Neither carries a blackjack or a Tommy gun. But Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein are modern-day thugs, says Pulitzer Prize-winning writer ALBERT SCARDINO
Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein were cut from the same roll of toilet paper. Both are pigs, both are thugs, both are American men of a certain age, a certain position of power, and to all appearances, a certain need to dominate weaker people.
Both have disgraced themselves and their families and their companies and their country. Neither shows any appreciation or remorse or empathy for the damage they have caused or the lives they have blighted, only hurt for the pain their accusers have caused them by seeking to expose them.
Might they also have triggered a revolution in behaviour toward women in the workplace, or maybe even the behaviour of men and women toward one another in society at large? Unlikely, but maybe.
Human evolution can happen in response to a wave or repetitive waves, but misogyny is probably not a recessive gene that can be bred away. To get rid of it would take training and self-discipline and self-awareness. It would take an acceptance that political correctness is, after all, correct, and that men don’t have to be these men.
A few years ago I visited a sex education class for 10-year-olds at a school in Lagos, Nigeria. Eighty students, half of them boys, half girls, were eager to answer questions about what they had learned.
‘What is the first thing we know about sex,’ a teacher asked. Ten hands flew up. The teacher called on a girl near the front of the room.
‘It must be safe,’ the 10-year-old said with a smile.
‘What else do we know about sex?’ the teacher asked. This time, she called on a boy.
‘It must be respectful.’
‘And what else?’ she asked. Nearly every student raised a hand. Another boy stood up.
With a grin and a nod toward the 40 girls, he said, pronouncing every syllable: ‘It must be pleasurable.’ Both Trump and Weinstein operate within the triangle of corruption created by money, sex and power. For Trump, the money and sex came first, the power later, as a gift for the man who had everything. Trump won and remains in office.
He spent the first third of his business career in New York City real estate development, a world long on kickbacks and payoffs. The next third involved Atlantic City casinos, another cesspit of tax evasion, prostitution and graft. The last third involved the ownership of the Miss Universe contest, based in Moscow, financed by a Russian bank with close affiliations with the Kremlin. He may be the head of the most corrupt government in American history.
No one has outed him yet, but slime appears to be oozing out of every pore. He has reportedly bought silence from some victims, sued others into silence.
For Weinstein, the power came first, then the sex and money. He may have just exited the stage, but who would bet on Weinstein staying out of circulation for long? After all, Hollywood needs money and self-indulgence and beautiful young women to fuel the constant search for fame and fantasy, especially the male fantasy of possessing beautiful young women.
Don’t expect him to disappear. Nixon came back from political death. Michael Milken, the Drexel Burnham junk bond fraudster, paid a $600 million fine, spent two years in prison, then returned to start a career as a philanthropist. He has spent some of his estimated $2 billion fortune on charitable research on prostate cancer, a disease he discovered he had while in the slammer.
Martha Stewart, America’s Suburban Queen of interior design and fashion, went to jail for making illegal use of information about a company’s stock, a tip she picked up at a dinner party. As soon as she came out, she resumed her spot at the centre of brunch menu planning with her TV show and magazines and books.
This week, she even became a #MeToo participant (but in a print magazine exclusive rather than online) about a bad experience she had at an audition when she was a 16-year-old model. So don’t be surprised when Weinstein fulfils the promise he made as he jetted off to a sex rehab clinic: ‘I’ll be back.’ Too bad the clinic is in Palm Springs rather than in a classroom in the poorest parts of Lagos, where he might learn something.
A few months from now, we may find him back in the gossip pages cutting the ribbon for a shelter for battered women in Beverly Hills. He will promise never to set foot in the place, though he will serve as chairman of its board of directors. The Mail Online will probably cover it, if no one else will. For those without shame, there can be neither humility nor a need for redemption. For such a pornographic website, nothing is too obscene.
That’s the future, though.
For a minute, let’s focus on the past, on the seemingly shared passion of Trump and Weinstein for thuggery – figurative, if not literal. During the course of his presidential campaign, more than 10 women came forward with accusations that Trump had touched or kissed them without consent – something he bragged about on the infamous 2005 Access Hollywood tape when he said stars like him could ‘grab them by the pussy’. His corporate career has also been marked by allegations of shady, dubious practices, from accusations of racial discrimination by his firm in the 1970s and intimidation of tenants in the 1980s, to links to the Mafia and fraud claims made against his Trump University. The sexual allegations against Weinstein have been well aired, but so too have extraordinary reports of his treatments of men perceived to have crossed his path in business.
For their accusers, both men and women, the men’s thuggery has allegedly taken the form of humiliation, verbal flogging and threats to careers. For women, we have heard accounts of the parallel torture of sexual exploitation, the dripping of lemon juice and salt into the lashings.
Neither Trump nor Weinstein carries a blackjack or a Tommy gun. They are modern thugs, morally corrupt CEOs rather than capos of mafia families. In this world, extortion, intimidation and explosive anger is what brings rewards. Perhaps they both took Game of Thrones to be a documentary, and they see themselves as entitled to serve as the ruler of Westeros.
