Why Harvey Weinstein is disgraced but Donald Trump is president – Vox
Sunday, November 5, 2017
The allegations against Weinstein and Trump are strikingly similar. Why have the outcomes been so different?
The story, by now, reads as familiar. Summer Zervos got her big break appearing on a network television show. This was 2007, and Zervos was a young woman from Orange County, California, eager to take the next step in her career. But then her role on the show ended.
She reached out to the man behind the show, a man who was rich and powerful and connected. She wanted another job. She wanted advice. And he was happy to meet with her. He invited her to his office, in New York.
When she arrived, she says the man immediately kissed her onthe mouth. It made her uncomfortable, but she rationalized it. Maybe this is just how he greets people, she thought. He told her she was great, she was smart, she was attractive. He said he would love to work with her more. When the meeting was over, she remembers, he kissed her on the mouth again.
Time passed. The powerful man called Zervos to say he was coming to the West Coast. They made plans to meet at the Beverly Hills Hotel and go out to dinner. When Zervos arrived, she was brought to the man’s bungalow. She says he immediately began kissing her, open-mouthed. She pulled away. He asked her to come sit next to him. She did so. He began kissing her again, and grabbed her breast. She moved across the room. He followed her, embraced her, and rubbed his crotch against her.
The details of Zervos’s legal complaint are familiar to anyone who has followed the Harvey Weinstein scandal. All the elements are there: the power imbalance. The putatively professional meetings that are actually settings for sexual assault. The older man trading on the connections he can offer, the plum jobs he controls, to pressure a younger woman into sex.
But Summer Zervos’s story isn’t about Harvey Weinstein. It’s about Donald J. Trump.
Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice, first came forward with her allegations against Trump last October, and filed suit against him in New York state court in January. Trump’s legal team is trying to get the case dismissed. Zervos’s lawyers, meanwhile, have subpoenaed any documents the Trump campaign might have on Zervos and nine other women who have made accusations against Trump, as well as “any woman alleging that Donald J. Trump touched her inappropriately.”
Since the allegations against Weinstein became public earlier this month, many have noted the similarities with Trump: two powerful men, both repeatedly accused of using their power and fame and wealth to prey on women sexually. One big difference, though, as some of Trump’s accusers have pointed out, is that while Weinstein has been ousted from his company and denounced by former friends, Trump is president of the United States, and enjoys the continued backing of his party and political allies. This difference says a lot, not just about the mores of Washington and Hollywood but about partisanship, power, and accountability.
The allegations against Weinstein and Trump are strikingly similar
To date, Weinstein has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by more than 50 women. At least 17 women have accused Trump of harassing, assaulting, or otherwise violating them. Both men have been accused of touching women against their will, of making unsolicited and sexualized comments about women’s bodies, of using their power to coerce women into sex and to protect themselves in the aftermath.
Both men have been caught on tape. In a recording published by the New Yorker, Weinstein appears to admit to groping model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, and pressures her to come to his room. In the infamous Access Hollywood tape released last October, Trump bragged that his celebrity status allowed him to touch women: “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he said. “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” After the tape was released, several women, including Zervos, came forward to say that Trump had done the things he described, kissing and touching them without their consent.
Trump also boasted to Howard Stern about going backstage at the beauty pageants he owned and seeing the contestants naked. “I’m allowed to go in, because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it,” he said. “And you see these incredible looking women, and so I sort of get away with things like that.”
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A number of former pageant contestants have said that Trump did in fact walk in on them while they were changing. “Our first introduction to him was when we were at the dress rehearsal and half naked changing into our bikinis,” Tasha Dixon, who competed in the Miss USA pageant in 2001, told CBS Los Angeles last year. “He just came strolling right in. There was no second to put a robe on or any sort of clothing or anything. Some girls were topless. Other girls were naked.”
Weinstein allegedly bragged to women about actresses with whom he’d had sex. Trump made similar claims, according to Barbara Res, who worked with Trump for about 18 years. “He used to talk about famous women calling him and wanting him, even when he was married,” she said. No one believed him, she added, “but he had that tendency to equate his greatness with his conquering of women.”
Both men also used deep relationships with the gossip press and a powerful armada of lawyers and legal threats to try to bully both alleged victims and reporters into silence. Weinstein’s litigiousness was legendary, and he allegedly silenced victims through settlements with ironclad nondisclosure agreements and intimidated journalists with threats of lawsuits.
Trump, too, has used his legal resources as a shield. When the Daily Beast reported that Ivana Trump, Donald Trump’s first wife, accused him of rape in a deposition, Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen responded ferociously. “I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse,” he told the reporter. “And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know. So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?”
Similarly, as the allegations against Trump mounted during the campaign, Trump issued an ominous threat. “Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign,” he said at an October campaign rally. “Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.”
Weinstein and Trump are also connected, in a way, by lawyer Lisa Bloom. She advised Weinstein before resigning as allegations against him began to intensify, and she has also represented four Trump accusers, including Jill Harth, who has accused Trump of harassing and assaulting her after they met in 1992. “The work I had done against Donald Trump, especially with Jill Harth, was very prominent in my mind when I was working with Harvey Weinstein,” Bloom said.
“All my clients say the same thing,” she said: “‘Why don’t these guys just admit it and apologize? That would make a big difference in my life.’” Working with Weinstein, she believed, would be a chance to finally get a powerful man to apologize for his behavior with women. The apology Weinstein issued as allegations against him began to break, Bloom said, “was very big to me.”
Trump, meanwhile, is unlikely to apologize, she said. “He is never going to admit that he made a mistake.”
Trump himself has said as much. “I didn’t even apologize to my wife, who is sitting right here,” he said during the third presidential debate, “because I didn’t do anything. I don’t know any of these women.”
