Nicole Serratore has written for today’s New York Times what is probably the most acute and disturbing assessment of former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate yesterday regarding his interactions with Donald Trump, and it is a take I am ashamed to admit I never saw coming. But it is devastating:
As I listened to James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, tell the Senate Intelligence Committee about his personal meetings and phone calls with President Trump, I was reminded of something: the experience of a woman being harassed by her powerful, predatory boss. There was precisely that sinister air of coercion, of an employee helpless to avoid unsavory contact with an employer who is trying to grab what he wants.
The parallels she draws between the behavior of a sexual predator/harasser and the behavior Trump exhibited to Comey in attempting to dissuade him from expanding his investigation into Trump’s Russian dealings are inescapable:
On Jan. 27, Mr. Comey received a last-minute dinner invitation from the president, and then learned it would be “just the two of us.” On Thursday, Mr. Comey revealed that he had had to break a date with his wife in order to dine with Mr. Trump. Already, something about this “setup” made him “uneasy.”
He froze: “I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed.”
Trump sitting there, one-on-one with Comey, smugly insisting on “loyalty,” raises the creepy apparition of any male boss in a position of power who desires “an arrangement” with an unwilling female subordinate. The fact that Comey is a full-grown man–the head of the FBI, no less– doesn’t detract from the comparison. The intimidation, the hint of emotional blackmail–this is exactly the behavior of a well-practiced sexual harasser. There are no significant distinctions in attitude, in method, not even in nuance, and Serratore effectively shows that the interactions that resulted between Comey and Trump are identical to the classic interactions between the harasser and the harassed:
During that interminable, awkward dinner, Mr. Comey struggled to convince Mr. Trump of the danger of “blurring” boundaries. But Mr. Trump was not deterred and returned to the subject of the loyalty he must have. There you hear the eternal voice of the predatory seducer: the man who knows how hard he can make it for a woman to refuse his needs.
Comey’s attempts to “explain” his behavior—his regret that he couldn’t have been “stronger”– also echo the self-blaming language of the harassment victim. Even the Republican Senators’ haranguing questioning of Comey raises eerie echoes of the way victims of sexual assault are treated by all- male bodies sitting in judgment:
During his testimony, Mr. Comey was asked why he had not responded more robustly, why he had not told Mr. Trump that he, the president, was acting inappropriately or reported his behavior immediately to others in authority.
Where have you heard that before? Why didn’t you fight him off? Did you encourage him?
Comey’s efforts to extricate himself from Trump’s insistence on “loyalty” –his attempt to reach some “safe” compromise by offering up “honesty” instead—suggests nothing so much as a woman attempting to extricate herself from a wholly uncomfortable situation, in which the balance of power is tilted grossly against her. Even Comey’s efforts to physically hide himself out of Trump’s field of vision (“behind the curtains”) in their later interactions reveals a disturbing similarity to the responses many women are forced to make to unwanted and unwelcome coercion.
Serratore just doesn’t let up in this piece. By the time you are finished reading it, you will either be wholly convinced, or you will remain forever clueless as to what millions of women in this country have experienced day in and day out. Even Trump’s final interaction with Comey, immediately before he fired him, is analogous.
In their final exchange, on April 11, Mr. Trump told the F.B.I. director, “I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.” On May 9, having rebuffed the president, Mr. Comey was fired.
It’s gross. It’s creepy. It’s what Trump is.