From left to right: Billy Bush, Donald Trump and Arianne Zucker in 2005.
It was the hot mic heard around the world.
Donald Trump has been caught on tape, obtained by the Washington Post, bragging about what is essentially sexual assault ("when you’re a star, they let you do anything you want … grab them by the pussy") with Access Hollywood host and dudebro extraordinaire Billy Bush.
Trump, then three months a newlywed, also related a tale of an unnamed starlet he’d tried to get into the sack by taking her furniture shopping ("I moved on her like a bitch"). When the pair spy Days of Our Lives actress Arianne Zucker, Trump pops a Tic-Tac in case he suddenly starts kissing her, which he boasts he often does.
"It looks good," he said of a human being in a dress.
It’s too early to tell what the political ramifications of this tape will be, and anyone who tells you otherwise — it’s the equivalent of Mitt Romney’s 47% tape! — is popping more than Tic-Tacs.
Maybe the fact that the tape is from 2005 will inoculate the candidate against its utterly unpresidential vulgarity. Trump has said he was simply playing a character during his Apprentice era; maybe his supporters buy that. Maybe they can ignore the increasing mountain of evidence that he’s acted this way with women his whole life.
Trump, amazingly, still has a lot of female supporters. Maybe they will buy his line about this being "locker-room banter" between men and his non-apology ("I apologize if anyone was offended," he told the Post).
But it isn’t the effects on women I’m interested in right now. It’s the effects on men. Trump was right about one thing — this pathetic, misogynistic and ultimately unfulfilling little dudebro conversation is still acceptable as "locker room banter" in our culture.
Just as the case of Stanford rapist Brock Turner and the dad who defended him was a wake-up call to fathers, let’s take the Bush-Trump tape as our cue to have a long overdue chat with each other about some of the crap men too often say about women in private.
For starters, it’s time to admit that what supposedly happens only in the locker room rarely stays in the locker room. We need to listen to our wives, girlfriends, sisters, mothers and daughters when they tell us loud and clear: This kind of conversation is sadly, sickeningly familiar.
You know what? It’s familiar to me, too. I know well that sinking feeling of being in a group of men when the conversation takes that turn. Guys, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You can hear it in Billy Bush’s voice, suddenly false, transforming himself into Trump’s hype man. "Sheesh, your girl’s hot as shit! The Donald has scored!"
Suddenly everyone is grinning too much and there’s a desperate tone to the laughter, and the objectifying, belittling contest has begun. The group is sorting itself into alphas and betas. The Trump of the group calls the Bush of the group a "pussy." (As Trump did on the tape.) Everyone’s getting all puffed up on testosterone. Genuine conversation is over.
It’s hard to say if they’re having a good time talking about women this way, but for whatever reason — maybe you’re the least drunk one, or you’re just listening to your gut — you’re suddenly uncomfortable. So you smile and sit on the sidelines.
If you’re on the bus with Trump and Bush, maybe you stare quietly out of the window with an inscrutable smile as your mask.
Because what can you do, right?
I can tell you what you can do — what all men, jocks and nerds, husbands and boyfriends, brothers and sons and fathers can do. We can start calling each other gentlemen — not dudes, not bros, gentlemen — and meaning it. We can start teaching our littlest men that they are gentlemen, too.
What is a gentleman? I asked my wife this question, and she responded: "Kind, polite and mannered. You don’t think of him as being a pushover, just proper. Well raised."
I always liked the idea, ever since I heard my father use the word to refer to himself, that there was an extra level of being a man that you could and should aspire to, beyond the grunting, hulking, and let’s be honest, really really boring base level.
So come on men, level up to gentlemen. Don’t be like these numbskulls.
Donald Trump is not a gentleman. Billy Bush is not a gentleman. They both just played gentlemen on TV, sort of, occasionally, long ago.
Just as racist conversation shouldn’t be socially acceptable when it’s just between white people, misogynistic conversation shouldn’t be socially acceptable when it’s just between men.
And especially not gentlemen.