Allegations of sexual assault at the hands of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have now been voiced by nine women. But as last night’s final presidential debate highlighted, Trump’s candidacy has become personal for American women far beyond those he may have groped, resurrecting their experiences, large and small, of misogyny and objectification.
When debate moderator Chris Wallace raised the subject, Trump claimed the allegations were lies. In his telling, the women are either seeking fame—because what woman doesn’t want to be internationally known as one of the many objects of Trump’s fingers?—or they were manipulated by Hillary Clinton’s “sleazy campaign.” After denying the allegations, Trump quickly pivoted to blaming Clinton for violence at his rallies: “They hired people,” he said of the Clinton campaign. “They payed them $1,500 and they’re on tape saying ‘Be violent, cause fights, do bad things.'”
Trump also denied saying he couldn’t have assaulted the women because they aren’t attractive enough. (“Look at her,” he said at a recent rally, referring to one of his accusers. “I don’t think so.” At another: “She wouldn’t be my first choice.”) He also made the point that the fact that he has not apologized to Melania is further proof that he couldn’t have sexually assaulted other women.
In response, in perhaps her most poignant statement yet about Trump’s attitude toward women, Clinton nailed the truth of his misogyny: “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like.”
Clinton’s response echoed Michelle Obama’s speech last week, in which the first lady connected Trump’s behavior to the everyday sexism most women have known in some shape or form: “It’s like that sick, sinking feeling you get when you’re walking down the street minding your own business and some guy yells out vulgar words about your body. Or when you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares a little too long, and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin.”
Trump tried to pivot again, this time to Hillary’s email controversy. When that didn’t stick, he tried to return to the violence at his rallies, and then suggested they should really be talking about serious issues, like getting rid of ISIL. The entire gambit seemed a desperate move to avoid addressing the real issue of misogyny at hand. (Trump did not, however, get into the allegations against Bill Clinton, which Wallace raised. Hillary declined to address them too.)
For good measure, Trump added (as he often has) that “nobody has more respect for women than I do.” It’s a statement that adds insult to injury—as though the best women can possibly hope for is the shallow pretense of esteem generously extended to them by the Donald.