“Don’t go around acting holier-than-thou about this like you’ve never heard anyone say anything like that before,” said Tomi Lahren, 24-year-old Trump-supporting commentator for right-wing US media network The Blaze, over Donald Trump’s leaked comments boasting about sexual assault. “Give me a break.”
The Republican presidential candidate has pleaded the “locker room” defence to his taped admission that he considers himself entitled to sexually assault women at will. Many US athletes have taken to social and traditional media to deny that they ever heard “anything like that” in any locker room.
In an open letter to Trump, former Minnesota Viking Chris Kluwe fumed: “I was in an NFL locker room for eight years, the very definition of the macho, alpha male environment you’re so feebly trying to evoke to protect yourself, and not once did anyone approach your breathtaking depths of arrogant imbecility…
“Hell, I played a couple years with a guy who later turned out to be a serial rapist. Even he never talked like that.”
NBA star LeBron James told a post-game interviewer: “Those conversations just don’t go on in our locker room … what [Trump] was saying, I don’t know what that is. That’s trash talk.”
Perhaps Trump is harking back to locker rooms of a different era, when strippers were routinely hired for professional sport team celebrations, inebriated teenage girls were passed around the players and end-of-season trips were all-expenses-paid tours of red light districts.
Those were the days before survivors’ testimony finally started to appear in investigative reports, court transcripts and academic research papers. Perhaps those are the days to which Trump is harking back.
However, we should not exaggerate how much has changed. While there is no longer the same guarantee that what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room, recent research shows that male college athletes in the US are still more likely than male students in general to commit sexual violence and sexual coercion.
A study published early this year proved this is strongly linked to higher than average levels of misogynous attitudes and “mistaken beliefs about what constitutes sexual assault”.
Degrading attitudes to women and sexual assault also continue to plague sport in Australia. Over the past decade, both major footy codes have been rocked by allegations of serious sexual assault, including gang rape and assault of underage girls.
Both the AFL and NRL have been forced to take action, mostly to “change attitudes” among their clubs and players. But change is slow and arguably tokenistic, and there continues to be strong resistance — especially to the admission of women as players.
Despite strong feminist action, locker rooms still seem to provide a nurturing habitat for sexual violence and the kind of protection claimed by Trump.
And golf courses too.
Defending himself, Trump said that former president Bill Clinton has said “far worse” things to him on the golf course. Perhaps they also shared a few off-colour jokes when they partied with convicted paedophile billionaire Jeffrey Epstein on his private Boeing 737 — the infamous “Lolita Express” on which both Trump and Clinton took multiple trips in the 1990s and early 2000s.
We may never know, although Trump now has a December 16 court date for commencement of a civil lawsuit by a woman who claims he raped her at Epstein’s home in New York when she was 13.
Lahren’s rants on The Blaze regularly get tens of millions of social media hits. Last week she let loose on the “spineless” Republicans who have pulled their endorsements from Trump over a statement that she argues are no biggie.
“Truth is this leaked recording is a problem because of how it makes us feel, not how it impacts governance,” she railed. “Does it impact border security, national security, trade, jobs, spending or anything else that impacts your daily life? No!”
It is easy to agree that it is unsurprising that, as a billionaire reality TV star, Trump considers himself entitled to commit sexual violence. But Lahren is dead wrong about how that impacts “governance”.
Trump’s violent misogyny is absolutely evident in, and integral to, his policies on border security, national security, trade, jobs, spending and everything else that impacts daily life.
Some say Trump is a psychopath. He certainly ticks all the boxes on the classic Hare Psychopathology Checklist: lack of conscience or sense of guilt; lack of empathy, egocentricity, pathological lying, repeated violations of social norms, disregard for the law; shallow emotions; and a history of victimising others. Check, check, check and check.
But look around the golf courses, private jets, boardrooms, church councils, military commands and cabinet rooms and see how many of Hare’s boxes are ticked by the vast majority of their white male inhabitants. Even the tiny number of women and men of colour who are admitted are obliged to become complicit in the crimes against their kind — or be banished to the sidelines.
This is the “toxic masculinity” that breeds “rape culture”. Like white supremacy and racist violence, they are not the psychological problems of individual men, but carefully fostered and inculcated weapons of systemic oppression.
They are essential to colonisation and plunder of the planet, exploitation of the poor, enforcement of border controls and the prosecution of relentless wars against all resistance.
Trump’s problem is not his psychopathic traits, but the fact he proudly parades them. In the corridors of power, such traits are a prerequisite.