This week many men in your life will tell you that they have never once heard another man say the sorts of things that Donald Trump was heard saying last Friday, even in an all-male space like a locker room.
They will be lying.
Or, perhaps more accurately, they will be bullshitting: talking without regard for the truth or falsity of what they’re saying for convenience’s sake. This bullshit will, in part, come from a good place: the desire to signal exactly how loathsome they find Trump’s words and behavior. But it will also come from a place less savory, but crucial to acknowledge nonetheless.
Because the elephant in the room is that almost every man has heard another man talk like Trump. Trump is not an outlier, but rather the epitome, the apotheosis, of the culture of masculinity that American men (and I emphatically include myself here) are born into, raised amidst, and always, at the best of times, somewhere in a long process of unlearning.
I don’t say any of this to try to excuse Trump. It may not have been his fault that he grew up, as every boy does, surrounded by men who valorize male entitlement and view sex as a conquest, but it was his fault that he took those lessons and ran with them. It is his fault that he has exploited untold numbers of women, a small fraction of whom are finally having their stories told, and it is his fault that he will serve as a role model for a new generation of American men who will grow up attempting to emulate the projection of power and casual misogyny that has made him so successful.
In order to break that cycle, men, especially men in the public eye, need to take this moment to acknowledge that yes, they actually do know a lot of men like Donald Trump. In fact, they themselves — I really should say we ourselves — have all had moments, perhaps in the adolescence to which many Trump defenders have imagined all male misbehavior is confined, perhaps later, where they have been more like Donald Trump than they would like to admit.
The paradox of a lot of discussion about the Trump tape is the coexistence of reminders of the prevalence of sexual violence and earnest insistence that, actually, men don’t talk or act like Trump in real life. This is rape without rapists, a view that treats sexual violence as more like a natural disaster than a pattern of behavior that flows out of the same sorts of attitudes that many men who don’t habitually assault women nonetheless hold consciously or unconsciously.
A lesson that it has taken far too long for me to learn only imperfectly is that defensiveness and male entitlement are two sides of the same coin. Donald Trump thinks that he has never done anything wrong before in his life. The proclamations of so many men that they and their friends aren’t like him comes from exactly the same place. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.