Captain Renault Visits the Election

Donald Trump apologizes for making lewd comments in 2005.

I suppose there were some people who were genuinely shocked by the October-surprise video dropped a couple days ago in which Donald Trump says crude things about women in 2005. I’d wager that most people, however, were like Captain Renault in Casablanca: they professed to be “shocked, shocked” that gambling was going on at Rick’s Café, even though they knew perfectly well that it was.


As I noted when I first wrote about Donald Trump back in July 2015, Trump has been a publicly known quantity ever since the 1980s when Spy magazine anathematized him as a “short-fingered vulgarian.”

Indeed. In my view, the coarse, misogynistic banter captured on that Access Hollywood video is of a piece with Trump’s calling Rosie O’Donnell “a fat pig” and his similarly porcine comments about a former beauty contestant.

Was the video worse? Maybe. Why? Because . . . women. That is, Trump crudely trespassed against a protected species. The reaction would have been similar though, given the hierarchy of protected species, probably not quite so severe, had he said something equally crude about blacks.

But the truth is, the widespread revulsion against Trump’s comments was only partly because of what he said. That was bad, no doubt. But just as important, I suspect, was the medium. Somehow, things caught on tape — especially video — have an immediacy and a purchase on the public’s imagination that surpasses “mere” direct observation. My friend Andy McCarthy took note of this phenomenon in his NR column on the “pussygate” video. “When it comes to societal perceptions,” Andy writes, “audio and video changes everything. . . .”

We really don’t know anything about Donald Trump today that we didn’t know yesterday. But the power of a tape to make its mark on our consciousness is simply unequaled by written and oral descriptions. Very often, an accused who faces devastating eyewitness testimony rolls the dice and goes to trial, hoping the witnesses’ accounts can be shaken. But a defendant facing a tape-recording of his crimes pleads guilty. That’s just the way it goes.

Andy concludes that Trump’s comments, captured as they were in technicolor for all to see and hear, were so beyond the pale that Trump was “unelectable” and should therefore now “step aside.”


A lot of people feel that way. John McCain, never a Trump fan, has withdrawn his “conditional” support: “Cindy and I will not vote for Donald Trump,” he said yesterday. Ditto Paul Ryan, who called off plans to campaign with Trump yesterday, Mike Lee, Carly Fiorina, and many others I respect.

The current situation reminds me of those innumerable Star Trek episodes when the Enterprise comes under attack and Captain Kirk asks his faithful engineer Scotty for a damage report. It’s always bad.  “Shields are down, Captain, and the warp drive is shattered.”

Of course, there are lots of other dramas where there is an attack followed by calls for a damage report. But Star Trek is more apposite than most in the present case because it is easy to imagine that the attack on the Enterprise came from the Enterprise itself, caught in a time warp 11 years in the past.  So it is with Donald Trump. His earlier self came back from oblivion to mount the attack, aided, to be sure, by whatever Clinton surrogate had been hoarding the tape.

That’s one of the most curious things about Donald Trump. His most effective enemy throughout this campaign has been himself.

In late August, I wrote a “New York Letter” for the September issue of the Australian magazine Quadrant. It is not widely known that the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, the genius behind the film Rashomon, has weighed in posthumously on the 2016 American presidential election, but so it is.  In fact, as I report in that column, he did so after the fashion of Rashomon, providing several competing possible narratives.  Here is a bit from “Scenario One: Reverberations in the Echo Chamber.”

All unfolded as was foretold from the beginning. It was always going to be Hillary Clinton in 2016. The campaign of Bernie Sanders, we now can see, was just a distraction, mildly irritating to team Clinton, but no match for the zeitgeist, which the first female president of the United States has clearly embodied.

On the other side of the aisle, it was Snow Don and the sixteen dwarves, Sleepy, Grumpy, Happy, Dopey, and the rest.

The dwarves were euthanised one after the next, much to the surprise of the punditocracy. (Aside from your host: I certainly shared in that surprise.)

This is Kurosawa, not Disney, however, and so the poisoned apple was not proffered by Evil Queen Hillary but was brought along by Donald Trump himself in his lunch pail. He ate it in public, for all to see, and then exploded, in slow motion, as Hillary scooped up an astonishing victory almost as robust as what Ronald Reagan enjoyed in 1984.


And here is scenario five, “Death by the Polls.”

What started as a post-convention bounce for Hillary was transformed by the media into a sort of polling snowball. The attacks on Donald Trump were unremitting. His every off-the-cuff remark was scrutinized for misogynistic, xenophobic, violent undercurrents. More and more GOP figureheads defected. His poll numbers plummeted. After Labor Day Hillary was ahead by nearly twenty points. As at Belshazzar’s Feast, the writing was on the wall: Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin: “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.”

Paul Manafort quit as Trump’s campaign manager and went to work for Kim Jong Un. Eric and Ivanka Trump took their father aside and explained that the Trump brand would be unrecoverably damaged if he persisted with the campaign. Trump held a press conference at Trump Tower, announced that the election was “rigged” against him and withdrew from the race. Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels jumped into the race and led the Republicans to victory in November.

