For Donald Trump’s critics, it’s tempting to jump on every juicy reveal regarding the president’s sex romps. The swirl of accusations, denials, contradictions, backstabbing and confusion does keep us entertained. Today’s story revolves around the hush money sent to porn actress Stormy Daniels. And the unconfirmed report of a tawdry frolic with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel still hovers.
Though amusing on some levels, these seeming confirmations of low character nonetheless act as stimuli setting off stress responses. They also take attention off more serious crises, such as the collapse in health coverage, exploding deficits and a potentially catastrophic trade war.
And though the sex stories come off as sordid, what the president does with consensual adults is ultimately his business. The one concern is the extent to which such interactions may have resulted in breaking campaign finance laws — or, more terrifying, help our Russian adversaries undermine our democratic institutions. Let special counsel Robert Mueller and other investigators look into the parts that matter.
It is Trump’s practice to hide his unpopular actions in clouds of confusion. The apparent goal is to disorient the public as to what’s really going on. Whether flogged on purpose or not, the relatively unimportant storylines of carnal adventure make for a very effective distraction.
As for the allegations themselves, former FBI Director James Comey offers some simple guidelines for assessing them in his book, “A Higher Loyalty.”
Using the alleged gambol in Moscow as an example, Comey notes a pattern in the president’s declarations of innocence:
Unprompted, Trump offers up explanations of why the suspicions can’t possibly be true. Comey marvels, for example, at his insisting that he did not stay overnight in Moscow. Even if true, Comey writes, that would not have precluded the behavior as described.
Fans of the vintage TV detective Columbo know this technique well. Impressed by their own cleverness, the guilty always try to put one over on Columbo by suggesting elaborate scenarios of what could have happened.
This is not a new approach. As written in the Bible, Proverbs 28:1 (King James version), “The wicked flee when no man pursueth.”
Lawfare editor Quinta Jurecic usefully summarizes Trump’s morass of controversies, writing, “We really don’t know which parts will end up mattering in the long run.” Again, the investigations may eventually offer answers.
So let’s limit what we get most excited over. Stress floods the body with hormones originally designed to help humans confronted by giant hyenas to fight or flee. When the danger passes, the hormones return to normal levels. But constant stress keeps those levels permanently high, putting people at greater risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease and sleep problems.
It’s admittedly hard to ignore the sensory overload. Recall how the startling news that the president’s enforcers had invaded the office of Trump’s former doctor and stolen medical files got only second or third billing in the day’s headlines. Dr. Harold Bornstein also revealed that his glowing account of candidate Trump’s health had been dictated by Trump himself. (Who else would have described a patient’s lab results as “astonishingly excellent”?)
The opposition needs to better filter the noise and detach from the daily provocations. Meditators, for one, practice the art of putting space between stimuli and response.
To preserve energy for more important fights ahead, Trump’s critics need to pick and choose. Face it; the claims of crude sexual behavior didn’t stop Trump from getting elected in the first place.
The elections in November could start closing down the Trump era. That should be the focus. Leave the sexual obsessions to the tabloids.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.