You might think all of the emerging details about Trump and pornographic actress Stormy Daniels are trivial. You even might think, as many do, that we ought to focus on more important political issues — trade, North Korean nuclear talks, gun safety and so on — and you might be right. The American media gravitates toward stories about sex, corruption, violence and emotion — often at the expense of more pressing political concerns.
Nevertheless, the way Americans and our media treat women like Daniels and McDougal is shameful. We constantly devalue Daniels’ legitimacy as a credible woman. We belittle her profession. We sweep her aside. The narrative goes like this: If we want to be serious about Trump and politics, we can’t get sucked up into the porn star’s story. It’s salacious. It’s ugly. It doesn’t matter.
That’s fine, but we should recognize that our opinion of the scandal is closely bound up with how we think about women like Daniels. In many cases, we think what they do is laughable, silly, stupid, totally whacked out and so everything they say probably is too. They have absolutely no place in American political spaces in that sense, no right to interject themselves into the debate. When they do, it’s just to cause attention, sell their films or prompt their brand. No one knew who Daniels was before, but they do now. That was her goal, right? Not necessarily.
Trump has an extensive record of belittling, attacking and devaluing the women that accuse him of sexually inappropriate behavior. In most cases, those threats are well-financed, well-supported and well-executed. According to Daniels, we know that a man threatened her in a parking lot not to expose Trump. We know that Michael Cohen, Trump’s longterm lawyer, paid her an exorbitant amount of money to keep her mouth shut. We know that The National Enquirer and Trump are closely linked — the former having bought and killed stories about the latter.
Obviously going up against the leviathan that is the Trump brand is dangerous, no matter who you are. Women hardly ever come out on top. And yet, women like Daniels, Karen McDougal, Jessica Leeds, Kristen Anderson and others have tried. All of those women are laudable in their own way.
There’s also the issue of consent that’s doing some important framing of the issue. Unlike other women, Daniels consented to Trump’s advances. That is, she willingly slept with him. Now, that doesn’t mean she wasn’t wronged after the fact. She was relentlessly silenced, pursued, threatened and paid off. Besides, there are a great number of crimes that could’ve happened in the wake of silencing Daniels — campaign finance violations, threats, money laundering and so on. There’s such a strong possibility of wrongdoing that the FBI had to raid Cohen’s house.
No, Daniels isn’t throwing her hat into the ring because she will benefit from doing so. But that’s the story that’s getting pushed.
This isn’t confined to Fox News either. Plenty of pundits on liberal shows like MSNBC have dismissed Daniels on the basis that what she said isn’t particularly relevant; that stories about the president and a porn star shouldn’t matter as much as they do to the American media machine. Bernie Sanders is culpable here too, demanding that CNN move on from talking about the whole thing, and I’ll admit there have been times I made a similar leap.
But you can believe that certain issues take precedent without basing your logic on Daniels’ identity as a porn actress (which she doesn’t shy away from). Her lifestyle choice shouldn’t make her words any less weighty than if they were coming from an “ordinary” woman. She has every right to come forward and to be taken seriously. Like any woman willing to take on Trump, she deserves some credit.