Melinda Henneberger

Fatigue with Trump and rape is no reason to ignore E. Jean Carroll allegation

My first thought, reading longtime Elle advice columnist E. Jean Carroll’s description of being raped by Donald Trump in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room decades ago, was that there might still be presidential DNA on the Donna Karan coat dress she was wearing that day and never laundered.

My second thought, though, was that no one would care if there were.

Because — how does that script go again? — she must have been willing. Because Bill Clinton, always, and because anyway, all of this was so very long ago. Since she’s written a book, nothing in it can be believed. And because Trump is a modern-day King Cyrus, he in any case gets a pass from God himself.

(Apparently, a stray Biblical reference to this previously obscure Persian royal, who despite his heathen ways did free the Jews from slavery in Babylon six centuries before Christ, so reminds some evangelicals of Trump — duh, right? — that they’re willing to shrug off every lesson in the New Testament. This imagined divine mandate makes everything from immigrant babies neglected in filthy detention centers to only this latest on-the-record sexual assault allegation against the president somehow not just defensible, but all part of some twisted but who-are-we-to-argue cosmic plan.)

Journalists not paying enough attention

Far more unsettling to me, back in our own Babylon, is that days after Carroll’s account was published in New York Magazine, my colleagues in the news business seem not to care much, either.

Is a detailed rape allegation by a highly respected woman such a nothing that we needn’t take even a minute out from finding fault with the Democratic presidential frontrunner to report on it?

To all of the excuses for our lack of interest — that this was 23 years ago, that her motives have been compromised by her commercial interest in selling her book, and my personal favorite, that she should have come forward last year, at the #MeToo moment deemed appropriate by those who’ve never had to learn the hard way that whenever a woman comes forward is somehow the wrong moment — I have one question: If this had been alleged of any of Trump’s potential 2020 rivals, in either party, would the coverage and public response be so meek and measured?

“Joe Biden accused of standing too close” is apparently a way bigger story than “Donald Trump accused of raping a public person in a public place.” Unlike most women, men and children who are sexually assaulted, she told two friends at the time, and they back her up.

So why is Kellyanne Conway’s husband so lonely in noting the credibility of this 16th sexual assault allegation against the current president of the United States?

Worn down and worn out is no excuse

Yes, we’re exhausted by the sheer volume of Trump scandals, and yes, we’re bored with rape, too, because that is so last year.

Maybe if he’d been accused of swiping a sweater from Bergdorf’s, that would be new and different? Because allegations of slamming a woman against a wall and penetrating her is same old, same old at this point.

From those who camp out to get seats at Trump’s altar calls, I expect the response to be just what it has been: a cascade of excuses that all boil down to blaming E. Jean Carroll. She says that she was never much tempted to come forward, both because that’s not what her generation did, and because, “Receiving death threats, being driven from my home, being dismissed, being dragged through the mud and joining the 15 women who’ve come forward with credible stories about how the man grabbed, badgered, belittled, mauled, molested and assaulted them, only to see the man turn it around, deny, threaten, and attack them, never sounded like much fun.” How inexplicable.

To Trump’s faithful, his denials and claims that “I’ve never met this person in my life” are in no way undercut by two photos of them chatting at parties.

But for those who know better but can’t be bothered, I’m sorry to see the extent to which this man and this topic have worn us down and worn us out.

And to those who purport to support women but wish this particular woman had said something sooner, later, or not at all, I say: What else is new?

This column originally appeared in USA Today.