E. Jean Carroll, the advice columnist who accused Donald Trump of sexual assault last week, wrote in New York magazine that she had not come forward with her allegations sooner because “joining the 15 women who’ve come forward with credible stories...only to see the man turn it around, deny, threaten, and attack them, never sounded like much fun.”
So now, with the floodgates fully open, it’s Carroll’s turn to see just how repugnant things can get.
The writer, who is 75, sat down with Anderson Cooper last night to recount allegations that the president raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room sometime between 1995 and 1996. Carroll told her story in a measured, and sometimes even humorous tone, but the facts remain unchanged from what was published on Friday.
She refused to view what happened through the lens of hindsight. Even though her story ended with an attack, the columnist said it began as a “New York moment—the best New York moment.”
Carroll recalled Bergdorf as “posh and cozy... I just love it,” and admitted she still visits, and enjoys, the landmark department store today, twenty-five years after it was the scene of an alleged crime. She spoke with the lilting, diverging tone of a lady who lunches, which caused more than one Twitter sleuth to wonder if the columnist was drunk on air.
But while Carroll may have been quick to laugh when describing the thought of getting Trump to try on some lingerie for himself, the fun stopped as soon as she began describing her rape.
She detailed when Trump “banged” her head against the dressing room wall, putting her hand on the back of her head to touch the point of impact. Until then, the former Miss Cheerleader USA's posture had been impeccable, but now her head sagged and her shoulders slumped beneath a baby pink blazer.
When recounting the merry lead-up to her attack, Carroll spoke in breathless, run-on sentences. But she got more to the point when reporting Trump's misconduct: “It was against my will, and it hurt, and it was a fight,” Carroll bluntly summarized.
“You're saying there was actual penetration?” Cooper attempted to clarify. Carroll silently nodded, wide-eyed, and then offered a succinct, “Yes.”
Carroll's raw, pained expression at that moment should be enough to convince anyone she is telling the truth.
But unfortunately, a somewhat awkward exchange right before Cooper cut to commercial became a late night snack to conservatives, who latched onto the statement as evidence that Carroll’s allegations are suspect.
It happened when Cooper gently asked Carroll to describe the “penetration” which took place inside Bergdorf’s, rightly calling the nonconsensual action “rape.”
Carroll countered, saying, “I was not thrown on the ground and ravished, which—the word ‘rape’ carries so many sexual connotations. This was not sexual. It hurt, it just...”
As Carroll trailed off, Cooper offered, “I think most people think of rape as being a violent assault.”
Then Carroll handed Trump some ammo. “I think most people think of rape as being sexy,” she mused. “Think of the fantasies.”
Cue Cooper stammering and signaling for a segment break.
What could possibly inspire Carroll's inopportune, uncomfortable tangent on rape fantasies? Oh, I don’t know, maybe we can chalk it up to the stress, lack of sleep, and general emotional mind-screw that could come with accusing a sitting president of rape.
Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump Jr. does not take as nuanced of a stance. The president’s 41-year-old son re-posted the segment with his own added commentary.
“Enough is enough with this bullshit!” Don Jr. wrote. “We all get it Media. . .you hate @realDonaldTrump, but giving every Avenatti like wacko a platform because they will say anything for press kills what little is left of your credibility.”
Headlines on Trump-friendly sites like The Daily Mail and Breitbart zeroed in on Carroll’s use of the word “sexy,” effectively spinning her remarks to fit a “gotcha” moment.
In its typical, salacious style, The Mail wrote that “[Cooper] was then left visibly stunned and speechless” by Carroll's remark. Because it totally makes sense to blame the longtime anchor’s inelegant bungle on the woman in the studio.
It’s easy for Don Jr. to malign Carroll. Her memory is hazy. She admits it was “a dumb thing” to willingly enter a dressing room alongside Trump after he asked her to model lingerie. Like many other female boomers, she holds some antiquated beliefs about what constitutes sexual assault—one must be “thrown on the ground and ravished” for it to truly count.
Carroll is not the “perfect” rape victim, with a tidy explanation for everything and iron-clad evidence. But should it matter? History hasn’t been too kind to the model women who have come forward with allegations, either.
Christine Blasey Ford, a well-spoken college professor who peppered her testimony against Justice Brett Kavanaugh with ten-dollar words like “indelible in the hippocampus,” still faced death threats and disbelief.
Carroll is different. She speaks with the rambling warmth of a storyteller who is crafting a piece of literary nonfiction. Maybe Donald Trump Jr., a grown man who capitalized the word “Media” in his tweet, lacks the sensitivity required to accept Carroll's delivery.
Maybe if Carroll accused an undocumented immigrant of the Bergdorf assault, Trump would condemn the rape in a series of rapid-fire, racist, and probably misspelled tweets. Perhaps if Carroll named a 2020 Democratic contender as her offender, Trump would post a creepy meme about it, as he did when Joe Biden announced his candidacy.
A year and a half after #MeToo promised women a more dignified public reaction to their allegations, Trump's administration will only believe victims when they can be used as pawns.
So, Don Jr., Daily Mail, etc: Let Carroll digress in peace. Let her say the wrong thing and relive her trauma in all of its messiness. She may not be “perfect,” but neither is the extremely flawed system she’s fighting against.
Or at least be fair in your rage. If Carroll's “sexy” comment is so offensive, then so should be Trump's certifiably asinine response to her allegations: “She's not my type.”
Eventually, Carroll's already under-reported story will move out of the news cycle, unless a seventeenth accuser comes forward and we do this all again. If that happens, I hope the next woman will be treated better—but I wouldn’t hold my breath.