Accountability? At last? But will it matter?
What a moment.
We have a jury finding in a Manhattan civil trial that Donald Trump sexually abused and defamed E. Jean Carroll.
We will dive into the implications in a bit, but first let’s step back and consider the big picture: A jury of Trump’s peers considered the evidence, listened to the arguments, and found that the former president engaged in sexual abuse.
When people look back years from now at this jury decision, will they see it as a watershed moment that wasn’t fully appreciated at the time? Or will they see this as just another example, after so many, that this man can do anything, no matter how horrid, and still claim a slavish following among a large number of Americans, including a majority of the Republican Party?
One suspects it will be some of both.
First off, let us take care to be precise. This was a civil trial and not a criminal one. That means the former president will not be heading to prison, nor will he have a criminal record. It also means that the threshold for finding against him was lower. And he says he intends to appeal, which is his right.
Still, it is clear that the jury found Carroll’s testimony credible. And when you consider the story she told of the assault and her reasons for not coming forward sooner, the effect is harrowing.
It is fitting that the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged that when you’re famous, you can grab women anywhere on their body played a key role in this trial. When that confession was made public in 2016, its impact was dulled by the man’s subsequent election. It was understandable, in the aftermath, to conclude that it didn’t matter. Today in Manhattan, it mattered. This case, that tape, and the narrative they connect along with dozens of other credible accusations of sexual harassment and assault against Trump will be an indelible part of this man’s biography. With this development, as with so much else about him, history’s verdict will be harsh.
In the here and now, though, one must wonder what if anything has changed along our charged political divide. It’s difficult to see this hurting Trump in the polls, at least with Republican primary voters. After all, credible accusations of sexual harassment and assault were already baked into how millions of voters see him — a devil to some, a savior to others.
In assessing what this all means, however, it is important that we consider that Trump was right when he said that when you’re famous, you can get away with a lot. Throughout his life, he has embodied the power imbalance and privilege that come from being white, male, and wealthy in America. Democrats cheering today should contend with similar allegations against some of their heroes, notably Bill Clinton and John Kennedy, among others.
The truth is that this kind of behavior is still seldom made public, let alone punished. And it is understandable that, with these odds, few women come forward. Carroll did, and she risked a lot in doing so. Her courage was validated along with her pain.
One can’t help but hope and maybe even believe that actions that were once normalized, excused, or ignored no longer are thus. Part of the necessity of wrestling with the past is that the trauma and injustices it contains can become blueprints for change in building a better future.
E. Jean Carroll put herself and her story into the narrative of our times in a way that just might make a difference. Or at least get us pointed more resolutely in the right direction.
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What Ms. Carroll did was exceedingly brave. I hope she has some satisfaction in knowing that this horrible man at least was held up to the light...and a jury did not buy his story.
Stormy Daniels and E Jean Carroll. Two exceptionally brave women who stood up to a serial sexual predator and so far the only two to land punches against the biggest bully in America. Thank you E Jean!!!!!