JUST locker room talk, said Donald Trump, indignantly.
I mean, c’mon guys! Who hasn’t filled time waiting for a shower by bragging about indecently assaulting women? It’s just one of those guy things, crotch-grabbing. You wouldn’t understand.
Besides, what with ISIS running around chopping heads off – which, arguably, is also quite a guy thing, although obviously not a regular guy thing, not like good ol’ healthy American groping – we need a real man in the White House right now. A sexually aggressive, serially untruthful, Muslim-banning and, for several years, non-taxpaying man who doesn’t take "no" for an answer. Even from women. (Just kidding there, obviously! Just a little ladies’ locker room talk!)
Only suddenly, Trump’s particular locker room – that sweaty, festering, verruca sock-littered place he’s created, where angry people can talk with total disregard for truth or consequences – looks emptier than it was. And, oddly, it’s the real men who are leaving.
One by one, following publication of the so-called Trump Tapes in which the wannabe president was recorded boasting back in 2005 about grabbing women "by the pussy", Republican grandees are peeling away.
Michael Reagan, son of the late president Ronald, says his father would be "so embarrassed" by Trump’s behaviour and Americans should vote to "save the country". War hero and Arizona senator John McCain and actor-turned-California-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger are both refusing to vote for their own party’s candidate. It seems men who could tolerate the racism and the misogyny and the rambling incoherence on all the big issues have finally cracked now Trump’s making it look not only embarrassing to be a Republican, but actively embarrassing to be a man.
For that’s the one positive thing to come out of this repellent episode – the reassuringly horrified response of countless ordinary men, who really don’t like the way this particular locker room smells.
This election has pitted a certain kind of man – angry, entitled, but frustrated – against the kind of woman he most hates: clever, successful, slightly aloof
When The Wall Street Journal associate editor John Bussey suggested that, actually, real men talk about nagging knee injuries and "taking the kids to see Lion King" while getting changed for squash, he triggered endless self-deprecating – and appalled – tweets from the sort of men who seemingly don’t need to prove their virility to anyone. During Sunday’s presidential debate, macho American footballers queued up to say that actually nobody talks like that even in their locker rooms (and remember, Trump made his comments while miked up on a TV set, not in the privacy of a gym).
For every politician declaring that "as a father/husband" he found Trump’s views hideous, meanwhile there were younger men pointing out that women are more than just some man's property to be defended. Or, to put it another way, men are starting to echo loud and clear what women have been saying for ever and, tempting as it is to wonder why it took so long, or why criticism from old white men invariably gets taken seriously, this is no time for grumbling.
This election has pitted blue-collar workers against the middle classes, and masses against elites, but above all, it’s pitted a certain kind of man – angry, entitled, but frustrated – against the kind of woman he most hates: clever, successful, slightly aloof. The more Hillary Clinton proves how smart and qualified she is, the more some Trump voters hate her for it and that’s perhaps one reason the TV debates are difficult for her. If she seemed stiff and overly scripted on Sunday night, ignoring rather than confronting Trump’s allegations, that must be partly because she knows some viewers would recoil from the sight of a woman trying to humiliate a man.
So, if some Americans can only really hear the truth about Trump from other men – well, frankly, whatever it takes. This can’t just be women’s fight, any more than it can be just ethnic minority voters’ fight or democrats’ fight or even – judging by the sight of British UKIP leader Nigel Farage spinning enthusiastically for Trump on Sunday – just America’s fight for long.
It has to be everybody’s fight, because this is not a normal election. Donald Trump is not a normal candidate. And sometimes it takes a million normal guys to say that, actually, he’s not even one of them.