The year is 2010. Donald Trump is whistling through Aberdeen like the north wind, blowing all and sundry to one side or another as he goes.
His entourage whirl along, flotsam in the wake of a tanker, halting suddenly when he halts, restarting obediently when he does. In the interview room, he flits from subject to subject with the attention span of a butterfly, complaining that my questions give him a headache.
Outside, his private jet waits to whisk him back to New York. (Well, you didn’t seriously expect the Donald to negotiate an airport, did you?) The picture is white, male power personified. He once wrote a book chapter entitled Bullshit Will Only Get You So Far, but that clearly wasn’t true because it got him all the way to the helm of the United States.
His power then was wealth. His power now is high office–and that is much more disturbing. The drama of the current Brett Kavanaugh case has been mesmerising for the world to watch, but in the pantomime, issues get obscured. Kavanaugh, Trump’s choice for the appointment of Supreme Court judge, has been accused of sexually assaulting Dr Christine Blasey Ford when they were both at high school. Whatever the truth of the accusation, Trump’s behaviour last week was repellent, even by his standards. Having described her evidence as “compelling” days before, he mocked Blasey Ford mercilessly at a mass rally in Mississippi.
“What neighbourhood was it? I dunno,” he mimicked, like some tasteless, stand-up comedian. “Where’s the house? I dunno. Was it upstairs or downstairs? I dunno, I dunno, I dunno.” Such ridicule for a woman who was potentially a sexual assault victim. (One, by the way, who was very specific about the assault being in an upstairs room next to the toilet.)
Now personally, I believe Blasey Ford. Even some of Kavanaugh’s friends have described his “aggressive and belligerent” behaviour when drunk. But that’s not really the point. The point is that the president used his position, in a stadium instead of a courtroom, to publicly humiliate a woman who has already received death threats, implying she is a liar. He exercised power and forgot power’s bedfellow: responsibility.
“A man’s life is shattered!” he bawled to the Mississippi crowd as they chanted, “We want Kavanaugh” in response. “A man’s life is in tatters!” And there’s the nub of it. How dare this woman bring down a powerful man? Stiff-backed senators remained stony-faced at Blasey Ford’s evidence, hostility and resentment writ large at the challenge to their man’s life and career.
But what about Blasey Ford’s life? The turmoil. The therapy. The rows with her husband who didn’t understand why she wanted to design their house with two front doors, offering alternate escape routes. What about her?
And thousands like her. Despite legislation and public education, it seems we still don’t understand abuse. Victims still get blamed for the discomfort they cause the rest of us. The inconvenience. Questions still get asked about why they didn’t come forward sooner. Isn’t it obvious? People deal with trauma in whatever way they can to survive it. Many bury it. We can’t demand that they tell their story when we think they should; only when they do. How would you feel if the person who sexually assaulted you reached the highest judicial position in the land with the power to affect legislation for a generation? Wouldn’t that make you speak?
Right now, it feels like the wheels of change that once seemed to be gathering momentum on gender equality have ground to a halt and are winding back. The publicly exposed video footage of Trump describing how he grabbed hold of women, “by the pussy” if he felt like it, should have been enough to halt his political career. Instead, his words were dismissed as “locker-room banter”. Really? Would it be locker-room banter if he blatantly insulted black people, or Muslims, or Jews? Or is sexism the last socially acceptable form of discrimination?
In Geneva last week, an Italian professor claimed physics was invented and built by men. (Interesting that the very next day a woman was named as the recipient of a Nobel prize for physics.) An Indian actress spoke out about Weinstein-type harassment in the Bollywood film industry. In Britain, the gender pay gap still stands at 18%. In America, the President, who has been repeatedly accused of sexually inappropriate behaviour himself, defended a senior judge who has also been accused of sexually inappropriate behaviour, all supposedly under open, public scrutiny.
Worldwide, we perpetuate rigid hierarchies–often male–in our governments, judicial systems and churches. The powerful get protected over the powerless; the institution over the individual; the abuser over the abused. Women are sometimes too complicit in the power games of those hierarchies. Men are sometimes too embarrassed to object to “locker room banter”.
The first step towards change is challenge. Not just for the sake of women–or of men for that matter. But surely for the sake of humanity.