Opinion What the Trump rape trial has already revealed
“I’m here because Donald Trump raped me, and when I wrote about it, he said it didn’t happen.”
That is the testimony of E. Jean Carroll, searing and raw nearly three decades after the alleged attack in a dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman in New York.
It is important — no, it is imperative — not to sanitize Carroll’s testimony this week in a Manhattan federal courtroom. We have become so inured, so numb, to stories about Trump’s behavior that it is tempting to minimize the case.
After all, it is just one of many — who can keep straight the gusher of allegations and indictments, actual and impending? It is simply another sordid example of Trump’s behavior, unmoored and, as yet, unpunished: The adult-film star paid off; the Playboy model whose tale of an affair with Trump was captured and killedbefore she could peddle it; “When you’re a star, they let you do it.” Oh, that. Whatever. We knew that.
We did, but we need to hear it again, and to remind ourselves of how far Trump has dragged us down into the gutter with him, reduced to his level of tawdry entitlement. The account being heard by a Manhattan jury is not only about a former president — it is also about a man who, by all measures, seems poised to claim his party’s nomination a third time.
Trump, Carroll said, “shoved me so hard my head banged” against the dressing room wall. He pulled down her tights and “jammed” his fingers inside her.
“His fingers went into my vagina, which was extremely painful — extremely painful. It was a horrible feeling because he curved — he put his hand inside of me and curved his fingers,” Carroll said. “As I'm sitting here today, I can still feel it.”
Indelible in the hippocampus are the fingers. If only this trial were televised.
I do not want to think about this. I do not want to make you think about it. And yet, we must. This is where Trump has brought us all. This is the person who wants to return to the presidency.
Carroll is far from the perfect plaintiff. She can’t precisely pin down the date of the alleged encounter. She didn’t report an assault — indeed, when she called a friend to relate the incident right after leaving Bergdorf’s, Carroll was laughing. “He raped you. He raped you, E. Jean. You should go to the police,” the friend, writer Lisa Birnbach, told her.
When, years later, after Trump’s election, Carroll wrote about it in a book, she made unsettling comments about rape on CNN: “I think most people think rape is sexy. Think of the fantasies.”
But if there is anything we’ve learned in the last three decades — since Anita Hill, since #MeToo — it is that perfection is both uncommon and unnecessary. People follow their harassers to new jobs, and yet they were harassed. They don’t go to police, and yet they were assaulted. Rape is rape, even if it starts with romance or flirtation. The victim inevitably blames herself.
“I was ashamed,” Carroll testified about why she didn’t go public. “I thought it was my fault.” And, she said, with a daily show called “Ask E. Jean” on an obscure cable channel run by the man who went on to run Fox News, “Roger Ailes would have fired me. He was a friend of Donald Trump.”
Trump’s defense is a jumble of his customary misogyny, victimhood and dishonesty. “She’s not my type,” he said — an assertion undercut by the fact that when he was being deposed by Carroll’s lawyers, Trump mistook a picture of Carroll for that of his former wife Marla Maples. Carroll, in Trump’s telling, is the pawn of his Democratic enemies, in it for political payback, fame and cash.
And, Trump claims, the encounter never happened. “Does anybody believe I would take a then almost 60-year-old woman that I didn’t know, from the front door of a very crowded department store, (with me being very well known, to put it mildly!), into a tiny dressing room, and … her,” Trump wrote on his social media site, Truth Social, on Tuesday.
Does anybody not believe it? Carroll’s accusations — and, by the way, she would have been in her early 50s at the time — are consistent with Trump’s pattern of behavior, both self-proclaimed and extensively reported. This is an admitted pussy grabber.
As Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ruled in allowing Carroll’s lawyers to introduce that evidence, “A jury reasonably could find … that Mr. Trump admitted in the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape that he in fact has had contact with women’s genitalia in the past without their consent, or that he has attempted to do so.”
The cross-examination, which began on Thursday, followed a predictable victim-blaming playbook, straight out of the 1950s. If Trump attacked her against her will, defense attorney Joe Tacopina demanded of Carroll, why didn’t she scream? She had described trying to push Trump off her but being overpowered.
“One of the reasons women don’t come forward is because they’re always asked, 'Why didn’t you scream?’” she said. Trump, she added, “raped me whether I screamed or not.”
In his opening statement, Tacopina suggested, “It all comes down to: Do you believe the unbelievable?”
Really? A better way to look at the case is this: Do you believe denials — denials Trump won’t repeat in court — from a man who has been accused of similar behavior by dozens of other women and who bragged about engaging in such conduct? Or do you believe a woman who has corroboration from two friends, who will testify?
What is unbelievable is that this man, this immoral creature, still has sway over so many Americans. It would be comforting to imagine that a verdict in Carroll’s favor could break that spell, but we have learned the hard way: nothing will."