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All the President’s Women

Photo by ASACP RTA | CC BY 2.0

There is no doubt about it: Stormy Daniels is a formidable woman.  Karen McDougal is no slouch either, though she is hard to admire after that riff, in her Anderson Cooper interview, about how religious and Republican she is; she even said that she used to love the Donald.  Stormy Daniels is better than that.

How wonderfully appropriate it would be if she were to become the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Even in a world as topsy-turvy as ours has become, there has to be a final straw.

To be sure, evidence of Trump’s vileness, incompetence, and mental instability is accumulating at breakneck speed, and there are polls now that show support for him holding fast or even slightly rising.  Trump’s hardcore “base” seems more determined than ever to stand by their man.

But even people as benighted as they are bound to realize eventually that they have been had.  Many of them already do, but don’t care; they hate Clinton Democrats that much.  This is understandable, but foolish; so foolish, in fact, that they can hardly keep it up indefinitely.

To think otherwise is to despair for the human race.

What, if anything, can bring them to their senses in time for the 2018 election?

Stormy Daniels says she only wants to tell her story, not bring Trump down.  But her political instincts seem decent, and she is one shrewd lady. Therefore, I would not be the least surprised if that is not quite true.  It hardly matters, though, what her intentions are; I’d put my money on her.

A recession might also do the trick.  A recession is long overdue, and Trump’s tax cut for the rich and his tariffs are sure to make its consequences worse when it happens.

To turn significant portions of Trump’s base against him, a major military conflagration might also do — not the kind Barack Obama favored, fought far away and out of public view, but a real war, televised on CNN, and waged against an enemy state like North Korea or Iran.   It would have to go quickly and disastrously wrong, though, in ways that even willfully blind, terminally obtuse Trump supporters could not fail to see.

Or the gods could smile upon us, causing Trump’s exercise regimen (sitting in golf carts) and his fat-ridden, cholesterol rich diet to catch up with him, as it would with most other sedentary septuagenarians.  The only downside would be that a heart attack or stroke might elicit sympathy for the poor bastard.

No sane person could or should hope for a calamitous economic downturn or for yet another devastating, pointless, and manifestly unjust war, especially one that could become a war to end all wars (along with everything else), on the off-chance that some good might come of it.

And if the best we can do is hope that cheeseburgers with fries will save us, we are grasping at straws.

These are compelling reasons to hope that the accusations made by Daniels and McDougal and Summer Zervos – and other consensual and non-consensual Trump victims and “playmates” – gain traction.   If the several defamation lawsuits now in the works can get the president deposed, this is not out of the question.

The problem for Trump is not that his accusers’ revelations will cause his base to defect; no matter how salacious their stories and no matter how believable they may be.  Trump’s moral turpitude is taken for granted in their circles; and they do not care about the myriad ways his words and deeds offend the dignity of the office he holds or embarrass the country he purports to put “first.”  If any of that mattered to them, they would have jumped ship long ago.

Except perhaps for unreconstructed racists and certifiable sociopaths, white evangelicals are Trump’s strongest supporters.  What a despicable bunch of hypocrites they are!  As long as Trump delivers on their agendas, his salacious escapades don’t faze them at all.  Godly folk have evidently changed a good deal since the Cotton Mather days.

What has not changed is their seemingly limitless ability to believe nonsense.

And in case light somehow does manage to shine through, Trump has shown them how to restore the darkness they crave.  When cognitive dissonance threatens, all they need do is scream “fake news.”

The problem for Trump is that what his accusers are saying puts him in legal and political jeopardy.  They are claiming, in effect, that he has committed a variety of unlawful and impeachable offenses – from obstruction of justice to violations of campaign finance laws.

In this case as in so many others, it is the cover-up, not the underlying “crime,” that could lead to his undoing – especially if the stories Daniels and the others are telling shed light upon or otherwise connect with or meld into Robert Mueller’s investigation of (alleged) Russian “meddling” in the 2016 election.

Trump could and probably will survive their charges.  His base is such a preternaturally obdurate lot that there may ultimately be no last straw for them.  We may have no choice, in the end, but to despair for a sizeable chunk of the human race.

Stormy Daniels would not be any less admirable on that account. She took Trump on and came out on top.  For all the world (minus the willfully blind) to see, she, the porn star, is a strong woman who has her life together, while he, the president, is a discombobulated sleaze ball who is leading himself and his country to ruin.

***

It was different with Monica Lewinsky, another presidential paramour who, almost two decades ago, also held the world’s attention.

