Donald Trump is running for president. But his performance in last night's debate shows that he clearly hasn't forgotten his other job as America's imaginary boss, teaching the nation how to get ahead in the workplace.
Update: Coverage of the second Republican debate.
When Fox News's Megyn Kelly asked Trump a question about his past treatment of women during the first GOP debate, he gave an expert seminar on a subject that every boorish misogynist executive needs to master: how to belittle and dismiss women's discrimination claims and enable a hostile work environment.
"Mr. Trump," Kelly said, "you've called women you don't like 'fat pigs,' 'dogs,' and 'disgusting animals.' Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women's looks, and you once told a candidate on Celebrity Apprentice that it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of someone we should elect as president? And how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who is likely to be the nominee, that you are part of the war on women?"
Trump's response to Kelly's question was essentially a step-by-step guide on how to dismiss valid complaints about discriminatory behavior in the workplace. It was a two-minute primer on how to get away with sexism.
Step 1: Claim that the complaint is an exaggeration in order to imply that the complainant can't be trusted
Before Kelly even finished her question, Trump interrupted her to imply that she was exaggerating. After Kelly mentioned his comments calling women disgusting and comparing them to fat pigs, dogs, and animals, Trump broke in to claim that "it was just Rosie O'Donnell."
That wasn't true, of course — for instance, Trump once called a lawyer "disgusting" when she asked to take a break from a deposition in order to pump breast milk for her 3-month-old baby. But it holds an important lesson for any executive seeking to foster a hostile workplace: If you immediately claim that any complaint is an exaggeration, that takes the focus off of your behavior and motives and puts it onto the complainant's. You want to make sure that she's the one under scrutiny, not you.
Step 2: Dismiss demands for respect and equality as mere "political correctness"
When Trump began his answer in earnest, he went straight for one of the best tools any misogynist has available: the claim that the complaint is just about "political correctness," not real wrongdoing.
"I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct," he said. "I've been challenged by so many people, and I don't frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time either."
As I wrote last January, "political correctness" isn't a real thing. Rather, the term is a sort of catchall charge that's used against people who ask for more sensitivity to a particular cause than we're willing to give — a way to dismiss issues as frivolous in order to justify ignoring them. It's a way to say that their concerns don't deserve to be voiced, much less addressed.
As Trump showed, that strategy offers all kinds of benefits for the would-be discriminator. It allows you to shift focus off of your problematic behavior, such as, say, appalling comments about women being animal-like and disgusting. And it also lets you claim that your victims' behavior is actually a much bigger problem: It's contributing to the scourge of political correctness that's hurting the whole country. Bravo, sir. Bravo.
Step 3: Insist that this complaint is too minor to bother with when there are more important things to worry about
Trump, because he is an expert in such matters, was able to combine this step with the previous one: He rolled straight off of his point about political correctness and into a claim that he "didn't have time" to be challenged on his behavior.
The really great thing about this argument is that it turns high status into an advantage instead of a liability. Instead of being someone who ought to meet a higher standard of behavior because you are in a position of authority, such as a boss or perhaps a candidate for this nation's highest office, you recast yourself as someone who is far too busy and important to have his behavior second-guessed and can therefore do whatever he pleases.
Step 4: Say it was just "fun"
"Frankly," Trump went on, "what I say, and oftentimes it's fun, it's kidding. We have a good time."
This one's a classic: Claim that you were just having fun or just joking. That way, anyone who questions your behavior is just a killjoy, out to spoil your fun. Better yet, if a third party is raising the complaint, imply that everyone else was in on the joke and thought your harassment and derision were "fun." How will anyone know for sure if you're lying?
Step 5: Pretend the complaint is really just about personal animosity
Like the pro that he is, Trump finished with the clincher: He implied that Megyn Kelly was only questioning his treatment of women because she disliked him personally.
"Honestly, Megyn, if you don't like it, I'm sorry," he said. "I've been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn't do that."
Poor Donald Trump! Savaged by a ruthless, hostile Megyn Kelly, even though he has been "very nice" to her. If anyone is the victim here, surely it's him.
Aspiring harassers take note: This strategy offers impressive results. It not only undermines the person making the accusation by implying she has ulterior motives, it also turns the accused into the victim of the story. He's just a nice guy, trying to have some fun — is it his fault this woman is out to get him?
This tactic is so powerful that it is a potent defense against even the most serious allegations. (Woody Allen, for instance, has used it to deflect claims that he molested his daughter Dylan — in his version of events, the abuse allegations were just a story made up by his jealous ex-wife Mia Farrow.)
So there you have it, folks: a two-minute master class in how powerful men can dismiss women's claims of harassment or discrimination.
Or, as Trump would probably want me to put it, the best, most important primer on how to get away with discrimination that the world has ever seen in a Republican primary debate.
Watch: How Donald Trump is trolling the Republican Party: