There are a thousand reasons to be appalled and infuriated by the 2005 video of Trump published by the Washington Post on Friday, in which the candidate, unaware that his mic is on, says he likes to “grab” women “by the pussy,” claims he can’t help himself from kissing them without waiting for their consent, and recounts trying to sleep with a married woman.
Trump’s comments condone sexual assault. They suggest that he and his willing interlocutor, Billy Bush, can’t see their female colleagues as anything but collections of fuckable or unfuckable body parts. They exhibit a complete disregard for women’s humanity, agency, and internal lives.
But to some men who’ve watched the video, there’s only one reason to protest the candidate’s unwillingness to extend basic decency and respect to people who are women: daughters.
Jason Chaffetz, a congressman best known for his logic-defying attacks on women’s rights, withdrew his support from Trump on Friday because he once helped create a woman. “My wife and I, we have a 15-year-old daughter, and if I can’t look her in the eye and tell her these things, I can’t endorse this person,” he said. Former presidential wannabe Mitt Romney, apparently only addressing the men of the world, wrote on Twitter that Trump’s “vile degradations demean our wives and daughters.” A popular strain of Twitter reaction from the peanut gallery asks, “How could a man with daughters say such a thing?” as if it’s totally understandable why a man without daughters might casually boast about committing sexual assault.
I call this rhetorical tactic the Daughter Clause. As I wrote in September in Slate’s still-growing list of things Trump has said and done that should disqualify him from the presidency, the Daughter Clause is usually broached in conversations about street harassment:
A way of setting the lowest possible threshold for considerate treatment of women, the Daughter Clause asks a catcaller or catcalling advocate, “How would you like it if someone talked to your daughter that way?” The Daughter Clause is supposed to shake men out of their narrow, male-centered worldview by making misogyny a personal offense to them via the sexualization of a woman they want to protect. Any halfway decent man doesn’t need his offspring invoked to realize women are complex human beings deserving of basic respect and rights. But as a last resort, the Daughter Clause usually gets the point across.
The Daughter Clause reveals an extraordinarily primitive understanding of human rights. It more or less implies that unless someone is your flesh and blood, you have little reason to care what happens to her. That’s why, for example, Chaffetz was able to easily overlook Trump’s explicit, repeated appeals to racism—because he’s white, and his offspring benefit from racist systems of power. The Daughter Clause also has a limited reach: Having a daughter didn’t stop Chaffetz from launching a prolonged, expensive witch hunt to try to erode access to women’s health care. Leaning on daughters and wives to make the case for not degrading women won’t get us very far—having a daughter isn’t “LASIK for feminism,” as ESPN magazine writer Mina Kimes noted on Friday. Paul Ryan, who has both a daughter and a wife (and, one assumes, plenty of other female blood relations) said he was “sickened” by the latest evidence of Trump’s hatred for women, but not so much that he’ll stop throwing his considerable political power behind the candidate.
The sad part about bringing the Daughter Clause into this election is that we’re now forced to reckon with how it applies to Trump himself—namely, that it doesn’t. Trump’s worldview is so irredeemably sexist, even his own daughters are sex objects before they’re people in his eyes.
Trump has said, over and over again, that he’d like to have sex with Ivanka if she weren’t his daughter. He allegedly used Ivanka’s beauty to sexually harass women who worked for him. When asked if his then-1-year-old daughter Tiffany resembled her parents, he speculated about her breasts. A toddler’s breasts—his toddler daughter’s breasts. Trump’s well-documented inability to see female TV personalities, public figures, and political adversaries for anything other than their sex appeal tells us he’s a misogynist creep. His remarks on this recent video show us that he pursues power in the form of sex without thinking or caring about the targets of his harassment. That he can’t take off his sex goggles for a member of his own family—even his baby daughter—is a referendum on his very humanity.