Trump tapes are the vulgarization of American democracy
For much needed contrast, after the sad spectacle of the Sunday presidential
debate, I figured I needed some laughs.
So immediately after watching it streamed live on CBSN, I caught a performance
by the former Saturday Night Live Weekend Update anchor Norm MacDonald, the last
comedian to appear on the late great “Late Show with David Letterman.”
It was a perfect segue. He’s a funny man who’s supposed to be funny. Not a
politician or a news guy trying to be funny.
In fact, MacDonald at SNL was one of the original “fake news” guys.
On the debates, MacDonald admitted, “When it gets political, I get bored.” As
the crowd tittered at his honesty, he then mocked a politician’s Trump-style
approach of bringing up sex in a campaign, and added what has long been the
rational response–to demand the candidates bring it back to the real topics.
To which the satirist MacDonald delivered the punchline in his own voice: “Oh,
no, not the topics. We don’t want that.”
Yes, it’s come to that.
It got a big laugh. And maybe that will be the 2016 campaign’s lasting truth.
You expect the truth to shine through a comedian’s nightclub vulgarity.
You’re surprised when a politician’s vulgarity reveals his truth.
But it seems that’s what we’re getting lots of this year. Donald Trump can’t
seem to help himself. He’s thrown presidential decorum out the window preferring
to cast himself as an “everyman elitist” up against the political elitists, in
some dive bar wet T-shirt, mud-wrestling night extravaganza.
Starting with the primaries, there were the John McCain and Megyn Kelly
comments; talk of Trump’s penis size in a March GOP debate; the disparagement of
Muslims, Mexicans, a Mexican American judge, the disabled, Asians and their
accents, a Latino Miss Universe.
But wait, there’s more.
Just last Friday, the Washington Post released an “Access Hollywood” tape that features Trump on a hot mic in full
candid audio glory.
It’s not easily forgettable.
Trump’s comments on the tape defy anatomy and actually seem to advocate sexual
assault, when he speaks of grabbing a woman by the private parts as an exercise
of white male privilege.
Maybe Trump figured if Putin can grab “Pussy Riot,” he could grab some of his
By Friday, a mere press statement apology wasn’t enough. And on Saturday, a
Facebook Live apology, where Trump appeared less repentant and more defiant,
only fanned the flames.
For Sunday’s debate, Trump only had one thing to do. Make America forget it
all, by being contrite and showing sufficient remorse.
He simply couldn’t do it.
First, he tried to upstage the debate by creating a diversion, a “Bill Clinton
Reunion of Shame,” featuring all the women who have had some sexual issue with
the former president. That might be fine if Bill Clinton were his opponent.
Trump’s best shot came in the debate itself, saying the “Access Hollywood” tape
was “locker room” talk. He said he was sorry, then somehow linked his insincere
groping apology to his somewhat sincere desire to beat ISIS.
By grabbing ISIS members by their private parts?
Hillary Clinton, perhaps careful not to attack Trump too forcefully, said the
tape was “who Donald Trump is,” and that “this is not who we are.”
Trump called it “just words.” Then he went on as if the issue was done.
But it’s not.
Clinton looked presidential just standing there and being respectful. Throughout
the debate, Trump lifted his nose, scowled, shook his head, and often
interrupted in a bullying manner.
And when he was quiet, he often appeared to be stalking Clinton.
Stylistically, Trump was a loser.
I found two other moments worth mentioning.
Trump was able to hammer Clinton on the e-mail issue. But if you’ve heard the
arguments before, you know it’s nowhere near the egregious nature Trump claims.
But Trump knows how to make it incendiary, telling Clinton he’d assign a special
prosecutor to her case. “You’d be in jail,” he said.
It reminded me of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos under martial law making
his presidential opponent, the late Sen. Benigno Aquino, a political prisoner.
In other words, it was too close to reality to be a sarcastic joke. It was
merely Trump being Trump 2016. His base of support may love it, but it gave
freedom-loving Americans reason to fear a Trump with presidential power.
The other moment I noted was at the very beginning when I saw an obviously Asian
American face in the town hall audience. I thought maybe we’d see our issues
But she wasn’t called on.
There was, however, a question by Gorbah Hamed, a Muslim American of Palestinian
descent, who asked Trump this: “With Islamophobia on the rise, how will you
help people like me deal with the consequences of being labeled as a threat to
the country after the election is over?”
Trump had no good answer. He seemed to suggest there were only two possible
types of Muslim Americans, radicalized ones and informants. Trump didn’t seem to
understand there were normal Americans of Muslim faith who are harmed by his
Most Asian Americans know what it’s like to be targeted by wrong-headed racist
policies. Trump promises that kind of America.
So the debate had plenty of moments, but nothing that erases the memory of the
hot mic moment caught ten years ago on that just released video.
It’s funny how the sensitivity levels have changed. Ten years ago, Trump may
have been able to dismiss it all as locker room banter and would have been given
a pass. Certainly, 20 years ago, he could have.
Times have changed for women. And Trump is also running for president. He’s not
just a rich a-hole flaunting his white privilege. The secret tape revealed now
threatens to implode his candidacy. These are not thoughts a public person can
But it’s funny how racist private thoughts about Asian Americans played for
laughs in public is still A-OK.
Last week, Asian American groups
were rightfully busy expressing their outrage about the disgusting “Watters’
World” tape that played on Fox News’s “O’Reilly Factor.” But then the Trump
discovery trumped our outrage.
We just haven’t quite reached that level yet, I guess. The Fox News report was
supposed to be about Asian Americans’ response to the debates. Instead, it just
recycled tired stereotypes and passed them off as news. Fox’s Jesse Watters so
far has gotten away with saying he was just joking.
I prefer my jokes from actual comedians like Norm MacDonald.
But that’s what it’s like when the discourse goes coarse in our vulgarized
Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page. The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.