Is that going to happen? I doubt it.  At the moment, it doesn’t look as if Donald Trump will withdraw. Perhaps that will change after his debate with Hillary Clinton tonight. If Trump performs poorly — no, that’s not right: if he does not emerge triumphant from the encounter, he is likely to be doomed.  If he senses that, he might well throw in the towel to preserve what he can of his “brand” and his business empire. We’ll see.

I wanted to weigh in on this latest drama before the debate in order to call attention to a curiosity in the response to the Access Hollywood video.  It is this. In much of the commentary — the shocked bits as well as the “shocked, shocked” bits — it is assumed that there is something uniquely heinous and disqualifying about Trump’s comments, something that sets him apart from, and much lower than, anything Hillary Clinton has done or said.


I find this odd. Trump’s comments were rude, crude, and misogynistic.  But, to adapt a line from the American Thinker‘s Jack Hellner, against Trump’s dirty talk we must set Hillary actual corruption. Just this past week, Hellner notes, the Department of Justice dropped “the case against a gunrunner from Hillary’s Libya fiasco whose testimony would certainly have harmed Obama and Hillary.”

– Evidence surfaced that the White House participated in the cover-up of Hillary’s violation of national security laws with her private server even though they said they absolutely knew nothing about the server and would not interfere with an investigation.

– We have learned more this week about how the investigation of Hillary by the Justice Department and FBI was a pure sham as they gave immunity to so many, took so much stuff off limits, and even carried out the destruction of evidence. The email investigation was pretend, just like the IRS investigation and any supposed investigation of the Clinton Foundation. It is clear that the White House, Justice Department, State Department, and IRS are working specifically to protect Obama and Hillary instead of working for the American people.

– Aleppo and Syria are deteriorating rapidly despite [irony alert!]  Obama and Kerry being extremely tough and telling Russia and Assad to stop it. . . .

– An NSA contractor who committed the same crime as Hillary by keeping classified documents at home on several nonsecure devices is under arrest. Why isn’t Hillary?

But eleven years ago Donald Trump was caught on tape saying disgusting things about women. Which is worse?

Part of the argument against Trump is that, whatever his policies — on the Supreme Court, on energy, on taxes, on economic growth, on immigration, on national security — forget all that: even if you vastly prefer his policies to Hillary’s, you can’t vote for him because he is a bad person. Vide, most recently, that video.


I can certainly see how someone could watch that video and conclude, “This guy is a major-league creep.”

But — critical question — compared to whom? In a column called “The Republican White Togas at Work for the Queen of Sleaze” Clarice Feldman puts that question into context. “Just as evidence of the Clinton corruption is once again made manifest in the release of more of her emails and a closer look at the late revised Clinton foundation filings,” Feldman writes, “they [they of the white togas]  flee Trump because of a suspiciously timed tape of an eleven-year-old conversation with GHW Bush’s nephew, Billy Bush. If, like a toddler, you are easily distracted by shining objects. you’ll fall for it. If you’re a grownup who realizes the fate of the world and this country depend on your vote you won’t.”

Feldman marshals a damning litany of Hillary’s depredations, including her role in destabilizing Libya, Syria, and creating the international refugee crisis. But since creepy sex talk is at the center of the Access Hollywood video, Feldman’s comments on that aspect of the situation are particularly pertinent. “I used to be a Democrat,” Feldman notes,

so nothing shocks me, but Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, and others quickly virtue-signaled, in effect playing for Hillary.

Mitt’s response was the most perfervid. He claimed the taped words “demean our wives and daughters and corrupt America’s face to the world”.

Feldman then quotes an online corespondent:

The premier arts center in the nation’s capital is named for a man who would have sex with anything that had breasts and a pulse, including a mobster’s daughter and an East German spy, whose brother probably had Marilyn Monroe murdered, and whose other brother got an employee drunk, drove her into a river and left her to drown.

The former “conscience of the Senate” was a former klansman, and pretty much every public building in his state is named for him.

The husband of the current Democrat candidate for President (and a former President himself) settled a lawsuit for sexual harassment against a former employee, sodomized an intern in the Oval Office, and had about a million other sordid affairs, while his wife the current candidate used her taxpayer-paid staff to shred the reputations of her husband’s victims.

All of those things happened while the criminals in question actually held high office.



But Trump said unpardonable things in a private conversation eleven years ago.

I am not defending Trump’s comments. As an exasperated friend wrote when she learned about the video, “it’s about the person I am tying to hope will become President.”

A lot of us feel that way.

Andy McCarthy may be right (he usually is) that this video has effectively ended Trump’s campaign.  We’ll know a lot more after tonight’s debate. But this whole episode reminds me of that Latin tag “Fiat justitia, et pereat mundus”: “Let there be justice, though the world perish.”

You might not be keen about the prospect of having Donald Trump entertain your daughter, or your wife.  But when you step back and consider the stakes in this election, you might just conclude that private imperfections are preferable to public corruption and incompetence.


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