My aunt thinks Stormy Daniels will bring down Donald Trump. Not because the American public won’t accept a president who had an affair with a porn star while his wife was nursing their new baby. Trump’s fans will probably like him all the more for his walk on the wild side. His evangelical army has already forgiven him—that is, the 40 percent who don’t believe it’s fake news. After all, Trump wasn’t president in 2007, so it doesn’t count. And what about King David? He had plenty of concubines and God loved him anyway.
No, says my aunt, it’s not the sex that will bring him down; it’s the nondisclosure agreement, sealed with a $130,000 payment apparently made by Trump’s hapless lawyer Michael Cohen, which could be seen as an illegal campaign contribution. Trump’s fans wouldn’t care about that either, of course. They already know he’s dishonest, or else they’ve persuaded themselves that God is using Trump as His instrument, just like King David, and so He can’t be expected to observe the niceties of federal election law.
There would be a kind of poetic justice if Trump was the victim of his own licentiousness—talk about pussy grabbing back!—and if his assumption that he could buy anyone off came back to bite him. Still, I’m a little skeptical that Stormy will save us. If a small financial irregularity could ruin Trump, wouldn’t that have happened already? The man violates the laws of business every single day—in fact, the plethora of scandals may be part of the problem: The news media don’t have time to delve into any one before the next one pops up, and it’s too much for the public to stay focused on. It’s just “Trump being Trump.”
Still, Stormy is great: She’s smart, plainspoken, unashamed, and funny. As she is quick to remind people, she is not just an adult-film star; she also directs and writes screenplays. Even if you aren’t a porn aficionado, you’ve probably seen her on-screen: She’s done cameos in Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. (“She’s very nice and super smart and great to work with,” Apatow says.)
Stormy’s Twitter feed is feisty and amusing, too. After @Angela_Stalcup tweeted that “Stormy Daniels is the member of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas,” Daniels responded, “This is THE most offensive lie I’ve read about myself to date. Can we please go back to calling me a drug addicted male prostitute from outer space? Thanks!” It’s hard not to compare her favorably to Melania, that miserable bird in a gilded cage. Does Melania even know how weird it was for her, the wife of the biggest Twittermonster on the planet, to have chosen cyberbullying as her pet project? Paging Dr. Freud! Or is it a coded cry for help? I am the only person I know who feels the least bit sorry for Melania. “She made her choice,” says my aunt and practically everyone else on the planet. People don’t like trophy wives, but Melania wouldn’t be the first woman who married a man because it seemed like a good idea at the time and has been forced to live with her youthful mistake. The two women are a perfect 21st-century illustration of the 19th-century feminist equation of marriage and sex work. I’d say Stormy got herself the better deal.
The Trump Stormy described in her much-anticipated interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes was very much the man we know, utterly capable of sending some goon to threaten her in a parking lot while she’s trying to put her child in a car seat. He’s also just the sort of guy who would invite a woman to his hotel room and dangle the hope of a slot on his TV show in order to get her into bed. The bit about her spanking him with a magazine on whose cover he appears was startling and also suggestive: After she gave him a “couple swats” on the behind, he became “a completely different person”—he finally stopped talking about himself. Hmmm, maybe women should try that on men more often! But then her story takes a somber turn: She goes to use the bathroom, and when she comes back he’s “perched” on the bed. The casual dinner had turned into something else.
As Stormy recalled it, “I realized exactly what I’d gotten myself into. And I was like, ‘Ugh, here we go.’ [Laughs.] And I just felt like maybe [laughs]…I had it coming for making a bad decision for going to someone’s room alone and I just heard the voice in my head: ‘Well, you put yourself in a bad situation and bad things happen, so you deserve this.’”
After confirming that Stormy had sex with Trump, Cooper asks her: “You were 27, he was 60. Were you physically attracted to him?”
“No,” she replies.
“Did you want to have sex with him?”
“No,” Stormy says. “But I didn’t—I didn’t say no.”
Sleeping with someone because you went to his room, because he expects it, because you can’t think of how to get out of the “bad situation,” and then blaming yourself for it because sex is something that women somehow owe men, and the fact that you’re not attracted to him doesn’t really matter? That was more or less the plot of “Cat Person” by Kristen Roupenian, the New Yorker short story that touched a nerve with so many millennial women (and enraged so many millennial men).
Consent is the central principle in contemporary sexual mores, and that’s a big step forward. But as Stormy’s admission makes clear, consent takes place in a context that can be subtly coercive—even if it’s just you coercing yourself. When “yes” really means “OK, I came to your hotel room, so you got me—let’s get this over with,” it’s not very liberatory. In fact, it’s not all that different from the old understanding that a married woman had permanently consented to sex with her husband, whether she wanted it or not.
Stormy and Melania, sisters under the skin.