Forget policies, the Stormy Daniels affair shows how far US politics has sunk


On Sunday night, Stephanie Clifford, the porn star known as Stormy Daniels, gave a bombshell interview on 60 Minutes about her sexual encounter with Donald Trump and his attempts to keep her from speaking out about their relationship. The most shocking part was not her claim she was threatened with physical violence or some of the sordid details she shared. Instead, it was simply that it all seemed relatively normal.

The idea of a porn star appearing on network television to share details of a sexual encounter with the US commander in chief would have been intellectually confounding at any other moment in time. Instead, the interview, which took place only few days after a former Playboy playmate, Karen McDougal, talked about her affair with Trump, seemed a part of the everyday political landscape in 2018.

It’s an indication of the impact that Trump has had on American politics and American culture. We now expect the president, along with other politicians, to give unbridled and unedited commentary on events via Twitter in real time. Conflicts of interests, emoluments and sex scandals all blend together in the background din of the news cycle.

The revelations on 60 Minutes are not out of the blue. Trump was accused of sexual misconduct by more than 20 women during his presidential campaign – he denies the claims – and was captured on tape bragging of grabbing women by their genitalia without their consent. And long before Trump considered a career in electoral politics, he planted stories about his supposed sexual prowess in New York tabloids and was a regular guest on Howard Stern’s racy radio show.

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The question is what happens after Trump. At this point, his improvisational style, his penchant for off-the-cuff remarks and shocking actions has become normalized but it is still unclear what happens to our democracy. The increase in activism and voter turnout since 2016, particularly from those opposed to Trump, is an indication that the shock of his election has helped lead to renewed political engagement. But, this is not an unusual reaction. There are familiar precedents like the Tea Party on the right after Barack Obama’s election or the wave of liberal anti-war activism during the George W Bush administration. However there is no precedent for the star of such films as Dripping Wet Sex 4 claiming that the president of the United States threatened her if she revealed their affair.

Trump may seem like an aberration but instead he may be an inflection point. It’s possible that after over two centuries of presidential campaigns with governors, senators and the occasional general, American politics is shifting to something more tawdry and more celebrity-oriented. The often spoken and rarely met ideal in the United States is that political debates should be about issues. But, after a political campaign where candidates debated penis size on a debate stage, it may be the legacy of Trump that politics has permanently descended to locker-room talk.




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