Stormy with a Chance of Don-balls
This week, a second cheating scandal surfaced for Donald Trump. This time, it was Playboy playmate Karen McDougal, who claims that Trump paid for dinner, travel, and even for sex itself. It follows a story earlier this year of an affair with former 2010 Louisiana Senate candidate Stephanie Clifford, who just so happens to be known for her work in pornographic film under the name Stormy Daniels (née Waters). There was also an update to the Daniels story, where Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen admitted to paying out $130,000 of his own money to keep Daniels quiet.
It doesn't matter.
It's not that it doesn't matter in the sense that Trump won't face consequences, which he probably won't. It doesn't matter in the sense that palace intrigue is not important. It *might* have ramifications for three people – Donald, Melania, and maybe Barron. We can exclude Donald, since president of the Family Research Council (and prominent evangelical activist) Tony Perkins said Trump gest a "mulligan" and a "do-over". We can exclude Melania since there would be financial implications if she leaves (which I don't blame her for at all). And we can probably exclude Barron because he's 11.
Quick aside: Isn't $130,000 a weird amount to pay? How did they decide on that number? It's kind of a round number, but also not really a round number. Was there any haggling involved? Was it $10,000 for every minute she was banging him? Did she charge extra for spanking him with the Forbes magazine cover? Did he bill her for all the furniture shopping he presumably did? Did she get a little extra money for coming prepared with Tic-Tacs? How many Tic-Tacs would that much money even buy?
This story has progressed according to the Slow March to the Truth™ that is so symbolic of this administration – they'll say or try to hide something outlandish, and then try to ease us along to the actual truth. Unfortunately, along the way, we've heard enough of their deflections that the truth isn't quite as staggering as it was at the onset, when they denied it. A good example is the wall: Mexico was going to pay for a wall until right after the election when Trump said it would be a fence, until he said it would be Americans footing the bill right before the inauguration, which flipped back to Mexico later that month and flipped back to the U.S. in February, eventually turning into the Mexican cartels in March, somehow got solar panels added somewhere along the way, had parts of the wall swapped out for mountains and rivers, and now has a $25 billion dollar estimate that might be part of an immigration deal. What's notable is that the dollar figure – again, $25,000,000,000 – isn't even jarring. It's like talking to your friends about basketball and saying that Lou Williams' new $24 million contract is below market value, and realizing that anyone who doesn't follow basketball would be incredulous at such an assertion.
That's not the only example of the Slow March, they've done it with the Russian collusion story (there was no collusion → meeting with Russians isn't collusion → collusion isn't a crime) and Bob Mueller (he's the most trustworthy → Peter Strzok should be fired → there needs to be a purge at the FBI), and now with Stormy (there was no cheating → here's a letter that says there was no cheating → there was a nondisclosure agreement → she wasn't paid any money → she was paid, but it wasn't out of campaign funds).
But even as the story has added details, it still isn't a question of policy or legality. There are no associated perjury or obstruction of justice implications like there were with Bill Clinton. This doesn't undercut the president's message on any in-flux policy, because the president doesn't have a message on any policy. It's a question of morality, and we've talked ourselves into presidents with flimsy moral compasses in the past. We've done it with this one too – the Access Hollywood tapes and the sexual assault accusers came out a month before the election, and Trump's subsequent win is treated as an adjudication of their validity.
Besides, if you were concerned with Trump's morality, you were already not going to vote for him; if you're not, then this hardly moves the needle. Showing that Trump is a literal (extramarital) fucker doesn't push him closer to the door. Sure, it'd be nice to have the country's standard-bearer actually bear that standard, but we're far past that point. And this isn't a normalization or an acceptance thereof, just a recognition that certain things matter more than others. It's not a surrender to this new reality, but rather a defiant rejection of yet another side-story with no lasting importance.
Quick update: Apparently $130,000 buys you approximately 736,543 Tic-Tacs if you get the 1oz wintergreen packs at Walmart for $10.59 (currently on sale from $12.39). At Donald Trump's current age of 79 years, he would have to eat 1.18 Tic-Tacs per hour (about 1 every 51 minutes) every hour of every day his whole life to spend $130,000 on Tic-Tacs.
If you're looking for scandalous discussion-worthy stories with actual tangible effects on the public, there's no shortage of places to direct your outrage. There's the cost of Trump's cabinet travel ($72k for Ryan Zinke's public speaking engagements, $90k for Scott Pruitt's attempt to avoid annoyed voters in coach, $126k for Shulkin's Wimbledon trip, $811k for Steve Mnuchin and Louise Linton's honeymoon, and over $1 million for Tom Price's… need to stretch his legs), the lack of security clearances for senior officials (including Ivanka, Jared, Scavino, and Liddell), and the Department of Homeland Security's entrance into the immigration discussion.
If you're looking for policies that have a real chance of affecting you, there's the new tax bill, gun reform in the wake of the Parkland, Florida shooting, immigration in advance of the DACA expiration date, social security reform, or even infrastructure (PSA, this week was infrastructure week)!
Apparently, Daniels has kept a 'Monica Lewinsky' dress from that romantic dinner date over a decade ago, and wants to have it forensically legitimize her story. No doubt, that will make for a great season of American Crime Story a decade down the road. But, for the here and now, it just doesn't matter.