Over the past 24 hours, Republican politicians have been fleeing from Donald Trump in response to his boasts about groping women. For those who’ve been terrified by Trump’s misogyny, racism, and demagoguery for months, it seems about time for such widespread condemnation. But others are asking—why now? Are his comments really so much worse than any of the other truly horrific things Trump has said?
Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere argued that condemning Trump now shows implicit acceptance of his other remarks. Former Obama campaign aide Mitch Stewart told Politico that you can “get away” with attacking Muslims, Latinos, and African-Americans, but women are such a clear majority that Republicans simply can’t afford such widespread offense.
To be clear, anyone with a moral compass should have condemned Trump a long time ago. But his boasts about sexually assaulting women do stand apart from his general vitriol.
The field of contenders for Trump’s most offensive comments is extremely crowded. He’s clearly racist: Trump’s calls to ban all Muslims from the United States are reminiscent of fascist politics, and there are no words strong enough to adequately condemn his allegation that all Mexicans are rapists. There’s a long list of examples of Trump being blatantly misogynistic. And only someone without a shred of morality could make snide remarks, as Trump did, about Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son died while serving in Iraq.
Trump’s comments have also toed the criminal line before. He was accused of treason when he called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails—though legal experts said his comments did not amount to a felony. Similarly, his calls for “Second Amendment people” to do something about Clinton is incitement of violence in the ordinary sense of the word, but not the legal sense.
But in the 2005 recording released by the Washington Post, Trump casually suggests he “start kissing” actress Arianne Zucker and then describes how he’s accustomed to kissing women without considering consent. He said:
“I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
His language, throughout, is revolting. And he goes on to say that he’s just as used to groping women. “Grab them by the pussy,” he said. “You can do anything.”
In the United States, sexual assault is defined as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”
And so Trump is not simply engaging in “banter.” He’s describing how he commits the criminal offense of sexual assault.
What makes any one disgusting comment “worse” than the other? Perhaps Trump’s racism will provoke more real-world implications than his misogyny. Perhaps certain comments will be more offensive to some people than others. But openly boasting about sexual assault—and expressing an intention to target a certain individual—is distinct from general name-calling and bigotry.
Talking about women’s “pussies” is indeed lewd. But, regardless of word choice, saying you physically grab a woman by her sexual organ is objectification, denigration, and abuse. Trump has already violated many standards of decency, but grabbing women by “their pussy” was yet another line crossed.