Let’s discuss the history of presidential creepiness. In this election, this is a discussion that really matters.
We can start with the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, who raped his 14-year-old slave Sally Hemmings. Nearly a century later, Grover Cleveland became the first president to get married in the White House. His bride? Frances Folsom, who at 21 was more than a quarter-century Cleveland’s junior and as an infant had been babysat by her “Uncle Cleve” back when her father was still his law partner. Flash forward to the Great Depression and you will find First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, whose maiden name was… um, Roosevelt (she was his fifth cousin once removed). And let us not forget Bill Clinton – husband of America’s probable future first female president, Hillary Clinton – whose well-known philandering may very well have crossed the line into sexual harassment or quite possibly even rape.
So where does Donald Trump fit into this tradition of creepiness? Is he merely incestuous (psychologically if not biologically), like Cleveland and Roosevelt, or does he betray a profound lack of respect for women’s bodies, like Jefferson and Clinton?
As it turns out, both!
The most obvious target is Trump’s barely concealed incestuous lust for his daughter, Ivanka. During a 2006 appearance on The View, he remarked that “if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I would be dating her.” Don’t worry, though, he had a completely rational reason for bringing this up… They were discussing whether she should pose nude in Playboy! Last year, The Donald returned to the subject in an interview with Rolling Stone in which he said “Yeah, [Ivanka’s] really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, her father…”
As talk show host Trevor Noah put it, I’ve never been more grateful for ellipses than after reading that sentence. Having said this, there is one Trump-wants-to-bang-his-daughter quote that is more relevant than all the rest. It comes courtesy of a 2003 interview with comedian Howard Stern, in which the two men casually dished about women they considered hot or not. “You know who’s one of the great beauties of the world, according to everybody? And I helped create her. Ivanka,” he declared. “My daughter, Ivanka. She’s 6 feet tall, she’s got the best body. She made a lot of money as a model—a tremendous amount.”
Bear in mind, this was an interview in which Stern and Trump were sizing up women as if they were slabs of meat existing only for male consumption. Even if one attributes Trump’s remark here to paternal pride instead of something less savory, it undeniably reduced his daughter’s worth to her physical beauty and perceived sexual desirability. This brings us to the second way in which Trump is creepy… namely, his absolute disregard for women as anything other than objects for carnal gratification.
Some telling quotes:
“All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me— consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”
[On women] “You have to treat ’em like shit.”
[On sexual assault in the military] “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?”
[On the tough questions posed to him by Fox News host Megyn Kelly] “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
And, of course, this one about his likely opponent in the upcoming presidential election:
“If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?”
It’s tempting to dismiss these comments for being misogynistic, which they certainly are. More importantly, though, they betray an inability to recognize women’s value as being more than what they can offer him as a man. His jab at Hillary Clinton is particularly revealing here because, jokingly or otherwise, he played off of the assumption that the best way to assess her worthiness for the White House was her marital relationship. Bear in mind, he is talking about a public figure who has dominated America’s political consciousness for almost a quarter-century, serving as one of the most influential First Ladies in history, a United States Senator, and Secretary of State. It is perfectly fine to disagree with her ideology or question her policy decisions, but attempting to sum up her career based on her presumed sexual prowess is more than just sexist. Because Trump clearly identifies with husband/patriarchal figures, there is an implicit narcissism in there as well. And when you are so narcissistic that you literally can’t value women beyond how they might please yourself, sexism evolves into creepiness.
That’s why, as Americans prepare for an election between its first major party female presidential candidate and the bloviating racist billionaire, it is entirely appropriate to use the word “creepy” in reference to the latter. It speaks not only to his personal proclivities, but a dangerous flaw in his larger worldview. Trump’s creepiness may not be unique in American presidential history, but it’s hopefully a tradition that we are ready to move past.