forces in 1973.  He represented Trump-senior in a case brought by the Justice Department charging his real-estate organization with housing discrimination against black and other minority tenants at 39 sites his company owned around the city.  In this, and other cases, Trump-senior was defended by Roy Cohn, who became Trump-the-younger’s consigliere.  That same year, Trump-the-younger met Cohn at Le Club, a Manhattan nightspot for the rich, famous and those on the make. Cohn was a closeted homosexual all his life and died of AIDS in 1986.

This was the era of Studio 54, a late-night celebrity nightspot located on West 54th Street off Broadway that attracted anyone with a name, money or a gun in their pocket.  Trump, who dodged the Vietnam War draft, claimed in a TV interview with Howard Stern that he felt “lucky” not to have picked up an STD while sleeping around during in the late-70s and 80s.  He claimed that dating during this period was his own “personal Vietnam.”  Trump was a regular and Cohn was the club’s attorney.

Trump met his first wife, Ivana Zelníčková, at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, and they married the following year.  During the early years of their marriage, they were regulars at Studio 54.  They were together until 1992 and are parents of Trump’s three oldest children.  In a much-publicized exposé, the former Mrs. Trump accused — then denied – that her then-husband sexually assaulted, raped, her.

While the marriage was collapsing, the future president had an affair with Marla Maples, a 26-year-old model-actress, and she was pregnant with their one child before they married.  How Trump first met Maples is part of his machismo legend.  One story claims the huckster met the heroine at a prearranged hookup at the Marble Collegiate Church.  Another story, promoted by one of Marla’s friend, claims they met walking down a city street in the late-80s.  No matter, when they met Trump was still married to Ivana and kept Maples tucked-away at the upscale St. Moritz hideaway.

In 1990, Playboy magazine featured Trump on the cover of its annual issue, along with a self-promotional interview.  He also appeared – fully clothed! – in three Playboy soft-core films.  In 1994, he 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 about a fashion show featuring Betsey Johnson.  Trump was a celebrity with sex appeal, the epitomy of a late-20th century macho man.

Trump was a household brand before he ran for president.  He gained national celebrity status as the impresario of two popular TV series, The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice, that ran for 14 years.  He played out the part of his fantasy self, a tyrannical boss who denounces those who failed to make muster, ranting, “You’re fired!”  According to Nielsen, the TV ratings agency, his shows had an average of 10 million viewers per episode.

He opened his first strip club in 2013; one can only imagine how many he’s been to as a lifelong real-estate huckster on the make.  While 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 quoted Trump saying, “A person [woman] who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a 10.“

Trump’s current wife, Melania, embodies the 21st century version of the First Lady as the “good wife,” combining Jackie Kennedy’s repressed poise with Marilyn Monroe’s inviting sexuality.  The mother of 11-year-old Barron, 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 profound change in postmodern marriage.

Just weeks before the 2016 election, a series of sex scandals almost derailed Trump’s electoral bid.  Two former Miss Universe pageant winners — Alicia Machado (Venezuelan-American) and Ninni Laaksonen (Finland) – publicly accused Trump of sexual assault.  The Wall Street Journal revealed that Karen McDougal, the 1998 Playmate of the Year, received a generous payment of $150,000 from the National Enquirer, a fierce Trump supporter, for two years’ worth of her fitness columns and magazine covers.  The Journal noted that McDougal had a 10-month consensual affair with Trump in 2006, a year after his wedding to Melania; she was about to release her story when the Enquirer made an offer she couldn’t refuse.

These announcements received little pre-election media attention, momentary stutters that only confirmed what everyone already knew about the candidate.  They had little impact on the election.  So too the numerous cases of women who’ve charged Trump with sexual assault now working their way through the courts.

Often forgotten, in 2012, Trump owned the Canadian Miss Universe contest and (privately) changed the rules so that a 23-year-old transgender woman, Jenna Talackova, could not compete.  A 6-foot-1-inch blond from Vancouver, Talackova had lived as a female since the age of 4 years, started hormone therapy at 14 and, at 19, underwent male-to-female sex reassignment surgery.  Talackova’s Canadian passport, birth certificate and driver’s license identify her as a female.


Talackova’s expulsion from the contest provoked a firestorm of popular outrage, many insisting that she was discriminated against.  It led to 23,000 people signing a petition insisting that the contest reverse the decision. Faced with the unexpected bad publicity, Trump made a rapid retreat, with an associate announcing: “The Miss Universe Organization will allow Jenna Talackova to compete in the 2012 Miss Universe Canada pageant provided she meets the legal gender recognition requirements of Canada, and the standards established by other international competitions.”


Private sex scandals have long shadowed Trump’s very public life.  In January, BuzzFeed published an unverified report from a former British MI-6 intelligence agent, Christopher Steele.  It claimed that Trump, while in Moscow, hooked up with sex workers in an exclusive hotel for a sex party that included “water sports.”  Who knows?  Trump could have partied or the incident could be a political fiction, “fake news.”  Truth has become phantasy and Trump is the nation’s 45th President.

The current round of the culture wars was launched in 1972 by Phyllis Schafly, a lawyer and conservative activist, who successfully blocked the adoption of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).  Over the last four decades, adult and age-appropriate sexual engagements shifted from a moral issue, “sin,” to a legal concern, “consent,” whether public or private.  Today, the only true sex crime is the violation of consent, whether rape, pedophilia, child porn, sex trafficking, incest, lust murder or inflicting someone with an STD.  How far Trump, together with the religious and political right, succeed in moving the sexual clock backwards will test the nation’s moral order.

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; check out