Donald Trump’s Unearthed Rape Accusation Is a Sobering Reminder of the Person Beneath the Punchline

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It’s an average Tuesday, which means that once again, a prominent Republican figure — or in this case, his lawyer — has said something profoundly ignorant about rape. Yesterday, The Daily Beast revisited a disturbing passage in Harry Hurt III’s 1993 Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump, one that’s newly relevant given Trump’s presidential campaign, his bigoted remarks on Mexican immigrants, and the recent, long-overdue scrutiny of powerful men accused of sexual assault.

In the passage, Hurt describes Trump’s “violent assault” on his then-wife Ivana in 1989; having obtained Ivana’s account from a deposition related to the couple’s divorce in the early 1990s, Hurt described, in graphic detail, a confrontation following Trump’s alleged scalp reduction surgery, a painful procedure performed by a plastic surgeon who had also treated Ivana:

“Your fucking doctor has ruined me!” Trump cried. What followed was a “violent assault,” according to Lost Tycoon. Donald held back Ivana’s arms and began to pull out fistfuls of hair from her scalp, as if to mirror the pain he felt from his own operation. He tore off her clothes and unzipped his pants. “Then he jams his penis inside her for the first time in more than sixteen months. Ivana is terrified… It is a violent assault,” Hurt writes. “According to versions she repeats to some of her closest confidantes, ‘he raped me.’” Following the incident, Ivana ran upstairs, hid behind a locked door, and remained there “crying for the rest of night.” When she returned to the master bedroom in the morning, he was there.

When Hurt’s book was originally released, Trump vehemently denied Hurt’s allegations, calling the author a “vindictive and jealous person.” For her part, Ivana agreed to release a statement, provided by Trump’s lawyers and printed on the first page of Lost Tycoon, revising her classification of the assault: “As a woman, I felt violated, as the love and tenderness, which [Trump] normally exhibited towards me, was absent. I referred to this as a ‘rape,’ but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”

Today, Ivana stands by her ex-husband more emphatically: “The [Daily Beast] story is totally without merit… I have nothing but fondness for Donald and wish him the best of luck on his campaign.” But while every woman has the right to define her own experiences, Ivana nonetheless described an encounter, under oath, that falls far outside the boundaries of consent — and one that ought to cast our perception of Trump as a laughingstock or, more chillingly, a viable presidential candidate in a more sobering light.

This is to say nothing of the response of Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, and campaign staff to The Daily Beast’s inquiry. Cohen responded by alleging that “You cannot rape your spouse… that’s very clear case law,” even though New York’s marital rape exemption was found to be unconstitutional in 1984, years before even Trump and Ivana’s divorce. (Marital rape was only criminalized in all 50 states just over twenty years ago, and continues to be treated differently from non-marital rape in several states, but that’s a whole different reason for rage-blindness.) Cohen also threatened The Daily Beast‘s reporter: “You want to ruin your life at the age of 20? You do that, and I’ll be happy to serve it right up to you.”

Trump’s camp quickly distanced itself from Cohen; campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told CNN the candidate “disagrees” with Cohen’s remarks, while an anonymous source cited by CNN claimed, “Mr. Trump speaks for Mr. Trump and nobody but Mr. Trump speaks for him.” And yet the candidate-condoned response was hardly an improvement, calling Ivana’s (former) accusations “a standard lawyer technique, which was used to exploit more money from Mr. Trump especially since he had an ironclad prenuptial agreement.”

Obviously, the myth that rape allegations are made lightly and/or for profit is a product of the same ideological toxic waste factory that brought us the idea that spousal rape is a contradiction in terms. Equally obviously, the fact that Trump and his spokespeople don’t realize this speaks about as well to his character as calling Mexican immigrants rapists.

But Ivana’s unearthed testimony also speaks to the ugly reality that often lies beneath the cartoon that media coverage, not to mention Trump himself, makes out of his candidacy. It’s one thing to craft butt plugs in his image or laugh at The Daily Show‘s ever-expanding repertoire of Trump segments; it’s another to grapple with the idea that a man who is, at best, a racist who believes women accuse men of rape for the money, currently leads the GOP polls.

Even if Ivana’s allegations aren’t true — although, being part of the court of public opinion rather than a court of law, I tend to err on the side of believing women’s stories — the response from Trump’s official and unofficial allies reminds us that beneath the satirical New Yorker covers and late-night jokes, there’s a man who’s seriously proposing to lead our country, with some seriously questionable actions and views on his track record. Let’s worry accordingly.