The devastating oddness of E. Jean Carroll’s Trump accusation

Of the allegations against Trump, Carroll’s is among the most serious, and while she isn’t the first to publish a first-person account (Natasha Stoynoff did, too) her approach is startlingly frank. The results have been mixed: Conservatives on Twitter spent much of Monday night mocking Carroll’s surprising comment to Anderson Cooper that people find rape “sexy”—(“think of the fantasies,” she said, clarifying in the interview that her attack had been anything but sexy). But she’s basically right. Decades as an advice columnist have taught Carroll something about American psychology; she might understand, better than most, that many of Trump’s devotees seem to find sexual harassment and assault more titillating than objectionable. They might actually kind of like the idea of his having done what he is on record as saying he does. Seen through this looking glass, it’s evidence of red-blooded American manhood. Of power. “I run the risk of making him more popular by revealing what he did,” Carroll writes. By not saying the ordinary or expected things, Carroll tells the story of her rape differently. The lack of coverage it received despite or because of her efforts is evidence that survivors understand perfectly well that there are no good options.

The fact is, there is no format for a rape report that guarantees the victim a fair reception. The tacit “common sense” expectations people usually have of survivors—that they be both distraught enough to dispel any idea that they might have consented but also clear-headed and proactive enough to visit both a hospital and a police station in the immediate aftermath of their attack—are in practice not particularly compatible with anything we know about how people work. This failure to understand human nature is not, however, what seems to trouble #MeToo skeptics. What troubles them more is the suspicion that #MeToo is a blunt and Manichean instrument turning gray-area (and even transactional) casting-couch scenarios into a struggle between innocents and malefactors. That the movement fails to describe a very different kind of “human nature”—what really happened—which is that the women knew what they were doing at the time and only now were reneging on the deal like bad sports.