How the Trump Campaign’s Last Stand Teaches a Lesson in Rape Culture
Nearly a week has passed since the presidential election was called for President-elect Joe Biden, and since the subsequent purchase of Loser.com to redirect to Donald Trump’s Wikipedia page. But over the course of this week, following the Trump campaign and Trump White House has felt like living in an alternate reality—one where the lame-duck president continuously declares victory, citing imaginary, mass Democratic voter fraud that somehow cost him the presidency while preserving the Republican Senate.
Despite how the election ended a week ago, the Trump campaign and its allies continue to act as if it’s still happening, filing one delusional lawsuit after another, all while the Trump administration insists on preparing budgets for next year and “jokes” about a smooth transition to Trump’s second term.
Trump’s behavior may be shocking to many onlookers, but survivors of abusive relationships have called his incessant gaslighting and refusal to let go hauntingly familiar—and they’re absolutely right. The truth is there are lessons about rape culture that all of us can learn from the Trump campaign’s desperate last stand to cling to power.
From the 2016 campaign trail to the White House, Trump’s political career has held up a mirror to our rape culture for years. Days before the 2016 election, audio recording of him boasting about sexual assault was released to the public, followed by dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and assault. When he was elected president nonetheless—not just in spite of these allegations but because many people bought into excuses and justifications for his actions that normalize this behavior—women and survivors everywhere were reminded our abusers almost never face consequences, and can even ascend to the highest office in the land.
The devastating insults to victims of abuse only continued throughout his presidency, from more allegations of assault to his constant defenses of staffers accused of abuse, to his press secretary insisting allegations of assault could only be taken seriously if the perpetrator admitted to them, essentially denying victims any credibility. Then, in 2018, Trump pushed for Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, not despite but frankly because of accusations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh, as a devastating rebuke to the #MeToo movement.
Today, we are watching Trump’s refusal to seek or respect the consent of the women he victimized writ large, as he refuses to seek or respect the American people’s consent to be governed. He is acting as if there is confusion, or “blurred lines” or “gray areas” like made-up voter irregularities and narrow margins, when there aren’t.
The American people were resoundingly clear last week: We do not consent. We reject his presidency. Trump’s desperate attempts to gaslight the American people, delegitimize the electoral process, and refuse to concede are just more of his same old abusive tactics, ultimately reminiscent of an abuser refusing to let their victim go. Research shows it takes an average of seven attempts for a victim to leave their abuser.
It’s also worth noting that Trump’s supporters believe his word about “illegal votes” without a shred of evidence, despite their refusal to believe the testimonies of any of the more than 26 women who have accused Trump of violence through the years, and often provided ample evidence and witnesses. It’s easy to dismiss his supporters’ devout loyalty to him as the cultish mentality of a few extremists, but the truth is more unsettling.
Supposedly “liberal” media outlets have continued to air Trump’s speeches, tweets, and unhinged lies about the election, while rarely covering or interviewing his victims over the last four years. This moment reminds us where credibility and legitimacy often reside, and reminds us that who is and isn’t heard in abusive contexts often depends on gender and power.
Today, all Americans are victims of the Trump campaign’s last attempt to cling to power and reject the will and consent of the electorate. But long before this, one in four women had survived sexual assault and one in six men had experienced some form of sexual abuse. More often than not, survivors have kept their experiences to themselves, all while the vast majority of people in this country have been denied a proper education about consent or what, exactly, rape culture even is.
Ultimately, there is no benefit to the attempted fascist coup unfolding right before our eyes and on our Twitter feeds, which has the potential to deny legitimacy and faith in electoral processes for years to come. But there are universal lessons—lessons in what “reasonable” politicians are willing to go along with to consolidate power; lessons in the delusions of grandeur that go hand-in-hand with toxic, Trumpian masculinity; and certainly, lessons in the deep intersections between rape culture and nearly every facet of day-to-day life and power dynamics.
(image: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
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