Are we shocked? Sure we’re shocked. Most of us by now have seen the 2005 videotape, heard the banter between Donald Trump and Billy Bush, then host of NBC’s Access Hollywood. But, obscene as it is, does it matter?
Incredibly, the answer appears to be “not much.”
What we are now finding out about ourselves is that our most ferocious, deeply held partisan political views take priority over everything else—and I do mean everything: God, morality, and ethics. The first poll (Politico/Morning Consult) to surface after the release of the infamous video offers less-than-uplifting proof. Here is a taste:
10% of Republican voters got a “positive feeling” from the video. One wonders if a tape of actual sexual assaults would get an even more enthusiastic thumbs-up from these people.
Only 22% had “very negative feelings.” So, less than a quarter of these Republican voters were deeply horrified by Trump’s discussion of how he tried to seduce a married woman, how he loves being a star because women will let him do anything he wants to them.
Things really get breathtaking in the last few data items of the poll. Less than half of these voters (48%) feel “less favorably” toward Trump in the aftermath of the video’s release, and 36% state that seeing the video “doesn’t change their opinion.” Lastly, a full 75% want the party to stand behind Trump. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this seems to suggest that an overwhelming majority of these voters see the chance that this crude narcissist might carry out their political agenda (though he has zero experience in governance of public service of any kind) as far more important than the fact that he has now been shown to be pathologically flawed–the worst kind of arrogant misogynist and sexual predator.
Are we depressed enough yet?
Because if not, you can listen to some of the defenses of Trump that have been mounted. How about “it’s just locker room talk”? This begs the question: What was this 60-year-old (he was 60 in 2005) doing in a locker room? But beyond that: Does that really excuse it? Are we saying that a locker room is a safe space for potential presidential candidates to go when they need to air their ugliest and potentially criminal thoughts?
In his only marginally apologetic televised statement, we saw him essentially telling us that, yes, he was guilty of monstrous misogyny and perhaps sexual assault, but exhorting us to get past those small potatoes and solve some real problems in the world. His defense? He was now a 70-year-old politician, and had completely changed over the previous year. His entire personality, his mindset and world view, developed over decades, had changed! He was not just an old dog who had run out of new tricks.
Another sterling defense: Bill Clinton was worse. This is good, not least because Bill really was pretty terrible. Two problem with it are (1) that Bill isn’t running for president, and (2) if it condemns Bill, it has to condemn Donald, too. Hillary is thus blamed for marrying a guy who is similar to Donald, though considerably smarter. That is her crime.
Trump’s great challenge to us is just how deep of a the cesspool he can drag us into, and through some misbegotten loyalty to bitter prejudices, still have us convinced that the ends justify the means. That there are no standards that override kamikaze political loyalty.
There is still one more frontier that we have yet to confront on this score, by the way. It is one that Trump himself described, when he said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
It is now possible to make the argument that he just might be right.