Until now, President Trump has remained understandably, if uncharacteristically, silent about the most important cultural shift of the moment, #MeToo. That’s probably because he’s been #MeToo’ed along with scores of other powerful men, and a few women. About 20 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct of one sort or another dating back for decades and there’s audio of him bragging to “Access Hollywood” about grabbing women “by the pussy.” What could Trump say with a straight face on the subject that wouldn’t sound self-serving, insincere or creepy?
But this time, he just couldn’t help himself. On Saturday, he finally broke down and took an apparent swipe at #MeToo. “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” he tweeted. He doesn’t say which shattered lives he’s talking about but the rest of his tweet makes it clear his chief concern is not for the victims of sexual harassment, but rather for the people accused of victimizing them. “There is no recovery for someone falsely accused — life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
It seemed maybe Trump was talking about his aide Rob Porter, who quit a few days earlier, after his two ex-wives accused him of domestic abuse. But later, Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney said that his boss was probably referring to Steve Wynn, the casino mogul who stepped down recently as Republican National Committee finance chair after the Wall Street Journal reported that dozens of people said Wynn sexually harassed female employees over the course of decades. (Hmm, a billionaire businessman. Accused of sexual misconduct with multiple women over the course of decades. Denies the accusations. That may have hit close to home.)
Yes, due process is certainly an issue. People shouldn’t be punished on the basis of unproven allegations and, of course, whatever punishments are ultimately meted out should be appropriate to the offense. But Trump is the last person on earth to be making that case. He has shown time and again that he doesn’t much care about the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” if it conflicts with his opinions. And his opinions tend to run along partisan lines. Indeed, Trump was gleeful when Democratic Sen. Al Franken was ousted from his job, even while he was urging voters in Alabama to support Roy Moore, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, who had been accused of molesting teenage girls.
The classic example of Trump’s lack of concern for due process is the case of the Central Park Five — African American men accused of raping and beating a white female jogger in 1989. Trump was so moved by this case that he used nearly $100,000 of his fortune to buy ads in New York City newspapers calling for a return of the death penalty in New York. In the ad he suggested that the five African American young men accused of the crime were “murderers” who should be executed — all of this before the trial had even begun. That’s how much our president cared about due process. Trump continues to claim that the five men are guilty even though the justice system exonerated them more than 15 years ago.
It would be fantastic to have someone in the White House who had the moral authority to guide the country through this tricky period, in which sexual harassment is finally beginning to be taken with the seriousness it has always deserved. Americans rely on their presidents to help set the tone of the national conversation. In this case, though, given his evident hypocrisy and his own personal history, Trump is probably better off keeping quiet.