Trump’s Assault on the Capitol: The more powerful the perpetrator …
Maya Angelou’s oft quoted adage goes as follows: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
“The first time,” she wrote. The first time. It’s in those three words that her courage is revealed. Rhetorically, you see, there’s little risk in suggesting that we should believe someone when they’ve left us no choice but to see who they are through volumes of evidence over lengths of time. Of course we should believe them then.
No, it’s Angelou’s invocation of “the first time” through which she portentously foretells; she impeccably pinpoints the truth of the future by presence in the present. “The first time,” she said, an assured affront against our better angels, who would advocate instead that we grant those who trespass against us a second chance or third, or fourth, or …
Yes, it is in those three words that Angelou asserts truth brazenly. “The first time,” she said.
“Grab’em by the pussy,” Trump said four years ago. It was America’s arguable first-time glimpse of the realDonald Trump. Not the confident, grinning, jovial mogully reality star. No, the “moved-on-her-like-a-bitch” sexual predator of 26 allegations by women, not including the many accusations and financial settlements of Epstein-associated girls and boys.
“Grab’em by the pussy” was America’s first kiss with the Donald J. Trump who “showed us” the hardcore sexual predator he is.
“Believe them,” Angelou wrote. “The first time,” she wrote.
“Grab’em,” he said. “By the pussy,” he said.
The contemporary notion of rape, as it is rightly understood, is that it is not about sex, it is about power. It’s about control, domination, patriarchy (in some cases), entitlement, etc. Rape is not about a sexual experience, per se; it is about the taking, the violating, the plundering.
But rape, despite its root in power, is not just about power. It is also about sex. And it is about sex because sex is the weapon through which the rapist seeks power. What makes sex the rapist’s weapon is its intimacy, and its sin (for those who religiously see it as such), and its physical violation, and its psychological domination, and its procreative control. That is why the rapist rapes rather than burgles or robs or, typically, murders. It is the cultural, religious, and physical power of “sex” that the rapist needs for fulfillment. Its power comes in that it strikes where it can hurt the most.
And thus Donald J. Trump. Twenty-six women. Settlements with Epsteinian children. But those predations, though grotesque, were not enough. For sexual predators, there is never enough.
No, Trump needed predation on a grander scale, and he sought it in what our culture values: wealth. But legitimate wealth wouldn’t satisfy a sexual predator any more than would consensual sex, for rape isn’t about sex; rape is about power.
And capitalist predation is not about wealth; it is about power: The contractors not paid. The taxes evaded. The minorities kept from housing. The charities used for personal gain. Those were not about wealth; they were about power.
But those couldn’t satisfy Trump’s need for predation either. There is ultimately little climax in raping capitalism through capitalism; it’s the illusory satisfaction of being loved in a whorehouse.
Which is why Trump ran for president, and also why his presidency has shown no passion for leadership but, instead, an obsessively narcissistic need for even more power, not just in loyalty oaths and self-aggrandizing rallies, but in the predation of what Lady Liberty holds most sacred — democracy itself. Nothing short of our republic itself would satisfy a predatory need to violate that which is most sacred or personal, that which is, assuredly, most intimate.
Trump offers no shortage of evidence of this. Each and all of his actions followed the handbook for sexual predators, which begins by testing and breaking boundaries of a would-be target. That starts with those on the margins. For the sexually predatory heterosexual male, the shy or incapacitated woman at the party. For candidate Trump, the so-called Mexican MS13 rapists stealing our jobs. When America collectively did not stand up to that, he found license to go further. He attacked political debate. He said blood was “coming out of” Megan Kelly’s “wherever,” and asked if anyone would “vote for that” in reference to Carly Fiorlina’s face, and attacked Ted Cruz’s wife as ugly. From there he went on to denounce Gold Star families, cage children, and empower white supremacists.
Again, this process is well-documented in the rapist’s playbook, one you’ll see better described here by Judith Lewis Herman from Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence — From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. Unknowingly, she masterfully describes Trump since his run for office.
“In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.”
“It never happened” Trump and his Republican confederates said about Russian collusion and obstruction of justice. “The victim lies” Trump said about “fake news.” “The victim exaggerates” Trump said about his support of extremist groups. “The victim brought it upon herself” Trump said about the Republicans who fell in primaries when they opposed him. And, if there are any truer words here than Angelou’s, it’s thus proven out that “the more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.”
Those words would be true except for one thing: Trump didn’t ultimately prevail. Trump lost. Trump’s a loser.
But predators can’t stand the flaccidity of being losers.
So, yesterday, by proxy of his supporters, Trump penetrated the Capitol, violating that which we hold most sacred. In doing so, he violated us physically by entering our seat of power. He violated us psychologically by forcing himself into that which we thought was protected and safe, that which would never be touched, that which we held sacred. He violated us through our representatives, not only making them cower in fear but taking, for a time, something more egregious: their power to vote.
In doing so, he sat and watched it on TV in a masturbatory moment of predatory satiation that, by all accounts, he did not want to end. (And if there is a word of caution here, it is that sexual predators are never satisfied; whatever they take today makes them want more tomorrow.)
All said, yesterday, I hope, perhaps offers many men a fractional glimpse of what sexual predation has been to many women (and for all a glimpse of what sexual predation is to any survivors regardless of gender). But the greater point for purposes here is about the collective assault we suffered as democratic people, a point that returns us to the power Angelou bravely pronounced.
“Believe them the first time,” she said.
“Grab’em by the pussy” Trump said.
And grab’us by the pussy he did.
In addition to his more dedicated work on critical thinking, Steven J. Pearlman, Ph.D. spent 30 years in sexual assault prevention, pioneering online programming that educated students on healthy relationships, teaching college courses fusing the academic study of sexual assault with physical self-defense, and consulting for the U.S. military as a subject matter expert.