There was nothing sleazy or venal about Lewinsky’s involvement with Bill Clinton; and, for all I know, unless chastity counts, she is as good and virtuous a person as can be.  But personal qualities are not what made her affair with our forty-second president as historically significant as it turned out to be.

It would be fair to say that of all the women who have ever had intimate knowledge of that old horn dog’s private parts, there is no one who did more good for her country. If only for that, if there were a heaven, there would be special place in it just for her.

The Clinton-Lewinsky dalliance led to a series of events that prevented Clinton from doing even more harm to our feeble welfare state institutions than he would otherwise have done.

Who knows how much progress he would have turned back had he and Monica never done the deed or at least not been found out.  Building on groundwork laid down by Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush, he and his wife had already terminated Aid to Families With Dependent Children, one of the main government programs aimed at relieving poverty.  This was to be just the first step in “ending welfare as we know it.”

With their “donors” pushing for more austerity, those two neoliberal pioneers were itching to begin privatizing other, more widely supported social programs, including even Social Security, the so-called “third rail” of American politics.

The “Lewinsky matter” put the kybosh on that idea, leaving the American people forever in Monica’s debt.

Back in the Kennedy days, Mel Brook’s two-thousand year old man got it right when he said: presidents “gotta do it,” to which he added – “…because if they don’t do it to their wives and girlfriends, they do it to the nation.”

Stormy Daniels made much the same point ten years ago, while flirting with the idea of running against Louisiana Senator David Vitter.  Vitter’s political career had been almost ruined when his name turned up in the phone records of the infamous “DC Madam,” Deborah Jeane Palfrey.  Daniels told voters that, unlike Vitter, she would “screw …(them) honestly.”

What then are we to make of the fact that Trump screws both the nation and his wife (maybe) and his girlfriends (or whatever they are)?

Blame it on arrested development, on the fact that despite his more than seventy-one years, Trump still has the mind of a teenage boy, one with money and power enough to live out his fantasies.

The contrast with Bill Clinton is stark.  Clinton is a philanderer with eclectic tastes, a charming rascal with a broad and mischievous mind.  Honkytonk women from Arkansas appeal to him as much as zaftig MOTs from the 90210 area code.

Trump, on the other hand, goes for super-models, Playboy centerfolds, and aspiring beauty queens — standard teenage fantasy fare.

He seems to have had little trouble living his dreams – not thanks to his magnetic face, form and figure, and certainly not to his refinement, wit or charm, but to his inherited and otherwise ill-gotten wealth.

It is money and the power that follows from it that draws women to his net.

Henry Kissinger understood; recall his musings on the aphrodisiacal properties of power.  Even in his prime, that still unindicted war criminal (and later-day Hillary Clinton advisor) was even more repellent than Trump.  But that never kept him from having to fight the ladies off.

This fact of life puts a heavy responsibility on the women with whom presidents hook up.

Consider Melania.  She made a Faustian bargain when she agreed to become Trump’s trophy bride; in return for riches and a soft life in a gilded tower, she sold her soul.  She might have thought better of it had she taken the burdens she would incur as First Lady into account, but why would she?  The prospect was too improbable.

She has, it seems, a very practical, old world view of marriage, and is therefore tolerant of her husband’s womanizing.  At the same time, as a mother and daughter, she is, like most immigrants, a strong proponent of old world “family values.”

Too much of a proponent perhaps; insofar as her idea was to “chain migrate” her parents out of Slovenia and onto Easy Street, or to raise a kid who would never want for anything, there were less onerous ways of going about it.   After all, there are plenty of rich Americans lusting after supermodels out there, and it is a good bet that many of them are less repellent than Trump.

She was irresponsible as well.  She ought to have realized that the man she married had already spawned two idiot sons, along with other fruit from the poisonous tree, and that four bad apples in one generation are enough.

And so now she finds herself a single mother – not in theory, of course, but very definitely in practice.  Unlike most women in that position, she is not wanting for resources.   But it must be a hard slog, even so.  To her credit, Melania seems to be handling the burden well.  More power to her!

She also deserves credit for her body language when the Donald is around; the contempt she shows for him is wonderful to behold.  Best of all is her sense of the absurd.  The way she plagiarized from Michelle Obama had obvious comic validity, and making childhood bullying her First Lady cause – all First Ladies have causes — was a stroke of genius.

On balance, therefore, it is hard not to feel sorry for her.  Of all the women in Trump’s ambit, she deserves humiliation the least.

