E. Jean Carroll says that the President of the United States raped her. The President of the United States says that it is part of his official duty to deny that allegation. We reached the end of metaphor about when the murder hornets landed, so I will refrain from saying this situation is a metaphor for most women’s experience of sexual assault. It simply is most women’s experience of sexual assault. Those in power must deny all wrongdoing; it is the job of power to do so.
I saw that the President enlisted the services of “his Roy Cohn” (William Barr/the entire Department of Justice) to defend him against the libel suit brought by Carroll. The argument, such as it is, goes that Trump was “acting within the scope of his office as President of the United States” when he said of Carroll—and for some reason this isn’t in the Department’s brief—“She’s not my type.”
To be very clear about this: The claim is that the President of the United States was acting within the scope of his office when defended himself against a charge of rape by saying the survivor was “not his type.” He questioned her integrity because, he implied, he would not rape a woman “not his type.” Other women, who knows, he might rape them. But he certainly would not have raped Carroll, because she’s not his type.
I’m saying the word “rape” a lot here, because I am struggling to dredge up the anger I know I should feel. I don’t want to be angry, but I fear the hollow space in my heart where the anger should be is a black hole with a gravitational pull of its own. I fear anger was just the first emotion to disappear into the void.
Other writers have likened Trump’s relationship with America to that of an abusive partner. An overbroad comparison, but what resonates in it is the numbingly relentless descent into ever-more-unthinkable degrees of degradation—the anesthetic of denial, the way trauma becomes a barely recognized sign, of only passing interest even to oneself. After the first few, each new injury is not so different from the last one, there will be more to come. And, yes, the dissipation of anger.
Anyone who presents as female has traveled a version of this path by dint of existing in America today. Sexual aggression and gender discrimination can’t be fully recognized in every instance— it would take too much time, if nothing else. We have places to be, things to do.
So we minimize and make our memories slipperier than they should be. The signs blend together; the only thing worth writing home about would have to be big, would have to be amazing, would have to be YUGE. That’s what Carroll did, keeping to herself and a few close friends the details of the achingly on-brand incident. (Did it happen in a New York landmark? Yes it did. Did it involve Trump bragging about his wealth and attractiveness? Of course.)
Some men have found her silence suspect. How could you not talk about a rape? Other men will know exactly how easy it is to be silent about rape, those committed and those survived.
I wonder if anger is the first emotion to be sacrificed in any repressive regime. Anger (as ugly as it can be) is our most instinctive response to injustice. Appeals to sympathy and even courage come later, but they are often kindled with a flare of rage. You snuff out anger, and you turn down the volume of protest in general.
Anger is energy, but it takes energy, and we’re all so tired, all the time. Maybe that’s the good news, though! That rage we need — I need — isn’t exhausted, I am. We are. Maybe the optimistic take here is that we’re all just one really good night’s sleep away from burning this motherfucker down. Semi-quarantine isn’t wearing us away, it’s drying us out. We’re all just powder kegs in yoga pants, nitroglycerine made unstable by Zoom calls, bad food, and marching with masks on.
Go off, as the young folks say. Go off unless you already have. And then, of course, go off again.