Weinstein’s community rejected him — Trump’s hasn’t
In the days after Ashley Judd, Asia Argento, and several other women publicly accused Harvey Weinstein of harassment and assault in the New York Times and the New Yorker, Weinstein was fired from the Weinstein Company and kicked out of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His brother Bob (who has now been accused of sexual harassment as well) called him a predator and said, “I want him to get the justice that he deserves.”
Photo by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images
In the wake of the Access Hollywood tape’s release, a few Republican members of Congress pulled their endorsements of Trump. But the party leadership remained behind him, even when women came forward with specific allegations. The reason was simple: They needed him.
“Nobody was willing to take him to task because that would’ve meant electing Hillary Clinton,” said Jennifer Lawless, the director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University. Weinstein could be deposed and replaced without seriously threatening the power of those around him, but losing the election to a Democrat would have had serious consequences for Republicans. “When you behave badly in the political arena, it’s possible to suffer fewer consequences because of partisanship,” Lawless said.
While an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted just after the Access Hollywood tape’s release found Clinton with an 11-point lead over Trump, a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted around the same time gave her just a 4-point lead. In that poll, almost 70 percent of respondents said Trump had probably made unwanted sexual advances on women. But 64 percent of respondents — and 84 percent of Republicans — said the tape would make no difference in how they voted.
“It’s not only the Republicans in Congress” who were willing to give Trump a pass, said Lawless. “It’s also the country. People think this behavior is unacceptable, but when push comes to shove, there are circumstances under which they’ll tolerate it because there are other things that matter more to them.”
Those things surely varied, to some degree, from voter to voter. Trump won 53 percent of white women and 61 percent of white women without college degrees. The latter group, as Tara Golshan reported for Vox, has been growing more conservative in recent years, and tends to have more conservative views on gender issues. In a Washington Post/ABC poll last year, about four in 10 women (and four in 10 men) said that Trump’s comments on the Access Hollywood tape were typical “locker room talk” — his excuse at the time.
Then there is the strange role elections play as validators of moral behavior in American politics. If then-FBI Director James Comey had never sent his infamous letter, and Hillary Clinton had held another 2 or 3 percentage points in the popular vote and decisively won the Electoral College, it is possible, perhaps even likely, that Trump would’ve been widely rejected in the aftermath as an abuser whose actions cost the Republican Party the election. But because he won — and with his win gained power over everything from the tax code to Supreme Court nominations to the nuclear armada — the incentive for the political system is to move on, and the tendency for the media is to suggest that the American people acted as Trump’s judge, and their verdict, such as it is, must be respected.
Will Weinstein’s fall change Trump’s future?
As the allegations against Weinstein continue, some have started to wonder whether the outpouring will refocus attention on Trump’s past with women. “Please, may this empower people to step forward about Trump,” the hostess at a gathering of former Weinstein employees said to Dana Goodyear of the New Yorker. “Trump women can come through and throw him down. That would be the biggest play women can make. That’s what we need to do.”
But many women have come forward to accuse Trump — and so far, their stories have resulted in little action. “The Trump voters gave him a pass on all of these allegations,” said Bloom. “They heard him admitting it on the Access Hollywood tape, and bragging about it, and even explaining why he did it,” she said. “Everybody heard that, and his voters still voted for him.”
Rebecca Traister has argued at the Cut that perhaps Weinstein could only be ousted when his power in Hollywood was already on the wane. The same could be said of Bill Cosby and Roger Ailes — allegations against them began to stick when they were old men, no longer at the peak of their careers. As the accusations against Bill O’Reilly piled up, he remained valuable to Fox News — this February, the network’s parent company signed a four-year contract paying him $25 million a year, despite a fresh $32 million sexual harassment settlement between O’Reilly and a legal analyst, according to the New York Times. But as Jeff Guo noted at Vox, O’Reilly’s ratings were dipping — and an advertiser boycott meant it may have made business sense for Fox to let him go.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Meanwhile, Trump is president of the United States. What’s more, the sheer number of accusations against him, concerning everything from sexual misconduct to obstruction of justice, may actually work in his favor. Allegations of sexual harassment and assault are “just part of this much, much broader set of reasons that people think he’s not equipped to be president,” Lawless said. That allows his administration to dismiss the harassment and assault accusations as “just one more thing that Democrats are throwing at the wall” — and that argument works on voters “who feel like no matter what this guy does, there’s a new investigation.”
“We’ve gotten to a point now where there are so many concerns about so many facets of his presidency that it’s hard for any of them to be damning,” Lawless said.
That doesn’t mean the Weinstein allegations will have no impact. They have focused public attention on gender dynamics, said Lawless, which could benefit Democrats in 2018. They’re likely to campaign not just on the sexual misconduct allegations against Trump but also on the Education Department’s rollback of Obama-era sexual assault guidelines and on the administration’s ban on transgender recruits in the military. “Democrats are going to make the case that we need a government and public policies to ensure that we have not only an equal playing field but one that is just,” Lawless said.
The Weinstein revelations and the ensuing conversation could make voters take allegations of sexual assault or harassment by political candidates more seriously in the future, said Res, Trump’s former employee. The next time such allegations come out, “it will be worse for the candidate than it was for Trump.”
But Trump himself likely wields too much authority now to pay for his abuses — too many other interests and politicians and factions would find themselves damaged if he were to fall.
This is, perhaps, the depressing lesson of the Weinstein and Trump stories. The allegations are similar. The evidence is similar. But power still protects, and while Weinstein had lost enough power to imperil his protection, Trump has only amassed more.
“Trump has a lifetime of doing things that would be found to be unacceptable and reprehensible in other people and would have led to their downfall,” said Tony Schwartz, Trump’s ghostwriter on The Art of the Deal, “and he has consistently, since a very early age, been able to survive his own behavior.”
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