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Go Ahead and Laugh at Donald Trump Jr.’s Divorce
Women’s personal lives have always been cruelly judged — turnabout is fair play
There are few things I regret more than my familiarity with the Trump family. Over the course of the past year or two, I have come to know each of them in their own horrible way, like relatives you dread seeing at Thanksgiving. I know about Melania’s taste in decor, evidenced by those Nightmare Before Christmas horror-trees in the White House hallway. I have skimmed Ivanka’s Instagram and come to know the millennial-pink taste of terror. And I know — as every single one of us must know by now — that Donald Trump Jr., the president’s largest and most adult of sons, is getting a divorce from his wife, Vanessa.
All of this raises an inevitable debate about how, as members of the media, we ought to cover the Trump family. And right now, we are being asked to be kind about Don’s marital woes — namely, the reports that the mother of his children is reportedly leaving him because she can’t stand his “combative public persona,” and also because he cheated on her with a contestant from The Celebrity Apprentice.
“Really weird and upsetting to see folks acting gleeful at the Don Jr. divorce news,” tweeted Sam Stein, a reporter at the Daily Beast. “It’s his private life and he has five kids. Leave it alone.” Elsewhere, conservatives (of whom S.E. Cupp is not one) accused “vile liberals” of hating the nuclear family and glorying in its destruction.
It’s true: Divorce is hard. You know what else is hard? Every single day of the Trump administration. And it gets no better when I have to hear about — or worse, care about — Don Jr.
I don’t find it all that objectionable or unreasonable that people on social media are goofing on Don Jr.. The humanity we’re being asked to bring to our Trump coverage is the humanity his regime denies to everyone else. And when it comes to the question of whether personal lives or sexual folly should be fair game, the rules have always been different for women.
This isn’t the first time a guy in Trump’s orbit has sparked a conversation about the “ethics” of covering awful people. When former Trump adviser Sam Nunberg gave a bizarre spree of cable news interviews — seemingly under the influence of drugs, in the throes of a psychiatric crisis, or both — Axios dubbed it “awful scandal porn,” alleging that Nunberg had been “pecked at and picked apart like roadkill on the Russia Interstate, in his last gasps of public fame and shame.” The article quoted a range of experts, like Brian Stelter, who wrote that “an ethical debate is raging in journalism circles” about interviewing a “source [who] seems drunk or drugged or just plain out of his mind.”
Really? Because it certainly didn’t rage when reporters busted into a Los Angeles hair salon to watch Britney Spears shave her own head. It didn’t rage when a Rolling Stone reporter got into the home of a clearly incapacitated Amy Winehouse in the middle of the night to report on her disintegration, or when the New York Times sent a reporter out to a tiny independent film set to report on what it’s really like to work with the disgraced Lindsay Lohan, or when Diane Sawyer trotted out an emaciated and clearly ill Whitney Houston to account for herself on national TV. And, to be fair, it didn’t exactly rage after Michael Jackson got dramatic plastic surgery on his nose or dangled his child off a balcony, either. Those people are entertainers — and, more relevantly, not white men — and their psychiatric crises provided the press with guilt-free fun for years on end. But when it’s a genuinely powerful white man in the crosshairs, we flinch.
It’s also pretty rich that the concern over Don’s feelings about his divorce is erupting at the same time as the Stormy Daniels hush-money scandal and the corresponding onslaught of jokes about “porn stars.” Daniels, who alleges that she was coerced and threatened into signing a contract promising not to disclose her consensual affair with Donald Trump and was subsequently paid off for signing the contract, did nothing worse than have sex with a bad man and talk about it afterward. You can fault her choice of partners, but — unlike Don Jr., an eager propagandist for his father and one-half of a very shady business relationship — her complicity in the Trump regime’s excesses and abuses is minimal. In fact, her exposure of the payoff (which, if it was done to aid Trump’s electoral chances, is flat-out illegal) is possibly a public service.
Simply because of her job, and the fact that we know she’s a woman who’s had sex, Daniels has become the butt of juvenile snickering and vicious shaming — sometimes from the same conservatives who are worried about hurting poor Don.
Sure: People are making fun of Donald Trump’s divorce. They’re pointing out his giant forehead. They’re wondering how he ever convinced a woman to marry him in the first place. They’re posting that weird fucking photo of Don on a log and wondering if it’ll be on his Tinder.
People are making fun of President Trump, too, and sometimes in deeply personal and invasive ways. They’re dreading the release of the presidential dick pics. They’re uttering horrified gasp-laughs at the fact that Trump told Daniels she was “just like his daughter.” They’re engaging in the general and widely shared sense of Trump’s sexual grossness that has been around at least since the world heard the immortal phrase “pee tape.”
In another context, I might complain. But these particular comments aren’t punching down. They’re punching back. The contempt for Don and his woes is grounded in very real pain; they’re asking why we should care about the dissolution of one wealthy family when ICE recently ripped a seven-year-old girl from her mother’s arms and kept them in deportation facilities across the continent from each other, or casting shade on the sexual appetites of a man who’s been accused by more than a dozen women of sexual assault and misconduct.
It’s not that I always like the jokes themselves. It’s that sometimes jokes are all we have. Women, in particular, have always known that the public gaze is a dangerous thing; their personalities, choices, and appearances are ripped apart on social media and in serious press outlets every day, and their marital misfortunes have always been fair game. (Ask Hillary Clinton about that sometime.)
By subjecting Don Jr. and his father to this kind of cruel sexual and physical scrutiny, women are arguably turning the tables, venting their justifiable rage at the administration by trying to make powerful men subject to the same judgments that have always shaped their own lives.
It doesn’t work; white men will always be, on some level, immune from the personal judgments we use to destroy women (or even men of color). But that also means that the jokes, rough though they might be, don’t stand to do him any real harm.
The amusement at Don Jr.’s divorce reflects the cruel absurdity of not only having your face ground down into the mud, but also knowing that the men holding it there are venal and ridiculous. If the world has to end, we’d like it to be ended by a properly frightening monster — but we’ll just have to accept the Trumps, in all their hilariously ugly, warty, gold-coated, pee-stained glory. The jokes won’t save us. They just allow us to forget for a moment who really has the upper hand. Sometimes, the relief of that moment is its own excuse.