The 60 Minutes segment with Stormy Daniels, a porn star who alleges she had a sexual relationship with President Trump, was an informative and somewhat dry lesson on the nuances of campaign finance regulations… is a sentence I never thought I’d write. Though it was short on titillation and revelations, the interview was also a somewhat breathtaking example of the normalization of our current administration’s theater of the absurd.
Perhaps the most entertaining thing about Anderson Cooper’s highly anticipated sit-down with Daniels (née Stephanie Clifford) was watching Cooper himself — wearing Clark Kent glasses and a regal blue tie — as he worked to maintain a façade of gravitas throughout the interview. At times, this required significant effort, like when he brought up Daniels’ first meeting with the future president in 2006 in Lake Tahoe — an encounter that Daniels said involved her spanking Trump with a magazine. “You told Donald Trump to turn around and take off his pants?” Cooper asked, his solemn demeanor twitching into a bemused grin. “I just gave him a couple swats,” Daniels noted.
Throughout her interview with Cooper, Daniels was sharp and composed, giving succinct, confident answers, and even cracking a few jokes. (Of claims that she’s doing all of this for a payday, she quipped, “I don’t have a million dollars. You didn’t even buy me breakfast.”) Interestingly enough, the only real anger we saw from Daniels during the interview was at the beginning, when Cooper asked her about people “using” her for their “different agendas,” like the #MeToo movement. “This is not a #MeToo. I was not a victim,” she told Cooper emphatically. “I’ve never said I was a victim. I think trying to use me to further someone else’s agenda does horrible damage to people who are true victims.”
It’s a valid point, but the way Daniels describes her alleged encounter with Trump does reveal her to be a victim of self-devaluation, at the very least. Recounting to Cooper how it became clear to her, after having dinner with Trump in his hotel room, that he expected sex from her, she recalled, “I realized exactly what I’d gotten myself into. And I was like, ‘Ugh, here we go.’ And I just felt like maybe… I had it coming for making a bad decision for going to someone’s room alone. I just heard the voice in my head, ‘Well, you put yourself in a bad situation and bad things happen, so you deserve this.’”
Of everything that came out of this 60 Minutes segment — you can read the details here, including Daniels’ claim that she was threatened in a parking garage by someone telling her to “leave Trump alone”; and that Trump may have violated campaign finance laws by allowing his lawyer to pay Daniels $130,000 in hush money 11 days before the election — the most upsetting thing of all, for me at least, were those three words: You deserve this. Hearing that a 27-year-old woman — yes, even one who makes porn films — would assume that a powerful 60-year-old man was entitled to sex with her because she flirted and exercised poor judgment? That’s almost as depressing as the fact that the aforementioned man is now the leader of the free world.