They both have been accused of rape (which may differ subtly from sex by extortion). With such mortal sins in the headlines, who could worry about the venial ones of cheating on their wives? Did Trump really want to grab pussies, or did he just want other men in the locker room to envy his imagined impunity for that kind of assault? If the allegations are true, did Weinstein get off on massages or did he want to exhibit his absolute control over weaker people?
Both seem to be on course to be masters of destruction after long careers of building something. They both appear to enjoy beating senseless – at least, figuratively – anyone who crosses them.
They both may also be nothing more than tin-pot dictators who managed to stay in power only so long as their manipulation of fear and greed protected them from the masses. In Weinstein’s case, the uprising against the tyrant toppled him in a week, almost an Arab Spring kind of revolt. For Trump, the better analogy may be Erich Honecker in East Germany in the months before the Berlin Wall came down, hopeless on economic theory, abandoned by weak allies, only domestic spies left to defend him, his younger population simply walking away across his borders to take up lives in other lands.
The producer had a protective army made up only of celebrity journalists, and they changed sides as soon as their websites were refreshed. Maybe one day soon an academic researcher will spend the time to compare-and-contrast the coverage of Weinstein by the Daily Mail and the New York Times, the fawning, snivelling accomplices and enablers versus those who sought to expose the inner mobster.
President Trump, by contrast, has awakened legions of storm troopers ready to defend him. The number of AK47s in the pick-up trucks of white supremacists cannot be counted, by law. They are all unregistered. Registration would be a violation of the Second Amendment to the constitution. Now the 26 other existing amendments and the constitution itself are threatened by the fear and intimidation that the Right to Bear Arms has instilled in everyone not carrying a gun.
Trump seems secure for the moment, the misogynist-in-chief, held in place by the rule of law for which he shows such disdain.
Do Trump and Weinstein signify the low tide of the sexual revolution? Will we see an outburst of creativity and independence and mutual respect in Hollywood? Or do the two of them represent another of the periodic outbreaks of an antibiotic-resistant, woman-eating bacteria? Over the last 50 years, did we gain nothing more than a code of law against overt exploitation but no protection against the revival of locker-room or sex-slave culture?
The exploitation of weaker people knows no national boundaries. Authority can express itself as sexual demands wherever it finds an opportunity. The scandals in the Catholic Church in Ireland and the care homes in Britain and in prisons and psychiatric hospitals around the world owed nothing to American show-business culture. Tinseltown may have placed itself under the spotlight at the moment only because it has become the grossest expression of a world focused on celebrities.
The original House of Cards, a 1990 BBC production with Ian Richardson in the lead, portrayed sexual politics as a game. Twenty five years later, the US remake, with Kevin Spacey, plays it as a bloodless deal between characters using one another. From the allegations we have heard, it seems that for Trump and Weinstein it was neither a game nor a deal.
Now that social media have given voice and community to those exploited, the power may be shifting, at least a little. Producers may come to be reluctant to hold one-on-one ‘meetings’ with aspiring actors. Doctors learned that lesson years ago. Rare is the male doctor who will examine a female patient out of earshot of an assistant.
Rather than confronting authority immediately, Millenials seem to say, ‘Enjoy your power while you have it, and come to think of it, you’ve had it quite long enough’. Time is on their side, as always. Each year, about 1% of the voters die in old age, and 1 ½% of the population comes of voting age. In a five-year Parliament, that equates to a 12½% turnover in the electorate. It is these new voters who understand social media and are prepared to adapt the technology to treat such diseases as Trump and Weinstein. These numbers also explain why the hard right of the Tory Party is in such a rush to push through a Hard Brexit. They are enjoying their power while they have it, and they are unlikely to have it for long. But I digress.
The culture shifted in the US once more women than men began to earn law and medical degrees, and not only in law firms and hospitals. American women have come to expect to be offered a handshake when they enter a business meeting with men. Many European women still too often face the kiss on the cheek at the start of a meeting. Twenty years after the first woman became chief executive of a FTSE100 company, there are still only two who hold the top job.
Last year, a woman became head of the Royal College of Surgeons for the first time. This month a woman become president of the British Supreme Court for the first time, but she is the only woman among the 11 justices. These firsts broke the British glass ceilings in their professions, but they did not break the dam. What progress there has been in changing the culture of gender-based discrimination will be in jeopardy once the prod of the European courts is lost.
In their personal lives, the president and the producer had wives and children who must have suffered at least internal damage from the revelations and allegations about their behaviour. Trump’s first wife accused him of beating her and raping her because the hair transplants she recommended were causing him pain.
Weinstein had Georgina Chapman until last week, and as chairman of her company and mother of his children, he could treat her as his moll, but she dumped him once the revelations became too much.
Does the dumping put an end to our suffering under them? After this week, it is hard to imagine Weinstein ever intimidating another young actress into giving him a massage or watching him take a shower. After an impeachment, Trump may find himself similarly unable to find a young woman’s throat to stick his tongue into. Weinstein has left a ring around Hollywood, Trump around the White House. Yet they both still have supporters – and enablers.
Albert Scardino, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is a freelance commentator on American affairs, living in London