This year for Valentine’s Day, Politico chronicled President Donald Trump’s thoughts on love and women -- a tricky subject given the laundry list of sexual assault allegations Trump faces. Whatever the article’s intention, it resulted in a cringe-inducing piece that presented Trump’s history of sexual misconduct and mistreatment of women in a quirky, lighthearted way -- with quotes displayed in needlepoint -- that downplayed the significance of his sexist attitude and misogynistic behavior toward women.
At least 25 women have reported that Trump sexually harassed, assaulted, or otherwise mistreated them, including journalist E. Jean Carroll, who is currently pursuing a lawsuit against Trump and seeking his DNA for genetic testing after she said that Trump raped her in a dressing room 23 years ago (Trump responded by saying that “she’s not my type”). A new book claims to have found 43 additional reports of sexual misconduct by Trump. During his campaign, audio leaked of him bragging that he can commit sexual assault because he is famous, and we’ve learned during his presidency of secret financial payments made to women with whom he had affairs.
Trump also has a history of attacking women he disagrees with with a certain level of disdain, such as when he notably referred to former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch as “the woman” or when he famously commented that former NBC host Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever.”
Politico says it “assembled a collection of Trump’s thoughts” on love to “honor Valentine’s Day.” It is possible that the news outlet wanted to draw attention to Trump’s alarming history, but any hopes that the article would be a thoughtful reflection on his reports of assault or the vitriolic way in which he attacks women were quickly dashed.
One of the reasons the article fails is that its intent is unclear -- is it a lighthearted sendup? a subversive attack? -- and for a subject that’s so serious and fraught, a clear tone is crucial. Some of the “thoughts” it highlights seem obviously crass or backward, while others, like one about his affection for his mother and a story of meeting his wife, come off as intended to warm the heart.
Further, if it’s meant to ironically criticize the president, it assumes too much background: Aside from the brief mention that some view Trump as a “sexual predator” and the occasional hyperlink, the article doesn’t expand on the reports of misconduct by Trump or explain his problematic attitudes toward women.
In fact, the piece introduces Trump’s reported history of sexual misconduct as a matter of opinion: Some see him as a “first-class charmer,” others as a “sexual predator.” Both “opinions” are given equal weight, with no evidence provided that points to reports of sexual abuse. It quickly moves on from the president's reputation as a sexual predator, concluding that “thrice-married Trump has had a lot to say” and sharing a collection of quotes that ultimately take on an uncomfortable tone.
The article divides Trump’s history of infidelity into five key sections: “the fairer sex”, “courtship,” “matrimony,” “fidelity,” and “divorce.” It is difficult to see where sexual assault fits in. The subsections are paired with descriptors that, again, downplay the reality of the president’s relationship with women.
Under “courtship,” Politico offers a perhaps-meant-as-charming Trump anecdote, describing how he first tried to get Ivana’s attention at a New York club. Then it notes that “a few decades later, of course, his manner of pursuit could be a little different” -- a crass reference linking to the infamous 2005 audio recording of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women because he is famous.
The article was also paired with a collection of needlepoints apparently meant to highlight some of Trump’s worst comments about women in a fun or edgy way. (Politico tweeted that it had actually commissioned real needlepoints.) One piece of stitchery displays a particularly disturbing Trump quote surrounded by flowers: “The only time you want your chick to have acne is if it’s because she’s a teenager.”
But then the tone quickly changes, with another section sharing Trump’s thoughts on his “incredible mother.”
Despite the optimism for accountability that came with the #MeToo reckoning, media outlets still have a history of irresponsibly covering, or failing to cover, Trump’s history of reported sexual abuse. Media almost entirely ignored a recent book reporting on 43 new allegations, and Sunday political news shows have also failed to report on Carroll’s lawsuit against Trump. And even though many men have been held accountable by the societal reckoning of improper treatment of women, Trump hasn’t faced the same consequences for similar actions. He has also openly supported other men who have been accused of assault and harassment, such as former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, former Fox CEO Roger Ailes, and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, following a pattern of sympathizing with men reported for misconduct rather than women who speak up against it.
It is this frustrating context that makes Politico’s glib, confusing attempt to highlight Trump’s history with women an uncomfortable and tacky read that would have been better left unwritten.