Sunday, June 11, 2017

Trump's predatory abuse of power.

Nicole Seratore has written a powerful op-ed piece, published in the New York Times op-ed section on Friday.  She likens the uncomfortable position that Trump put James Comey in to the way a woman feels when her boss tries to intimidate her into submitting to what he wants.

It's my guess that Trump is not innocent in his use of intimidation, but that he does it so instinctively, and has used it tactically for so long, that it is more like an automatic reflex to him.    This contribution by Nicole Seratore builds on Ezra Klein's article that I quoted yesterday.   From her experience and as a woman, she emphasizes the similarity to sexual harassment and abuse.   You can make the same point simply by focusing on the power dynamic.   Here are Seratore's words:
"As I listened to . . .  [Comey] tell the Senate Intelligence Committee about his personal meetings and phone calls with President Trump, I was reminded of something:  the experience of a woman being harassed by her powerful, predatory boss.  There was precisely that sinister air of coercion, of an employee helpless to avoid unsavory contact with an employer who is trying to grab what he wants. . . . 

"[An earlier, tweeted account elicited responses from other women who had had the same experience.]  How recognizable . . . .  For a woman who has spent a lifetime wrestling with situations where men have power they can abuse, this was disturbingly familiar.

"On Jan. 27, Mr. Comey received a last-minute dinner invitation from the president, and then learned it would be 'just the two of us' . . .  Already, something about this 'setup' made him feel 'uneasy.'

"The central business of this intimate dinner was Mr. Trump's insistence:  'I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.'  Mr. Comey immediately recognized that this was a press for something he did not want to give.  He froze:  'I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed.'

"That reaction -- the choice of stillness, responses calculated to neither encourage nor offend that characterized so many of his dealings with Mr. Trump -- is so relatable for any woman.   During his testimony, Mr. Comey was asked why he had not responded more robustly, why he had not told Mr. Trump that he, the president, was acting inappropriately or reported his behavior immediately to others in authority.

"Mr Comey expressed regret that he had not been 'stronger' about it, but explained that it was all he could do to focus on not saying the wrong thing.  In other words, he wanted to avoid granting any favor while avoiding the risk of direct confrontation -- a problem so deeply resonant for women.

"During that interminable, awkward dinner, Mr. Comey struggled to convince Mr. Trump of the danger of 'blurring' boundaries.  But Mr. Trump was not deterred and returned to the subject of the loyalty he must have.   There you hear the eternal voice of the predatory seducer:  the man who knows how hard he can make it for a woman to refuse his needs.

"Mr. Comey tried to wriggle out of the trap being set for him.  He offered his 'honesty,' hoping this would appease his insatiable host.  Mr. Trump countered with a demand for 'honest loyalty.'  Mr. Comey acquiesced.  Yet as he documented this 'very awkward conversation,' his concession of this phrase troubled him.  He hoped he had not been misunderstood by the president.

"The victim of sexual harassment is constantly haunted by the idea that she said or did something that gave her persecutor encouragement.  Serial harassers, of course, have an intuitive sense of this, and are skilled at manipulating and exploiting it.

"Mr. Comey, you are not alone.  How many of us have played over and over in our minds an encounter that suddenly took a creepy, coercisve turn?   What did I say?  Were my signals clear?   Did I do something ambiguous?   Did I say something compromising?

"At a White House ceremony on Jan 22, Mr. Comey reportedly tried to blend in with the curtains, so that he would not be noticed by the president.  Mr. Trump called to him and pulled him, unwilling, into a hug.  What woman has not tried to remain invisible from an unwelcome pursuer's attentions?

"To this series of bizarre interactions, in which he faced escalating pressure, Mr. Comey reacted with rising anxiety and distress.   Time after time, Mr. Trump reverted to his questionable agenda, and Mr. Comey, at each pass, tried to parry the president's unwanted advances.

"This dynamic with the president became so disturbing to Mr. Comey that, after an Oval Office meeting in February, he implored the attorney general Jeff Sessions, 'to prevent any future direct communication between the president and me.'  Mr. Comey did not want to be left alone with his boss again.   We've been there, Jim.

In their final exchange, on April 11, Mr. Trump told the FBI director, 'I have been very loyal to you, very loyal;  we had that thing you know.'   On May 9, having rebuffed the president, Mr. Comey was fired.

"'We had that thing.'  Once more, the seducer asserts a shared intimacy that was not really there, attempting to ensnare his victim with an imputed complicity.

"In the infamous 'Access Hollywood' tape, Mr. Trump said of any woman he wanted:  'I just start kissing them.   It's like a magnet.  Just kiss.   I don't even wait.  And when you're a star, they let you do it.  You can do anything'. . . .  With the power of the presidency at his disposal, Mr. Trump thought that he could use the psychology of coercive seduction on the nation's chief law enforcement officer.

"Victims of sexual harassment often face skepticism, doubts and accusations when they tell their story.  That's part of the predator's power.   Buy I'm here to tell James Comey, and all the women and men who have suffered at the hands of predators, I believe you."

Kelly Macias took a similar look at it on Daily Kos:
"James Comey did exactly what many abuse and harassment victims try to do when they have a lecherous, predatory boss they have to deal with but want to keep their jobs -- document everything and tell someone.   Still, he was fired.   And when he finally told, he was still asked [by senators on the panel] what he could have done differently to prevent the abuse.   This says so much about our culture of victim shaming and blaming.

"But let's keep our focus on the most pressing issue here:  Donald Trump is a serial sexual predator and abuser.   The behavior James Comey testified to experiencing is exactly the behavior of a rapist and a man who does not practice consent.  The behavior of a man who admits to grabbing pu**ies without permission.  A man that neither men nor women want to be left alone with.  This is exacetly what happens when a predator is elected president of the United States.

"How's that 'locker room talk' working out for the nation now?"

Let me repeat what I said at the beginning.  I disagree with sexualizing the discussion of what is essentially power dynamics between someone in a position of power and someone who is relatively powerless, or at least is subject to losing a job or some other valued asset.  Sex may also be involved in some instances;  but even then it is essentially a power play underneath.  This is about a predator using the power of his office to put those who answer to him in a position of being personally beholden to him to do his bidding.

Donald Trump learned from the master of these tactics.  His early mentor was Roy Cohn, the lawyer who helped J. Edgar Hoover do his dirty work.   So do not be naive in thinking that Trump doesn't know what he's doing.

And to the Republicans in Congress who are trying to put the blame on Comey for not having more robustly stood up to Trump:   (1)  Stop it.   You're blaming the victim.   If you don't get it, then read this blog again.  (2) Then ask yourself:  If there was an exact reversal and Hillary Clinton had won and tried to subvert her FBI Director to pledge loyalty to her, first and foremost, wouldn't you be screaming like banshees for an impeachment trial?   Be honest, now.


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