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Donald Trump’s Abuse of Power Is Everyone’s Problem

It was the code-switch that really hit me.

In the now famous 2005 Access Hollywood hot mic incident in which the Republican nominee described, in no uncertain terms, a history of trying to kiss, grope, pester and sexually assault women, Donald Trump has inadvertently provided a master class in position power gone badly wrong. Because, you see, “[W]hen you’re a star they let you do it,” Trump says. “You can do anything.” He was referring to grabbing women’s genitals. But it sounds like he really meant anything.

That’s not how power is supposed to work.

Position power—power granted by virtue of where you sit within an organization’s hierarchy—is a staple concept in business, and everyone who works has some of it. For those who don’t have much (or any), the privilege associated with rank, wealth, or even ratings makes any form of exclusion difficult to navigate, and any casual threat, even an unintentional one, sobering. But when the threat is intentional, it can be terrifying.

Trump’s threat turned out to be particularly vile. In the enclaved safety of a luxury bus, he talked jovially to a group of lesser mortals about the persistent harassment of a married woman like she was a fish who jumped the line. “Yeah, I tried to f— her, I’m not gonna lie.”

Next came the objectification of a relatively unknown actress waiting outside the bus, who had been tapped to appear with Trump in a television segment. I imagine she was under some pressure to make sure it all went well. Access Hollywood co-host Billy Bush egged Trump on. “Your girl’s hot as s—, in the purple,” says Bush.

But when it was time to get to work, the wolf talk switched off like magic. “Oh, hello, hi!” said Trump as he appeared for the cameras, as if Tic Tacs wouldn’t melt in his mouth. The code-switch was the tell, at least for me. He not only knows he’s a predator, he uses his power to separate enablers from targets. When people who abuse their power don’t get what they want, they become dangerous. It makes working with them complicated for everyone.

Only later did we learn that the married woman Trump claims to have harassed was Nancy O’Dell, who was Bush’s co-host on the show. Trump also reportedly tried to get her fired from a pageant gig for rebuffing his advances.

Last night Trump eschewed contrition for aggression. He held a pre-debate press conference with women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment or assault. He lurked behind Secretary Clinton during the town hall and threatened to jail her for her deleted e-mails if he became president.

True, most normal people can’t get away with genital grabbing for very long. (Or playing along, for that matter—Bush’s gambit with Trump has temporarily cost him his job as co-host of The Today Show.) But we can all do a better job thinking about the implications of our own position power—and its effects on the people who we often forget aren’t on the ride with us, particularly if we discover that they are being demeaned or harassed in some way.

After the Trump bus tape aired, writer Kelly Oxford asked women on Twitter to tweet her their first sexual assaults. Millions of women from around the world shared stories of being raped in the military, assaulted by health care providers and professors, touched on public transportation and yes, groped or threatened at work.

Many people are coming to work today, feeling unsettled by a weekend of reporting on unrepentant “locker room talk” that’s not going to end anytime soon. I would encourage anyone who feels unsafe or demeaned at work for any reason to find a compassionate expert to help you unpack that experience.

But for anyone with position power, real power, maybe it’s time to think about the bus you’re riding on, and what it might be like to be on the outside looking in. Which would be the bigger shock: That someone had been harassed on your watch, or that nobody even bothered to notice?

On Point

President Obama signs sexual assault survivors billJust before Trump’s comments leaked, the president signed a new federal law that gives survivors of sexual assault new rights regarding the forensic evidence collected from their bodies after an attack. The law was inspired by Amanda Nguyen, who was assaulted while at Harvard and had to go to horrifying lengths to make sure her rape kit wasn’t destroyed by Massachussetts authorities.Vox

As Trump supporters flee, others wonder what took them so long
After the bus tape was aired, the stampede of outraged Republican former supporters running for the exits was immediate. But that has enraged people as well. The candidate has demeaned African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, and publicly mocked a man with a disability. But when he attacked white women—that was the last straw?
New York Times

Meet the people who mine the cobalt for your phone’s battery
In an exhaustive and beautifully documented story, the Washington Post digs into the world of cobalt mining in Congo, a pipeline that provides the mineral which ends up in our phone batteries. Some of the world’s poorest people, often dogged by predatory debt, risk their lives in hand dug mines to provide it. Worse, the mining itself exposes poor communities to toxicity that’s already impacting their health.
Washington Post

When a neighborly dispute becomes a racial threat
When a white neighbor left a note on his door complaining about his loud voice, it took Richard Brookshire awhile to figure out what it was that irked him so badly. It was the threat to call the police and the admonishment to “learn his manners.” It’s the difference between being black and white in the same apartment building. Why call the police? “White people will sometimes speak without thinking of the bigger implications of their actions,” says Brookshire.
Washington Post

Haiti’s death toll from Hurricane Matthew passes 1000
It is the worst natural disaster to hit the island since the 2010 earthquake, and officials are struggling to cope with a rise in cholera as they help people dig out from the utterly ruined landscape in much of the southern part of the island.
Al Jazeera

#MuslimsReportStuff during last night’s debate
In last night’s debate, Donald Trump called on Muslims to “report something when they see it going on,” referring specifically to terrorism. Muslims from around the world piled onto Twitter to do their part.“I’m a Muslim, and I would like to report a crazy man threatening a woman on a stage in Missouri,” tweeted Moustafa Bayoumi a Brooklyn College, professor.
Twitter

The Woke Leader

 
The new NSFW world
It’s not just Donald Trump who uses strong language. Thanks to video evidence, particularly filmed at high-stress moments like during the recent police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, news outlets and public platforms have been forced to revisit language standards in real time. The Strong Language blog, a high-brow look at vulgar language in everyday life, has an excellent post on the history of expletive avoidance in the New York Times. It’s NSFW.
Strong Language

The unbelievable whiteness of the biography
As the popularity of serious biography slowly makes way for a more casual form, the confessional memoir, it is still an important category for understanding the world, argues Kavita Das in the Los Angeles Review of Books. “Yet biography, the genre responsible for chronicling the lives of significant and relevant individuals, remains staggeringly undiverse,” she says, consisting almost entirely of stories of white men and women, past and present.
LA Review Of Books

A Los Angeles community fights to keep their homes
Gentrification is a hot issue in most major cities, but it’s the Los Angeles neighborhood of Highland Park that has become the sign of the times. The canary in the coal mine is a 60-unit set of apartments called the Marmion Royal. The mostly Latino families had banded together to keep their homes, but are now facing mass eviction. “Hedge funds and private equity firms are gobbling up properties all over the country,” said one expert. “Highland Park is now ground zero.”
Los Angeles Times

Quote

We are proud of this struggle, of tears, of fire, and of blood, to the depths of our being, for it was a noble and just struggle, and indispensable to put an end to the humiliating slavery which was imposed upon us by force.
—Patrice Émery Lumumba