It’s been a week since writer E. Jean Carroll came forward with allegations that Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in the 1990s. Where, asks Christobel Hastings, is the outrage?
Nearly a week ago, the writer and advice columnist E. Jean Carroll came forward with accusations that she was sexually assaulted in the 1990s by the President of the United States, Donald Trump. Her account, published in New York magazine, makes for distressing reading: according to Carroll, Trump forcibly kissed her, pinned her again a dressing room wall, and raped her in a New York Bergdorf Goodman store in late 1995 or early 1996.
As far as allegations go, Carroll’s claims have serious weight behind them. For one, she still has the Donna Karan coat dress that she was wearing the day she was allegedly assaulted, which she wore on the cover of her magazine story, even suggesting that there may still be Trump’s DNA in place, because it was never laundered. Meanwhile, it was announced today that the two women Carroll confided in at the time of the alleged attack, Lisa Birnbach and Carol Martin, have agreed to discuss it for the first time, and publicly, with The New York Times.
Predictably, there was fallout. Donald Trump immediately denied the claims, by way of an extraordinarily distasteful insult: “I’ll say it with great respect: number one, she’s not my type; number two, it never happened.” And while the allegations trended on social media over the weekend, the most deafening reaction of all wasn’t outrage. It was silence.
Part of the unsettling indifference can be found in the decision from prominent news titles not to cover the story. The New York Post ran an article on Carroll’s allegations, but took the story down a few hours later, while only a couple of Sunday morning political shows invited Carroll for interview. Media Matters, meanwhile, pointed out that several major newspapers, including the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune, left the report off their front pages altogether. Indeed, even The Times’ executive editor, Dean Baquet, acknowledged that the title had been “overly cautious” in reporting Carroll’s accusations.
If the newsrooms don’t care, is the public’s response proving different? According to a worrying HuffPo/YouGov poll conducted over the weekend that the news broke, only 11% of Americans said they’d heard a lot about Carroll’s allegations, while a staggering 53% of people, about half of those surveyed, said they’d heard nothing at all.
Aside from the meagre media coverage though, could the public be relied upon to raise an appropriate level of outrage, given that the sexual assault allegation was put forward by a respectable, accomplished and popular public figure? Apparently not. But why the lack of interest?
According to Vox’s Anna North, in the era of Donald Trump’s reign, we’re simply too desensitised to negative headlines. “In the case of Trump, the sheer number of sexual misconduct allegations seems to have had a desensitising effect,” she wrote, “with the press and the public beginning to treat an account of sexual assault by the US commander-in-chief as simply business as usual.”
So too did fiction author Barbara Davis echoe that sentiment to the Guardian: “We seem to be experiencing in the entire country a desensitisation towards cruelty, lawlessness and bad behaviour – we are becoming numb when we should be taking to the streets.”
It’s true that it’s difficult to remain outraged at the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against Donald Trump, because there seems to be no end in sight. Even in the face of fresh accusations, nothing seems to tarnish the president’s reputation. As president, he evades prosecution, while approval ratings remain bafflingly steady.
A cursory glance at social media will shore up other reasons to account for the perceived lack of interest. There’s the fact that the alleged account happened over two decades ago, for a start, and some say time makes an allegation less relevant. Then there’s the fact that E. Jean Carroll is due to publish a new book, which the POTUS cited as “motivation” for “false stories of assault” in a statement. There’s also the not-insignificant fact that there are so many grave news stories at the moment - reproductive injustice, suffering of migrant children, threats of war with Iran - that a sexual assault allegation can, and does, get lost in the fray.
And while it’s impossible to give a comprehensive overview of the excuses to stop caring about Trump’s scandals, it’s certainly true to say that women are feeling fatigued by the allegations. How can be be so numb to the idea of a man forcibly penetrating a woman? Because violence against women is commonplace, and we aren’t at all surprised when it makes headline news.
It’s times like these that we have to remind ourselves that the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, has been accused by more than twenty women of inappropriate sexual behaviour and misconduct dating back to the 1970s. A number of these women came forward following the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in October 2016, in which the POTUS was recorded boasting that he can “do anything” to women because of his power, including the notorious line “grab ’em by the pussy”.
These views have no place in 2019. We might be exhausted by the allegations, but do we want to give the leader of the world’s most powerful nation a free pass for appalling behaviour because we’re worn down? Do we want a president who brags that he can do anything to women? “Trump’s gift,” North writes, “is an ability to flood the zone, combined with an absolute confidence that he’ll never face consequences for any of his actions.” It’s our job now to pay attention.