Donald Trump was caught saying some pretty vulgar things about women when we assume he thought no one else would hear. While wearing a hot mic before taping a segment for Access Hollywood, Trump touts that fame allows him to grope and kiss women without asking for consent. He says he can just grab women by their, um, genitalia.
But nearly just as disturbing is Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush, egging him on, shouting “Yes, the Donald has scored!” once they spot the actress Arianne Zucker, who’s also involved in the segment they’re about to film. Bush casually giggles along with Trump’s jokes, echoing the tycoon’s assertion that he can do “whatever you want” to beautiful women. When they get off the bus, he prompts Zucker to hug Trump and then hug him — you know, “a little hug for the Bushy.”
In a statement released shortly after the video was published, Bush said he was “embarrassed and ashamed.” And while he admitted “it’s no excuse” he added, “this happened 11 years ago — I was younger, less mature, and acted foolishly in playing along.” And now, it was announced Sunday, he was suspended from his post on NBC’s Today show for his participation.
Bush is now 44. At the time, he was 33. He was a grown adult man. It’s not like he was 17 or 25. And even still, I’m sure there are some 17- or 25-year-old young men who would balk at that being acceptable behavior for their respective ages.
But aside from age, Bush was a bystander to Trump’s lewd behavior, and even encouraged it. And his behavior exemplifies what advocates have been urging men not to do when in a situation where someone uses sexually aggressive or inappropriate language against women, or even sexually assaults them.
Plenty of men know they don’t have to play into rape culture
In 2014, President Obama and Vice President Biden urged men across the country to become involved in stopping sexual assault on campuses. While the message may have been pitched to college students, it is universal.
“As far as we’ve come, the fact is that from sports leagues to pop culture to politics, our society still does not sufficiently value women," Obama said at the time. "We still don’t condemn sexual assault as loudly as we should. We make excuses. We look the other way. The message that sends can have a chilling effect"
The United Nations’ “He for She” campaign is making that same message heard around the world: Preventing sexual harassment, violence, and aggressive language toward women also falls on men and women who witness it, not just the perpetrators.
Encouraging men to also contribute to speaking out against this sort of language or these actions is an important step toward ending rape culture. We all know Trump has a sketchy past with women. As the owner of the Miss USA Organization, he kissed a former Miss Utah on the lips twice, against her will. He openly tells women they’re ugly, or beautiful (because, remember, he said cannot resist beautiful women. Just can’t!). He’s said you have to treat women “like shit.” He brags constantly about how women are just falling all over themselves to get on top of him, and that “all of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me — consciously or unconsciously.” And through all of that, he’s faced allegations of rape and sexual assault, including by his first wife, Ivana Trump.
But imagine that over the years, more men who weren’t comfortable with what he says actually stood up and told him “no,” or more of his peers didn’t engage with him in this manner, or that he wasn’t rewarded with publicity for every juvenile statement he makes about a woman’s breasts. Imagine if Trump actually took responsibility for being the type of man he’d want his daughters to marry. Maybe the bus banter would have still occurred, but it would have also been seen as more disappointing, rather than just another item on his long list of indiscretions.
This list, though, doesn’t only fall on Trump. It falls on the men around him who have played along, and egged him on, and laughed it up for the past several decades. Think of Bill Cosby, whose agents fed him women and helped cover up his alleged sexual assaults, or Roger Ailes, whose underlings reportedly secured and then covered up sexual encounters with women, whether they were consenting or not.
In these few moments on that bus, Bush didn’t quite play the same role as Cosby and Ailes’s lackeys. But at the very least, being complicit and “playing along” in this situation was completely avoidable.
It’s hard not to put yourself in Billy Bush’s shoes and wonder what you would have done in this situation. This was a one-minute exchange on a bus right before filming a puff piece about a daytime soap that’s broadcast on the same network as the entertainment news show they’re filming, which also, at the time, was home to Trump’s hit reality show The Apprentice (and now you see how the sausage is made).
Realistically, was this really the moment for Bush to discuss rape culture and inappropriateness with Trump? Not likely. Bush played to the same old expectations of masculinity where every man flaunts the libido of a Warner Bros. cartoon wolf in the moment. What he could have done, though — which most people probably would do — was deflect the conversation. Regardless, there was no need to drool so hard over Zucker’s legs, or demand she hug them both.
Rather than defend his female guest and colleague, Bush decided it was more important not to offend his male guest. And he had a good laugh while doing it.