Among Trump’s macho staff, men have long enjoyed the benefit of the doubt when there is suspicion of misconduct toward women — this week included. This way, the president also protects himself.
“He says he's innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent…. We certainly wish him well.” Those are the words Donald Trump used Friday in reference to Rob Porter, a senior adviser in the White House, who quit earlier this week. According to revelations on the research site The Intercept, among others, Porter heavily abused two ex-wives.
One of them, Colbie Holderness, published photos showing herself with a black eye. Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, filed for a restraining order against Porter. Porter denies abusing his ex wives, though did admit to name-calling. Both women shared their stories with the FBI. Porter was then denied permanent security clearance, Willoughby said, but did get a job in the White House. Together with Chief of Staff John Kelly, Porter became the gatekeeper for Trump. He determined what landed on the president’s desk, and with whom the president spoke.
“A Man of True Integrity and Honor”
Porter’s resignation has caused a chaotic past few days. The American media verified the fact that several White House employees had known about the domestic abuse allegations for a long time. According to The Washington Post, Chief of Staff Kelly heard about the allegations in the fall of 2017, but did nothing. Just last week, Kelly called Porter “a man of true integrity and honor” and “a friend, a confidante.” One day later, after a flurry of reports in the press, Kelly said that he was “shocked,” but that Porter was entitled to defend his innocence.
However, the affair shows more than internal chaos alone. The Trump world is exceptionally masculine. The vast majority of the presidential staff consists of men. Only a few women have a visible, prominent role: White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway, Communications Director Hope Hicks, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.
The row over Porter initially followed a pattern that Trump has flawlessly pursued over the past few years. When a man who enjoys Trump’s approval is accused of bullying, abuse, violence or misogyny, a denial suffices.
String of Incidents
It had already begun during the presidential election campaign, when Trump’s then-campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, grabbed Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields. According to Fields, she was yanked down, and she tweeted a picture of her bruised arm. Lewandowski denied it. Fields lost her job at Breitbart, while Lewandowski remained campaign manager for months.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s long-time chief strategist, was also accused of abuse. In 1996, the police noted red marks on his former wife, and Bannon was charged with domestic abuse. He has not been convicted. Bannon and Trump split earlier this year.
The Porter situation is similar to the way in which Trump supported Senate candidate Roy Moore in Alabama. Moore seemed effortlessly able to become a senator in the conservative state, but allegations of sexual abuse surfaced one after the other. Moore allegedly abused underage girls and assaulted and raped women.
Moore denied it and said that the media and the Democrats had conspired against him. Trump said: “He [Moore] denies it. He says it didn’t happen. And you have to listen to him also.” It is almost verbatim the way Trump now defends Porter.
Female Complainants About Trump “Lie”
The denial is always worth more than the allegation. Significant detail: On Friday, Trump did not spend a single word on the women who accused Porter. Whoever loses his or her job over the story in the White House, will do so because the story leaked unintentionally. There is a mutual agreement between Trump and his voters that men get the benefit of the doubt. And that understanding also protects Trump. After the release of the so-called “Access Hollywood” tape in 2016, in which Trump bragged about assaulting women, 19 women came forward with allegations of sexual abuse occurring between the 1980s and 2013. The White House position is that all these women have lied.
At the end of last year, the Pew Center studied how Democrats and Republicans view male-female relations. Its conclusion indicates why the White House follows such a consistent course. According to Pew, there is a consensus among Americans that the traditional roles of women and men are changing, and that there is increasing equality between the sexes. But while most Democrats welcome that trend, many Republicans consider it a threat.
According to Pew, more than three-fourths of Republicans think it is a good thing that society looks up to “masculine men.” Less than half of Democrats agree. According to the researchers, Trump voters disapprove of boys getting “girl tasks” and believe society is becoming “too soft.” Attempts to achieve equality between men and women go too far, according to most Republican voters.
Role for Chief of Staff Kelly
This explains why the #MeToo debate, which has caused drastic changes in the U.S., has largely bypassed the White House. Trump and his entourage are mostly immune to such accusations because they do not affect their voters.
Chief of Staff Kelly said last year, “... when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore…”
Kelly now has to defuse an internal crisis dealing with precisely this — and that crisis is only spreading. On Friday night, speechwriter David Sorensen abruptly quit. His ex-wife accused him in The Washington Post of severe physical and mental abuse. The White House says that the allegations were disclosed a day earlier and that Sorensen quit voluntarily. Sorensen denies abusing his wife.