Donald Trump was recorded bragging that he could use his position of power as a television producer to grab women’s vaginas and kiss them without their consent. His defense in the debate last night was that this was “locker room talk”. How should we evaluate it? Does criticizing his behavior mean we are prudes who are unable to accept that people are human and fallible and can express themselves in a relaxed fashion on topics like sex?
Consider the following parallel. Doctors have a position of power with respect to patients. And doctors when no patients are around indulge in taboo-breaking conversation. We could call it “hospital banter”. Hospital banter might be disturbing: physicians might talk about patients disrespectfully. My doctor might when he talks to me one on one say “you should really lose weight” but with his colleagues say “patient’s a tub-o — looking to be heart attack central!” Hospital banter can be rude and disrespectful and even express desires that doctors wouldn’t want their patients to hear, such as “I wish that guy would just die already and stop showing up in my emergency room.”
If a doctor was recorded engaging in hospital banter he would probably want to defend himself saying things like Trump said. “It’s just talk. I was just kidding. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.”
But consider the following case in contrast.
You are worried your child has cancer and need the services of a pediatric oncologist, Dr. Jones. A tape of Dr. Jones surfaces where he thinks he is not being listened to and is talking to a colleague, Dr. Smith.
Smith: How do you like being a pediatric oncologist.
Jones: It’s awesome. You have so much power. Sometimes when I’m talking with parents about their children I ask to see their wallet to check their insurance. And then I reach into the wallet and take a twenty dollar bill and put it in my pocket. Right in front of the parents!
Smith: Really? That’s interesting.
Jones: Interesting? It’s great, cause I love money and I love humiliating people. Then I return the wallet to them without the money and look them in the eye. It’s really awesome cause they are so emotionally upset cause they think they have a kid with cancer that they don’t do anything! Also they’re afraid to because of m position as a doctor! And I get money!
This is pretty different than two physicians simply engaging in “hospital banter”. In this case the doctor is doing more — he is bragging about a criminal act.
Trump was bragging about a criminal act — using his power to have sexual contact with women without their consent.
Anderson Cooper last night asked Trump repeatedly “Did you really do it?”
In the case above if Dr. Jones was joking I believe upon being caught he would say that very very clearly and immediately. He would not say “It was just talk.” He would unambiguously say “I don’t actually do that. I was joking. I was showing off. But I do not really steal from my patients.”
After being asked I think four or five times Trump finally said “No, I do not sexually assault women.”
That is a clear, unambiguous answer. The answer about “locker room talk” is evasive, as I hope I have shown.