On October 12 on MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes, Donald Trump surrogate A.J. Delgado, a regular on Hayes’s show, spoke over the phone in defense of the candidate who, at that point in the week, had been accused of sexual misconduct by three more women. They had come forward now, she said, years after the incidents, because of the leaked 2005 tape of Trump bragging to Billy Bush about how he could do anything to women — kiss them on the mouth, grab their pussies. They wanted to carve their own fifteen minutes of fame off Trump’s infamy.
“My understanding is that the official line of the campaign…is that they are wrong, they’re making these stories up,” Hayes said to Delgado. “Why are they not credible?”
“Because these allegations are decades old,” she replied. “If somebody actually did that, Chris, any reasonable woman would have come forward and said something.”
Delgado has been a vocal Trump advocate for at least a year, and joined Trump’s team as a senior adviser last month, earning a special spot in his campaign: In contrast to the working-class whites who have buoyed Trump’s candidacy from the start, Delgado is a first-generation Cuban-American woman who bears many of the marks of the cosmopolitan elite — like her law degree from Harvard and the oft-mentioned dogs she rescued from shelters — that her inclusion is meant to court. Smart, successful Latinas love Donald Trump! He can’t possibly be that bad.
But the reasons why a woman would wait to come forward with her story of abuse by a wealthy, culturally powerful man are shatteringly, eminently legitimate. Just ask Anita Hill, whose testimony to the Senate in 1991 about the two years then– Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas allegedly spent sexually harassing her was met with public ridicule. Hill hadn’t wanted to come forward during Thomas’s confirmation hearings; the only reason she testified publicly was because her private FBI interview was leaked to the press. Still, the Senate could not, as a body, understand why she would come forward at all, especially nine years after the alleged harassment had stopped. Writing in Time in October 1991, Jill Smolowe reported that Senator Patrick Leahy confronted the issue of motive and asked if Hill stood to gain in any way from coming forward: “I have not gained anything except knowing that I came forward and did what I felt that I had an obligation to do,” Hill said. “That was to tell the truth.”
Yet in this post-factual democracy of ours, evading or obfuscating uncomfortable truths has become de rigueur. When Bill Cosby’s earliest accusers came forward with their stories of sexual assault, they were mocked, disbelieved, vilified. No one wanted to imagine wholesome Dr. Huxtable as a serial rapist. Still, as each new accuser emboldened another of Cosby’s alleged victims to come forward, the evidence became impossible to deny — except by Cosby’s wife, Camille, and his former Cosby Show co-stars Phylicia Rashad and Keshia Knight Pulliam. And when Cosby stands trial in Philadelphia on charges of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004, he will be represented by Monique Pressley, a young, black woman — a further misdirection. As Blue Telusma wrote in TheGrio in January, “Who better to question a woman’s claims of sexual assault than another woman?”
Which is the problem, isn’t it? Pressley and Delgado are defending men against charges of sexual misconduct. They’ve been trotted out to show that there’s a right kind of woman, the one who defends the big man or keeps quiet if she doesn’t, while the rest are not to be trusted.
The more clearly we see the venal, vile character of Donald Trump — a man so secure in his power that he brags about assaulting women and so insecure in himself that he was essentially goaded into running for president — the harder it is to watch the women in his camp attack his accusers, who are only growing in number. But we live in a rape culture, where women are always asking for it and men are never guilty of taking it. The campaign understands that dozens of Cosby’s alleged victims had to come forward before we listened; that the country believed Bill Clinton’s word over Paula Jones’s or Juanita Broaddrick’s; that Delgado — so smart and accomplished — makes the perfect campaign surrogate, because not believing women has always been reasonable to Trump’s America. Respectable, even.