President Donald Trump has finally told us how he regards the #MeToo movement: with #contempt.
Trump announced as much at a rally in Montana on Thursday night, when he mocked the pain of the women and men who have come forward with their experiences of sexual abuse.
The attack was gratuitous, as confused as it was confusing. Trump was imagining a 2020 presidential debate with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and said he would produce a DNA test kit and demand she use it to prove her claim of Native American roots.
“We’re in the #MeToo generation, so I have to be very gentle. And we will very gently take that kit and we will slowly toss it, hoping it doesn’t hit her and injure her arm, even though it only weighs probably 2 ounces,” Trump said.
His pettiness is a form of projection, given that the president has himself been accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women. Trump has a self-absorbed predilection to see everything and everyone as an extension of himself.
But two of his actions earlier in the day spoke even louder of his belief that victims are not to be taken seriously, particularly when the target of their accusations is a political ally of Trump’s.
First came the announcement that Bill Shine would join the White House communications operation.
Shine was toxic, having beenforced out of his executive job at Fox News last year amid allegations that he had enabled the grotesquely predatory behavior of network CEO Roger Ailes by helping to silence women who were abused. But that mattered less than the fact that the new deputy chief of staff is close to Fox News’s loudest Trump booster, Sean Hannity, who reportedly brokered the new White House gig for his former boss.
And then, as Air Force One was heading to Great Falls, Montana, Trump came to the defense of influential conservative Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who has been ensnarled in a growing sexual abuse scandal at Ohio State University. Jordan has denied accusations by four former wrestlers who say that when he was their assistant coach three decades ago, he failed to act when he learned that the team doctor was groping students on the team.
“I don’t believe them at all; I believe him. Jim Jordan is one of the most outstanding people I’ve met since I’ve been in Washington,” Trump told reporters. “I believe him 100 percent. No question in my mind. I believe Jim Jordan 100 percent. He’s an outstanding man.”
No one really knows yet whether there is any basis to the claims, but recent scandals of this nature suggest it would be wise to refrain from prejudging them.
As columnist Christine Brennan wrote in USA Today: “If we’ve learned anything from the horrible scandals at Penn State and USA Gymnastics and Michigan State, it is that we should encourage every effort be made to investigate every former student-athlete’s accusation thoroughly and without bias or distraction, for as long as it takes, wherever it might lead.”
Trump’s reflexive defense of Jordan - who has been among the most ardent critics of the ongoing probe into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election - was strikingly similar to the words he used when Ailes was ousted. (“It’s very sad because he’s a very good person. I’ve always found him to be just a very, very good person. And, by the way, a very, very talented person. Look what he’s done. So I feel very badly.”) He also vouched for the character of disgraced Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. (“Bill’s a good person. I don’t think Bill would do anything wrong.”)
When White House staff secretary Rob Porter left amid accusations that he had abused two former wives, Trump lamented in a tweet: “Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?” The New York Times has since reported that Trump has mulled whether there might be a way to bring Porter back.
He even campaigned for Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore as allegations mounted that Moore had sexually abused teenage girls. (“He says it didn’t happen. And you know, you have to listen to him also.”)
So maybe it was inevitable that, to Trump, #MeToo would all come down to one lame joke, a throwaway line in a stump speech.
It is an old Trump tactic - to demean and diminish. Except the one who ended up looking smaller was Trump himself.
Karen Tumulty is a Washington Post columnist covering national politics.