One of Donald Trump’s favorite defenses against accusations that he has sexually assaulted multiple women over the years is that his accusers are ugly. If you think this argument is nonsensical, misogynistic, and irrelevant when it’s coming from the lips of a man who has recently been described as “a sentient pile of dirty sheets covered in poop,” just wait till you hear a Trump lawyer trying to make the same argument on his behalf!
Michael D. Cohen, a longtime executive at the Trump Organization and personal counsel for Trump, appeared on the Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday to respond to a roster of witnesses corroborating People writer Natasha Stoynoff’s account that Trump forcibly kissed her in 2005. When asked about Trump’s suggestion that Stoynoff wasn’t hot enough to assault, Cohen gave an answer that was both very lawyerly and very Trumpish:
You know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You know, some people may think that they’re beautiful. Others don’t. I don’t think it’s relevant to the conversation at all. … I think what Mr. Trump is really trying to say is that they’re not, they’re not somebody that he would be attracted to, and therefore the whole thing is nonsense.
Stoynoff is right about one thing: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Different people are attracted to different types of faces, bodies, and personalities, and this diversity of opinion on attractiveness is one of the things that makes life a rich tapestry.
Unfortunately, this is not a strong defense for Trump. For one thing, since finding a person attractive is a subjective experience, no one can ever prove that Trump does or does not find his accusers attractive. And since Trump has a long history of treating women like status symbols rather than like human beings, he has a vested interest in maintaining his image as a man who is attracted only to women who look like supermodels. In other words, if Trump is attracted to the women who have accused him of assault, you’d expect him to lie about it.
For another thing, sexual assault often has far less to do with attraction than with power. As a professor of criminal justice told MSNBC’s Irin Carmon in an excellent story this week, “Sexual assault has nothing to do with sexual desirability whatsoever. … The entire cause of rape and sexual assault is to have power over another person.” Women who are conventionally attractive, conventionally unattractive, and everywhere in between have been assaulted or harassed by men who wish to assert their dominance over them, regardless of what they look like.
The strongest argument against Cohen, however, is that 10 women have made on-the-record claims of being assaulted by Trump this campaign season, and that all their claims follow the template described by Trump himself when he told Billy Bush, “I just start kissing” beautiful women and “grab them by the pussy.” This is a case where what the victims have said and what the alleged perpetrator said match up almost perfectly. And if it’s no surprise that Trump, a man who never admits fault and is impervious to facts, has lashed out at his accusers by impugning their looks, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Cohen is taking the same tack. After all, this is a man who once falsely asserted to the Daily Beast that marital rape is not a crime. If you’re looking for misinformation about sexual assault, Cohen is brimming with it.