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What the White House Knew About Rob Porter

Inasmuch as we can judge a person’s interior based on their actions, it’s fair to say that a man who disregards women’s physical and sexual boundaries, as President Trump reportedly has, does not care about women. If it is possible to simultaneously care about women and subordinate their wishes to yours, to prioritize your sexual urges over their bodily autonomy, then what does “care” even mean? I think it’s also fair to say that a man who lashes out at women with physical violence, as Porter allegedly has, harbors some degree of hatred for them. What else does “hatred” mean if not this — the object of our fury, the thing we love to hurt?

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Trump White House shrugged at the safety of two individual American women; after all, it is expressly hostile to the safety of 125 million. This is an administration that campaigned, explicitly, on a promised return to some midcentury mirage of American “greatness,” when white men ruled unfettered and the rest of us resumed our places on the spectrum between property and servitude.

The Trumpists long to disembowel the health care system and force pregnant people to give birth against their will. They are wholly obsessed with shoring up intergenerational poverty and leaving the most vulnerable to die. They seem determined to irreparably rend gay families and immigrant families and ship the sons and husbands of impoverished women off to frivolous vanity wars and sacrifice the sons and husbands of black women to our “Anglo-American” law enforcement traditions. What is that but carelessness and hate on a global scale? When have they demonstrated genuine, substantive care for any women other than their token pets?

Porter’s “problems” and his superiors’ indifference to them are not anomalous in Trump’s White House; both are foundational to its ethos. It’s no coincidence that Steve Bannon (himself an accused domestic abuser) perceived #MeToo and #TimesUp as a direct response to the Trump presidency itself.

This quadrangular tug-of-war — private violence, public service, public atrocities, private kindness — has sprung up around the #MeToo movement in a similar way. Before the ink was dry on the first wave of allegations, somber heralds of a supposed “backlash” began attempting to drag the movement back into the shadows. Where will it end, they asked? What about due process? What about separating the art from the artist? But he’s so nice! He never tried to rape me. (The same fatal flaw lies at the heart of every “humanizing” media expedition into Trump country. But they love soup! They take care of their pets!)

It’s true that we have a lot to figure out. The very foundations of our culture are marbled with violence, exploitation, and exclusion — the work of brilliant abusers (and mediocre ones), the institutional scaffolding that enabled them, and the conspicuous absence of their victims. Separating art from artist, to some degree, may not be a choice. We can’t un-Miles-Davis music, or de-Alfred-Hitchcock film — nor, necessarily, should we. I don’t know the answers. There is doing harm, there is making amends, there is being better, and there is hoping the world will take you back. Being forgiven is not a guarantee, nor is being remembered. But it is a privilege, not a burden, to get to witness and participate in this conversation, to build better institutions and better systems together.

The question of whether we can separate the art from the artist — or the fairly competent secretarial work from the domestic violence allegations — is bigger than Harvey Weinstein, or Quentin Tarantino, or Rob Porter. It is bigger than art. It is bigger than politics. It’s the question of whether anything at all can be truly divorced from its context. Americans are, arguably, too adept at such compartmentalization. It is our defining sickness. We separate the founding of this country from the slave-owning founding fathers. We separate the theft of this continent from our own bodies standing on it. We separate the present from the past.

Sometimes the past catches up.

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