Sex and the White House: From Clinton to Trump

Two decades ago this week US president Bill Clinton declared that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

As it turned out, he did – and he was impeached for lying about his trysts with Monica Lewinsky.

Today, another US president is accused of sexual impropriety – specifically of paying off a porn star one month before the November 2016 election to keep their adulterous liaison quiet.

Such a bombshell allegation would be the kiss of death to most political careers.

But Trump is no normal politician and in his tumultuous administration, “it’s not even the biggest story of the week,” wrote Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Political analysts are scratching their heads to explain why – when it comes to Trump – such a revelation barely elicits a collective shrug.

Clinton, of course, was president at the time and some of his assignations with Lewinsky, a 22-year-old intern, took place in a secluded study by the hallowed Oval Office.

Trump was a private citizen when the 2006 sexual encounter with adult film actress Stormy Daniels was alleged to have taken place.

He was, though, married at the time and his wife, Melania, had given birth to their son less than four months earlier.

Tobe Berkovitz, an associate professor of advertising at Boston University, said Trump displays an uncanny ability to sail past scandals.

“Trump is an anomaly,” said Berkovitz, who has served as a political consultant on numerous political campaigns in addition to teaching.

“Look at the litany of other politicians, celebrities and journalists who have just had the trap door open out from under them for behavior that might not be as egregious or as bad as Trump’s,” Berkovitz told AFP.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Trump had paid Daniels $130,000 to keep a lid on their dalliance.

Trump, through his personal lawyer, and Daniels, 38, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, have both denied anything ever went on between them.

But In Touch magazine published a 2011 interview with Daniels last week in which she expounds at length and in detail on their relationship and what she described as their “textbook generic” sex.

The In Touch interview, which had not been published before, was conducted prior to Daniels’ alleged signing of a secrecy agreement in October 2016.

Voters seem disinterested

G. Terry Madonna, director of the Centre for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, said he was a bit surprised at the lack of interest in the Stormy Daniels allegations – particularly during the current “Me Too” moment of reckoning over sexual misconduct.

“This doesn’t seem to have taken hold,” Madonna said. “You would think this was something that would have gotten a fair amount of attention but no, not at all.

“There’s not been an overriding interest in the American media and the voters seem, what’s the word, as though they’re disinterested.”

Madonna and other analysts said this may be partly due to the constant drumbeat of extraordinary headlines coming out of the Trump White House.

“I can’t figure out – and I’ve been doing this for a long time – whether it’s because every day there’s almost some huge national crisis of one sort or another,” Madonna said.

“(Maybe) it’s just the fact that it happened in 2006,” that Trump was a private citizen and that the sex was – by all accounts – consensual, he said.

In any case, Madonna doesn’t think Trump has anything to worry about.

“Believe me, with Trump things can change in a heartbeat, but I don’t think this has much legs to derail his presidency at this point,” he said.

Olivia Nuzzi, Washington correspondent for New York magazine, attributed the apparent blase reaction by the public and the press to what could be termed Trump “scandal fatigue.”

“You know, he’s had so many scandals like this that it kind of almost has a tiring effect on all of us,” Nuzzi said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

Boston University’s Berkovitz agreed. “I think what’s happened is that some people have perhaps become numb to some of this behavior when it comes to Trump,” he said.

“It’s not that there’s a different standard for Trump,” he said. “It’s how Trump reacts to the allegations. Trump pulls off the gloves and hits the mobile and starts tweeting. He doubles down on everything.”

Berkovitz said this reminds him, “ironically of Bill Clinton.”

“The classic 1990s Bill Clinton was to ‘Let no charge go unanswered,'” Berkovitz said. “Basically to – I don’t want to say lie – but to bend the truth dramatically.

“He had no qualms about that.”

Daniels, meanwhile, is cashing in on her notoriety.

She appeared at the Trophy Club strip club in Greenville, South Carolina, over the weekend as part of a “Make America Horny Again” tour that will also reportedly take her to several other states over the next few months.

© Agence France-Presse

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Chris Lefkow
Chris Lefkow is an AFP correspondent based in Washington.

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