What the reaction to Trump’s ‘affair’ with Stormy Daniels tells us about US attitudes to sex
Robert Delaney says whether Americans are learning to keep the personal out of the political, or Republicans are practising blatant double standards on marital fidelity, Trump has maintained steady approval ratings during rumours of his alleged affair
There’s a history of marital indiscretion among many occupants of the Oval Office. Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, Warren G. Harding …
That Trump may have had sex with a porn star, a Playboy centrefold, and possibly others while married, makes the issue more salacious, but doesn’t make him different from most other married men in the US.
Estimates compiled by The Washington Post several years ago “find married men cheating at rates between 25 per cent and 72 per cent. Given that many people are loath to admit that they cheat, research on cheating may underestimate its prevalence. But it appears that cheating is as common as fidelity.”
It is no wonder, then, that the bedroom scandals swirling around Trump have not undercut his support. The weekly Gallup poll shows Trump’s approval rating at the end of March unchanged from a month earlier, at 39 per cent.
Sleeping around with sexually objectified women would not be inconsistent with what everyone in the US knows about Trump, opponents and supporters alike. Trump has cultivated his image as a playboy for decades. Therefore, what might seem like bombshell revelations in the matter of Stormy Daniels are really just firecrackers.
Journalists working to dig up dirt about Trump’s extramarital activities need to know that the details will only serve to titillate Americans of all political orientations. They aren’t likely to sink Trump’s ship.
At first blush, it may seem as though Americans might have finally reached a more mature understanding about sexuality. Strict adherence to monogamy might not be an essential component of a happy marriage. Somewhere around half of Americans, if not more, seem to think so.
This being the case, public servants in positions all the way up to the White House should not need to worry about their sexual past coming to light, unless of course their histories include incidents that were not consensual or otherwise in violation of legal statutes.
So the lack of public outrage against Trump in the Stormy Daniels case shows a measure of progressive sociological evolution in the US, right?
Well, no. The US religious right, which is a key component of Trump’s supporters, have simply averted their eyes from the headlines to avoid any confrontation with their collective conscience.
Trump is their man. In particular, he is the one who can be counted on to fill the federal courts and the Supreme Court with conservative justices, regardless of whose bedroom bureau he’s leaving a wad of cash on.
“This is an issue between President Trump and God,” conservative political commentator and former Republican Senator Rick Santorum said on CNN last week when grilled about why the Christian right in the US is not reacting to allegations from women claiming to have had sex with a married Donald Trump.
Even if Trump faces a final political reckoning as a result of any one of the multiple investigations into his activities before and after taking office, Santorum and the rest of the pious Christians in the Republican Party know they have an even stronger advocate of Christian values in Vice-President Mike Pence.
Pence’s social boundaries speak volumes about his position on infidelity. He has proudly declared that any aides working late with him must be male, he will not dine alone with a woman other than his wife Karen and will not attend an event where alcohol is served unless Karen is present.
Neither the US religious right nor the Republicans have a monopoly on hypocrisy, of course.
But let’s face it, if similar allegations of marital indiscretion played out around Joe Biden, a possible Democratic contender for the White House in 2020, the issue would not just be between Biden and God. It would be much more down to Earth, specifically in the mud of day-to-day political warfare.
Robert Delaney is a US correspondent for the Post based in New York