Of all the decisions Donald Trump has made, few have worked out worse for him than the one to pay Stormy Daniels $130,000 to buy her silence about a brief affair she says she had with him. He might have just allowed her to say what she wanted — after all, it wasn’t like anyone in the world thought Trump was a faithful husband — and the average American voter would never have learned her name.
But he didn’t, eventually it all came out, and Daniels still won’t leave him alone:
Adult-film actress Stormy Daniels announced Wednesday that she will provide new details about her alleged affair with Donald Trump in a forthcoming memoir.
Daniels appeared on ABC’s “The View” to discuss the book and the latest developments in her lawsuits against the president. “Stormy Daniels: Full Disclosure” is due out Oct. 2.
Daniels said the book will highlight her history, experiences and interests outside the Trump maelstrom. But asked how much she had yet to disclose about their alleged affair, she said: “There’s a lot in the book.”
I’m sure this burns him up to no end. She was supposed to be one of the many women he used and discarded, and sure, he had to give her a payoff, but the whole point of a payoff is that you’re supposed to keep your big mouth shut. And she keeps talking.
Daniels is a somewhat unlikely feminist icon, but this is a good reminder that Trump, who was one of the most repugnantly misogynistic figures in American culture even before he ran for president, will wind up doing more for the cause of gender equality than anyone could possibly have imagined.
I mean that in the same sense that he has revived the Democratic Party, creating so much opposition to him that the political landscape has been transformed, potentially for a generation. The election of a standard Republican such as Marco Rubio or John Kasich probably wouldn’t have produced the kind of backlash that results in the gains Democrats are likely to make this fall, not to mention the explosion of grass-roots energy giving new life to a moribund party. In the same way, Trump has made women so distressed, so angry, so fed up that they are driving political change in ways we’ve never seen before.
The president himself would no doubt protest that this isn’t happening at all, and if it is, it can’t possibly have anything to do with him, because as he has said many times, nobody has more respect for women than Donald Trump. Or as he put it once, “I cherish women. I want to help women. I’m going to do things for women that no other candidate will be able to do.”
Women had some reasons to disagree. Maybe it was the regular insulting of women’s looks; or how he bragged that he would burst into the dressing room at the Miss USA pageant so he could watch the contestants undress; or how he defended himself against charges of sexual harassment by saying his accusers weren’t hot enough to harass; or the fact that he cheated on his first wife, then dumped her for a younger model, then cheated on his second wife and dumped her for a yet younger model; or his habit of meeting prepubescent girls and musing on how long it would be before he could date them; or the long list of women who have accused him of sexual misconduct; or the foreign models he exploited; or the fact that he is on tape bragging about his ability to sexually assault women with impunity.
Maybe it was that.
Trump did not at the time receive anything like accountability — he got elected, after all. But his election was the catalyst for the #MeToo movement, which has begun the difficult and painful work of changing the culture of workplace (and non-workplace) harassment that women have had to endure for pretty much all of history. It might have happened eventually, but Trump certainly accelerated the process.
Likewise, the extraordinary influx of women into the political process is in no small part a reaction to Trump. This fall, there will be 234 women on the general election ballot for the House, 22 for the Senate and 15 for governorships — all records. Most of them are Democrats, and many of them — not to mention the thousands more running for state and local offices — will say that they decided to run because Trump made them so mad.
And they are mad. Right now Trump’s approval ratings among women are about 30 percent, 20 points lower than among men.
That’s not to mention the fact that there will probably be at least three women running for president in 2020 (Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris), and perhaps more. The chances that Trump will face a woman in his reelection bid are quite strong. And if Michael Cohen’s prosecution winds up putting Trump in legal jeopardy? That’ll be because of Stormy Daniels. Everywhere Trump looks, women are after him.
If you want to take a long and optimistic view, you might predict that years from now, we’ll look back and say that the Trump era in American politics led to a sea change in the tolerance of sexual harassment, a huge influx of women into public office, which itself led to changes in policy that benefited women, and even (possibly) the election of the first female president. Just as Barack Obama’s presidency produced a backlash of ugly white nationalism that culminated in Trump’s election, the Trump presidency could produce a far more salutary backlash that brings significant progress toward gender equality.
Is that viewing our current moment through rose-colored glasses? Perhaps. But out of even this ordeal, some good may come.