By Dr. Jen Mercieca
You Know What’s Most Interesting About Trump’s Pending Indictment? That Stormy Daniels Won.
Donald Trump spent the weekend posting truthies claiming that he expected to be indicted by the Manhattan district attorney for a hush money payment made during the 2016 election to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Trump’s many posts allowed him to control the media agenda, launching the nation into a frenetic “indictment watch,” if not a civil war.
Trump is an unreliable narrator of events, so he may be indicted in New York this week, then again, he might not. Whether or not Trump is indicted or convicted or ever punished for the hush money scam, Stormy Daniels has won.
Stormy has already won because she has refused to be turned into a hate-object and has refused to capitulate to Trump’s threats and coercion. In other words, Stormy bested Trump because she successfully resisted Trump’s fascist communication strategies.
From a “communication and democracy” perspective, the story of Trump and Stormy is really about how misogyny and intimidation work together in fascist rhetoric. Trump has repeatedly treated Stormy like an object (using a strategy known as reification, treating people as objects). First, he treated her as a useful object (a sexy object). Then, he treated her as a hate-object. When Stormy refused to be reified, Trump used a strategy known as ad baculum (threats of force or intimidation). Through his lawyers, Trump has repeatedly tried to force her into compliance.
Typically these two strategies work together to silence women (and others) while simultaneously allowing fascists to pretend to be tough. But in the end, Stormy did not comply; she would not be silenced.
Trump and Stormy’s brief affair occurred in 2006. By May 2011, she had agreed to tell the story to a tabloid. According to her March 2018 60 Minutes interview, “the story never ran because after the magazine called Mr. Trump seeking comment, his attorney Michael Cohen threatened to sue.”
Stormy claims that a few weeks later, a man approached her in a parking garage in Las Vegas and warned her, “leave Trump alone. Forget the story.” Then the man “leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, ‘That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom’.” Stormy recalls being physically and emotionally shaken by the threat to her safety.
A story about the affair was posted in October 2011 when a sexy gossip blog named The Dirty exposed Trump’s relationship with Stormy. The gossip article included a photo of Trump and Stormy at a golf event in 2006 and claimed, “my friend had sex with Donald after one of his golfing events, and he lured her to multiple hotel rooms after that. My friend wants to speak with you directly because she is in fear that Donald Trump will ruin her life more than he already has.”
No one seemed to notice the story about Trump and Stormy at the time, but it resurfaced at a crucial moment in Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign—in October, just after the Washington Post released Trump’s “hot mic” Access Hollywood tape in which he can be heard bragging about how he likes to treat women in ways that the press described as “extremely lewd.”
“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them,” Trump said to Billy Bush on the tape. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump says. “You can do anything…Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Trump, of course, regularly treated women as sexy-objects or hate-objects. Trump’s confession caused a number of women to come forward to say that Trump had, in fact, “grabbed” them without waiting. Stormy tried to tell her story to the National Inquirer, but she didn’t know that they had a “catch and kill” arrangement with Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen. Cohen temporarily silenced Stormy by getting her to sign a non-disclosure agreement and paying her $130,000. According to Stormy, she felt pressured to sign the NDA, “They can make your life hell in many different ways’,” she recalled Cohen warning her.
The story was successfully killed until the Wall Street Journal reported about it on January 12, 2018. Once again, Cohen contacted Stormy to prevent her from talking. He had her sign another statement absolving Trump, “I felt intimidated and honestly bullied,” explained Stormy on 60 Minutes. “And I didn’t know what to do. And so I signed it.”
By April 2018, Stormy had decided to stand up to the intimidation tactics, “I’m tired of being threatened,” Stormy told the women on The View. “And intimidating me and trying to say that you’ll ruin my life and take all of my money and my house or whatever — I’m sorry, I’m done. I’m done being bullied.”
Stormy refused to be intimidated and coerced by Trump and his legal team. She told her story in her book, Full Disclosure, went on an extensive media tour, and Tweeted sassy rebuttals at her attackers-- including Trump when he called her “Horseface” on Twitter.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present your president.” Stormy tweeted. “In addition to his...umm...shortcomings, he has demonstrated his incompetence, hatred of women, and lack of self-control on Twitter AGAIN! And perhaps a penchant for bestiality. Game on, Tiny.”
Since 2018 Cohen, of course, has been very forthcoming about his role in the Trump and Stormy affair cover-up—pleading guilty and serving prison time. When Cohen testified before Congress on February 27, 2019, Representative Jackie Speier asked him, “how many times did Mr. Trump ask you to threaten an individual or entity on his behalf?” Cohen responded, “Quite a few times.” Speier asked him to quantify the number, “50 times? More; 100 times? More; 200 times? More; 500 times? Probably. Over the 10 years.”
True to form then, when an indictment seemed likely this week, Trump threatened the nation with civil war. But he had already gone to war against Stormy. “I did NOTHING wrong in the ‘Horseface’ case.” Trump truthied on March 15. “Never had an affair with her, just another false acquisition by a SleazeBag.”
Normalized fascist rhetoric means that threats and coercion are “understandable” ways to gain compliance over a woman, a legal system, or a nation. Fascists know that their route to power is secured through treating women as objects (sexy or hated)—the fascist worldview is based on the kind of “machismo” demonstrated by Trump in the Stormy story. But Stormy did not comply; she would not be silenced. Fascism is for losers, losers like Trump.