The Clinton Doctrine

Is anybody else detecting hints of hypocrisy in the vehement criticism of Donald Trump’s remarks on the privileges rich and famous men enjoy in the presence of attractive women? His observations, recorded eleven years ago over an open microphone during a casual conversation with another rich and famous man, were actually a succinct statement of the Bill Clinton/Clarence Thomas doctrine, which holds that high-status men have a license to exact sexual submission from lower-status women. 

When I was admitted to the bar in 1978, there was no legal redress for a woman who submitted to sex with her boss. On the contrary, it was common knowledge that a pretty girl could, with minimal effort, advance her career simply by letting the boss touch her and talk to her in certain ways. Unscrupulous men in positions of authority routinely took advantage of this privilege.

Bill Clinton and Clarence Thomas came to the bar around the same time I did, and, like Donald Trump, they must remember when the legal landscape was suddenly transformed. They should remember, because both were confirmed sexual predators at the time and should have anticipated that somebody would eventually complain.

Like so much of our law, the right of working women to be secure from sexual predation at the hands of their bosses turned out to be illusory. Thomas got away with it and sits comfortably on the United States Supreme Court. Clinton got away with it and is cheered enthusiastically whenever he appears before an audience of women. Trump tells an inconvenient truth when he says a star has license to grab a beautiful girl by the crotch if he feels like it. That’s because there’s a corollary to the Clinton doctrine providing that it’s futile to complain if you are a victim of one of these men. You won’t be believed.

I saw the rule in practice as a lawyer. I’ve sued a few bosses for humiliating the female help. They followed the Clinton/Thomas strategy of denial and character assassination as if they’d attended a seminar on it. They start with an acknowledgement that, yes, they do like women, and they do compliment them from time to time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And, yes, they’re pleased when the women who work for them get dolled up, and, yes, they show their appreciation, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. But they would never ever resort to any sort of unwanted attention, and anybody who says they would is either mistaken or a liar. Because, look, rich and powerful men are easy targets for opportunistic women, and nothing’s easier than an accusation of sexual misconduct, and that’s how disgruntled female employees become plaintiffs in sex harassment lawsuits.

My clients were exceptionally strong in the face of such brutal defense tactics, and we eventually got some money out of the wrongdoers, but the retribution was always insufficient, and no lessons were learned. On the contrary, the lesson of Clinton, Trump and Thomas is that you lose if you complain. Hillary Clinton, who accused her husband’s victims of being whores and opportunists, is poised to move back into the White House with Bill at her arm. Trump, who continues to enjoy the protections of the Clinton doctrine well into his dotage, is altogether immune to any sort of legal accountability for his licentious activities. And Thomas’ crimes are so distant from us today that they have been forgotten, even by staunch feminists.

Come down on Donald Trump if you like for being a pig, but don’t doubt what he says. The Clinton doctrine is in full force and effect. If you’re touched by a rich, handsome, powerful man, why get all mad about it? Confront him, and you’ll regret it. Why not just appreciate the attention?

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