Recently, it’s been revealed that prior to receiving his position in the Trump Administration, White House officials had received testimonies from former Staff Secretary Rob Porter’s ex-wives documenting a history of domestic abuse, but disregarded them. Under any other presidency, such revelations would’ve been an administration-defining scandal with significant political implications. Yet, under the current political climate, these headlines feel like, at best, further validation of the Trump Administration’s unfounded apathy towards women’s humanity, and, at worst, just another day in the news cycle. Media outlets have run their stories, politicians have made their talking points, and voters have further formed their opinions in a well-rehearsed dance. But I have not made my peace.
Since the start of the 2016 election, political analysts have cautioned against the dangers of “normalizing” President Trump’s hostile attitude towards not only women, but other traditionally marginalized members of society. They argue that if we fail to appropriately react with indignation and outrage to acts such as knowingly hiring a domestic abuser to a high-security White House position, then we begin the process of seeing such truly heinous actions as natural, socially-acceptable, and “normal.” Yet, what is normal is relative, and it’s important that in the political blame game of normalization, we recognize where responsibility is due.
“We, as a nation, carry a level of culpability in creating an environment where the Trump Administration feels that it has the freedom to openly support men who hurt women.”
First, let’s examine ourselves. My current supervisor recently instated what she calls a “man in the mirror policy,” where before anyone enters into her office with criticism about how another person has acted, they must first take the time to examine their own actions and how they can improve before they can openly judge others. We, as a nation, carry a level of culpability in creating an environment where the Trump Administration feels that it has the freedom to openly support men who hurt women.
Long before President Trump even considered running for office, statistics such as, in the United States, nearly 1 in 3 women have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner and 1 in 5 women have been raped, were commonly accepted household facts. Yet, aside from the occasional acts of solidarity during Domestic Abuse Awareness Month or Sexual Assault Awareness Month, unless these epidemics affected us personally, we did nothing. Yes, we looked appropriately sad whenever we heard about acts of domestic or sexual violence on the news. Yes, we all shared concerned looks when a man seemed to grab his girlfriend a little too roughly in public. Yes, we all nodded in approval whenever older relatives told our young sons, our brothers, our male cousins, our nephews to “never hit a girl” (gendered implications aside). But really, at the end of the day, what did we do to create an environment where acts of domestic or sexual violence were considered abnormal?
Because yes, we got upset at that news story about domestic or sexual assault. But did we turn our feelings into actions by calling our congressperson or volunteering at a women’s shelter? Or did we feel vindicated enough in the self-righteousness of our emotions? Yes, we were worried about the man who grabbed his girlfriend too roughly. But did we actually intervene to check that the woman was okay? Or did we decide that we didn’t know enough about the couple and should instead “mind our own business?” Yes, we nodded in approval when our elders told our young sons, brothers, male cousins, and nephews not to lay a hand on a girl. But did we also express our disapproval when the same elders told our young daughters, sisters, female cousins, and nieces that when a boy slaps them or pulls on their hair that it’s only because “he likes them?” Or did we hold our tongues out of “respect” in silent disagreement?
Some of these actions are sins that I am guilty of committing and must now learn to atone for. Though I am not solely responsible, nor should the American people as a whole be held entirely responsible for the abnormal political situation we are in, citizens are one of the key animals within the political environment, and we are all also complicit in our own ways of contributing to its fragile ecosystem. Through our decisions, we have helped “normalize” a world where the Trump Administration feels it has the ability to disrespect women’s safety without any recourse, and now we’re living with the consequences.
“What does require deeper analysis is why the Trump Administration is so determined to further normalize acts of domestic and sexual violence again women.”
So now, let’s take a look at the Trump Administration. The White House’s handling of the Porter allegations has been far from what most people would consider “normal.” Even after photographs surfaced of Porter’s ex-wife with a black eye, rather than condemning Porter, the White House defended him. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly maintained his initial statement that Porter “is a man of true integrity and honor,” and President Trump stated that “He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career… It was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad… We absolutely wish him well.” It doesn’t require a background in political science or Hill experience to know that the Trump Administration’s response is morally repugnant and ought to be condemned from all sides of the aisle. That’s a given.
But what does require deeper analysis is why the Trump Administration is so determined to further normalize acts of domestic and sexual violence again women. Rob Porter isn’t the first man the Trump Administration has supported despite a clear and troublesome history of abuse—lest we forget previous White House comments regarding Roy Moore and Steve Wynn—and he won’t be the last. But why? For a long time, I’ve struggled in vain to find a logical explanation behind the White House’s inability to do something as simple as disavow an alleged domestic abuser, alleged pedophile, and an alleged sexual assaulter. But after much recent thought, I’ve found the answer—President Trump can’t face the “man in the mirror.”
It’s well-known that the president has his own unique and troubled history regarding women. He’s been recorded bragging about non-consensually grabbing women “by the pussy,” publicly threatened violence against female opponents, and been accused of sexual misconduct by twenty-one women. If the White House were to make so much as a simple statement disavowing the conduct of Porter, Moore, or Wynn, it would set an irrevocable precedent that men who harm women ought to be held accountable for their actions. And President Trump is, without a doubt, a man with a history of harming women who’s never been held accountable for any wrongdoing in his life.
So how can we hold this administration accountable? In short, by first holding ourselves accountable. Systematic social change can’t happen until we name the problems within our own actions and assumptions. Because right now in America, for nearly 1 in 3 women, domestic violence has forced itself into their normal. For 1 in 5 women, rape has forced itself into their normal. But together we must create a new normal, where acts of domestic and sexual assault are met with zero tolerance, be it inside our own house, our neighbor’s house, or the White House.