At Wednesday night’s debate, Hillary Clinton brought up the hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes Donald Trump may have avoided by claiming a $1 billion loss in 1995. It’s hypocritical, Clinton suggested, for Trump to get out of paying any federal income tax while lambasting others for cheating the system and needling Wall Street fat cats for their greed.
Trump seemed to acknowledge that, for a wannabe president who’s made himself out to be the voice of America’s poor and struggling, not paying any taxes is a bad look. But even if he’s committed a shameful deed, he believes he had just cause: Clinton made him do it.
“We’re entitled [to large tax breaks] because of the laws that people like her pass … and we do it,” he said. “And all of her donors, just about all of them—I know Buffett took hundreds of millions of dollars, Soros, George Soros took hundreds of millions of dollars. … All of her donors—most of her donors—have done the same thing as I do.”
Trump couldn’t stop himself—and also, everyone else was doing it! “You know, Hillary, what you should have done? You should have changed the law when you were a United States senator if you don’t like it,” he said. “Because your donors, and your special interests, are doing the same thing as I do, except even more so.”
If this line of reasoning sounds familiar, it’s because conversations about rape culture have become increasingly mainstream in recent years, and Trump’s defense of his tax avoidance parallels a classic argument that rape apologists make. Survivors of sexual assault are often blamed for their own attacks—“What were you wearing?” “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?—as if male libido were a demonic possession whose hosts can’t control their own criminal behavior. School dress codes, which mainly regulate girls’ clothing, are sometimes justified as ways to keep boys focused on schoolwork, even though girls are the ones who get punished.
Likewise, Trump is trying to convince voters that Clinton was responsible for stopping his morally reprehensible behavior, because he just couldn’t help himself. He was just being a businessman, and that’s what businessmen do—boys will be boys, in other words. If Trump committed any disgraceful business practices, it’s because Clinton was asking for it. She was in the Senate and didn’t singlehandedly change the tax code; what did she think was going to happen? She was drunk at a frat party and dancing with a stranger. She was asking for it.
This is far from a new tactic for Trump. He has said that Clinton “invented ISIS” with her “stupid” foreign policy and blamed the military for inventing military sexual assault by having men and women serve alongside one another. During Wednesday’s debate, Trump said Clinton was at fault for the deluge of sexual assault allegations that’s currently crashing down upon him. When she called him out on his failure to pay taxes again, he belittled her argument, calling her a “nasty woman.” After one of Anthony Weiner’s recent sexting scandals, Trump found a way to make the former Congressman’s sexual misconduct reflect poorly on Huma Abedin and, by association, Clinton. Trump alleged that, by employing Weiner’s wife, Clinton had let an untrustworthy man too close to state secrets. “Who knows what he learned and who he told?” Trump wondered. Sexting teenagers, spilling classified information, dodging taxes—men just naturally do these things unless women are there to stop them. And if women fail to do so, they have only themselves to blame for the fallout.
Clinton got a chance to call out Trump’s shirking of accountability at their first presidential debate in September. “I have a feeling that by the end of this evening I’m going to be blamed for everything that’s ever happened,” she laughed. Trump leaned forward and shrugged before offering his response: “Why not?”