During a rambling, strange, 81-minute press conference in New York on Wednesday, Donald Trump was offered an easy question that previous American Presidents have turned into a rhetorical meal — if not an opportunity to establish moral leadership. “You’re a father,” a reporter ventured. “What does this moment that we’re in, the cultural moment … What messages do you have for the young men of America?”
The context for this question, though unstated, was clearly the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, which feature a woman accusing a prominent political ally of the President of sexual assault, an accusation that the Republican Party has largely dismissed without evidence.
It’s a complex situation politically and culturally, but it wasn’t a hard question. There are dozens of inspiring, measured, and challenging answers President Trump could have given. He could have told young men to be more respectful to women. He could have suggested that they have a moral responsibility to seek consent and respect the boundaries of women. He could have even stolen from his wife Melania and simply replied “Be best.” Instead, the President delivered a bizarre soliloquy that underlines how muddled rhetoric around accountability aimed at young men has become.
“It is a very good question…” Trump began. His message to young men? Well, first off he wants them to know that anybody can accuse anyone of anything. He himself has been accused, many times, of “things.” And, also, nobody can prove these kinds of charges. “Honestly, it is a very dangerous period in our country,” he said. “And it is being perpetrated by some very evil people.”
Those people, one must infer, are largely women. Also Democrats maybe? The mumble bit came across as darkly conspiratorial. The message being that young men need to be scared of people with a radical agenda who might accuse them of things that they didn’t do.
Finally, in summation, Trump riffed on what a nice phrase “innocent until proven guilty” is and suggested that now it’s “guilty until proven innocent.”
The takeaway for young men? I mean… who knows. Most probably don’t care about this sort of C-SPAN chum. Most probably aren’t looking for cues from the president on how to be more paranoid. That said, the President’s failure to make contact with a softball question — to say something, anything, positive, is worthy of note. Boys deserve better. They deserve better role models and better messages. They deserve to not be embroiled in partisan politics, but rather to be encouraged to be good and proud.
That said, it seems possible that the President — despite his business and political success — simply has no good advice for young men. If so, he should just admit that and leave it there.