The rumor mill has it that with all the publicity about Daniels and the others, she has finally had enough.  This may be the case; the old world ethos requires discretion and a concern with appearances.  That is not the Donald’s way, however, and now she is paying the price.

What a magnificent humiliation it would be if she and Trump were to split up on that account.  This could happen soon.  I would expect, though, that through a combination of carrots and sticks, Trump and his fixers will find a way to minimize the political effects.  More likely still, they will channel Joe Kennedy and Jackie O, and figure out a way to head the problem off.

Then there is poor forgotten Tiffany.  Her Wikipedia entry lists her as both a law student and a “socialite.”  I hope her studious side wins out and that, despite the genes from her father’s side, she is at least somewhat decent and smart.

I’d be more confident of that if she would do what Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Patti, did: use her mother’s, not her father’s, name.  Unless she is a sleaze ball too, a Trump in the Eric and Don Junior mold, that would be a fine way to make a political point.

It would also pay back over the years.  With the Trump administration on its current trajectory, who, in a few years’ time, would take a Tiffany Trump seriously?  A Tiffany Maples would stand a better chance.

Her half-sister, the peerless Ivanka, the Great Blonde Hope, is, of course, her father’s sweetie.  Let’s not go there, however.  Her marriage to Jared Kushner is already enough to process.

What a pair those two make; and what a glorious day it will be when the law finally catches up with Jared, as it did with his Trump-like father, Charles.  Perhaps he will take Ivanka down a notch or two with him.

Despite an almost complete lack of qualifications, Trump made his son-in-law his minister of almost everything; a pretty good gig for a feckless, airhead rich kid.

Among other things, Trump enabled him to become Benjamin Netanyahu’s ace in the hole.  Netanyahu is a Kushner family friend.

Netanyahu has more than his share of legal troubles too.  Let them all go down together!

Ivanka and Jared are well matched – they share a “business model.” It has them exploiting their daddies’ connections and money.

Jared peddles real estate; his efforts have gotten his family into serious debt, while putting him in solid with Russian and Eastern European oligarchs, Gulf state emirs, and Mohammad bin Salman – people in comparison with whom his father-in-law seems almost virtuous.

Ivanka sells trinkets and schmatas to people who think the Trump name is cool.  There actually are such people; at two hundred grand a pop, Mar-a-Lago is full of them.  Ivanka’s demographic is made up mostly of their younger set.

Two other presidential women bare mention: Hope Hicks and Nikki Haley. Surely, they both have tales to tell, but it looks, for now, as if their stories would be of little or no prurient interest.  Neither of them appear to have been propositioned or groped.

Even though Hicks is said to be like a daughter to the Donald – we know what that could mean! – it is a safe bet that there was nothing of a romantic nature going on between them.  For one thing, Hicks seems too close to Ivanka; for another, she is known to have dallied with two Trump subordinates, Corey Lewandowski and Rob Porter.  The don is hardly the type to let his underlings have at his women.

Haley had to quash a spate of rumors that flared up thanks to some suggestive remarks    Michael Wolff made while hawking Fire and Fury.  The rumor caught on because people who hadn’t yet fully realized what a piece of work Trump is, imagined that something had to be awry inasmuch as her main qualification for representing the United States at the United Nations was an undergraduate degree in accounting.  Abject servility to the Israel lobby also helped.

But the Trump administration is full of ambitious miscreants whose views on Israel and Palestine are as abject and servile as hers, and compared to many others in Trump’s cabinet she is, if anything, over qualified.  Think of neurosurgeon Ben Carson heading the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  He is qualified because, as a child, he lived in public housing.

With the exception of Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal, Summer Zervos and whoever else comes forward with a juicy and credible tale to tell, the women currently in the president’s ambit, though good for gossip and interesting in the ways that characters on reality TV shows can be, are of little or no political consequence.

This could change if any of them decides to “go rogue,” to use an expression from the Sarah Palin days.  But, while neither Melania nor Tiffany can yet be judged hopeless, it would be foolish to expect much of anything good to come from either of them.

Stormy, Karen, Summer, and whoever else steps forward are a better bet.  They are the only ones with any chance of doing as much for their country and the world as Monica Lewinsky did a generation ago.

Among the president’s women, they are a breed apart. This is plainly the case with Stormy Daniels; it is already clear that she deserves what all Trump’s money can never buy – honor and esteem.  To the extent that the others turn out to be similarly courageous, they will too.

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ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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