Opinion

Trump's porn star accomplice

On President Trump, Stormy Daniels, and the moral degradation of America

In the days since 60 Minutes broadcast its interview with pornographic actress Stormy Daniels, Americans have been engaging in one of our culture's very favorite but increasingly absurd pastimes: turning thoroughly ordinary and sometimes even sordid individuals into role models, heroes, and protagonists in grand, unsubtle morality plays.

In this case, the game is unusually repulsive.

This isn't Daniels' fault. Just as she was able to earn a living by having sex in the most public way possible, so she's been able to gain gobs of attention — to make herself a household name throughout the country and even across wide swaths of the world — by publicizing her brief, decade-old consensual affair with the married billionaire who resides in the White House. That's the way things work in a culture of sleaze.

Just please don't tell us that we need to admire this person, that she's doing some kind of civic service by coming forward to tell her story, that she's just trying to be a good mom by talking before an audience of millions about how she spanked an obscenely wealthy reality-show host with a magazine to get him off.

By filing a lawsuit against him and threatening through her lawyer to keep the story and its salacious details in the news for months to come, Daniels may well be Donald Trump's enemy. But she's also his accomplice in helping to transform American public life into a sewer — or rather, in transforming it into even more of a sewer than it already was. And all of those treating Daniels as a hero are her accomplices in turn.

Have we learned anything from Daniels that we didn't already know? That Trump cheats on his wives? That he treats women like objects and discards them like garbage? That he makes deeply disturbing sexual remarks about his own daughter? All of this was public knowledge before nearly 63 million Americans voted to make him president. Hell, we even knew that he engages in serial sexual assault and brags about it shamelessly to other men. We knew this not because someone accused him of it but because he was caught on tape doing precisely that.

Maybe the case could be made that the Daniels lawsuit has revealed to the public that Trump's entourage of sycophantic knuckleheads act like what they so manifestly are — members of a criminal syndicate, issuing threats of physical violence and other forms of intimidation in order to safeguard The Boss. But this was reported before the election, too. And anyway, isn't this a large part of what the president's most loyal supporters (white evangelical Protestants) liked about him in the first place? That he promised to serve as their strongman-protector, willing to play rough and dirty in order to keep them safe from the coercive hand of the secular liberal state?

No, we haven't learned anything new about Trump from the Daniels lawsuit. He's exactly the man we knew he was from the beginning — exactly the kind of man who would have an affair with a porn star and then get sued by her while serving as president of the United States.

Neither have we learned anything new about America's moral degradation. Any country that could produce a man like Donald Trump and then reward him with the honor of its highest office has already reached pretty close to rock bottom. If you doubt it, take a look at Trump's aggregate approval rating at FiveThirtyEight, where you'll discover that more than two-and-a-half months after the Daniels story broke wide open, the president sits near his 10-month high in the polls.

As with everything else in our maximally polarized moment, people who like Trump don't care about the lawsuit, while those who are scandalized by it already hated him. In America in 2018, morality resides downstream from the toxic effluences of politics.

Yet some of Trump's most passionate critics sincerely want us to believe that there's a story of redemption, or at least one of moral uplift, to be found buried in the sewage. Daniels is so smart! So poised! So tough! So sex-positive! And maybe, just maybe, if you squint very hard, and tilt your head to the side just a bit, and spend hours a day reading conspiracy-sodden lefty Twitter, her lawsuit could bring down the president!

If Democrats win the midterm elections in November in the biggest landslide in a couple of generations and take over both houses of Congress by substantial margins, then of course anything is possible. But short of that? Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen may very well have reason to worry, and not only because he's on the hook for $130,000 in hush money. But the president himself? Brought down over campaign finance violations committed by his dingbat lawyer? Don't make me laugh.

Stormy Daniels is Donald Trump's accomplice because her legal action helps to advance the pollution of our public life that Trump's successful campaign for, and conduct as, president has pushed further than any person or event in our history. Those who would have us respond to the whole squalid spectacle with anything other than disgust for everyone involved do the country and its culture no favors at all.

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