One of the most mystifying aspects of this presidency is how a man with one of the most un-Christian resumes on earth retains the overwhelming support of America’s evangelical voters.
Donald Trump has put thousands of children in cages, cheated on all three of his wives, and looked the other way when a US-based journalist was hacked to death by a so-called ally, yet born-again Christians seem happy to embrace a form of moral relativism for Trump, ignoring egregious personal behaviour so long as their key issues are advanced. Sure (they seem to say), our president screwed a porn-star as his wife nurtured a new-born child at home, but we’ve got two right-wing judges on the Supreme Court, so the moral scales show we’re still ahead.
White evangelical American Christians have long tolerated seemingly un-Christian political behaviour like warmongering and militarism, but Trump is such an outstanding example of truly meritless humanity that it boggles the mind that as of late 2018 he retained over 70% approval among that group. The last two years have certainly confirmed a previously controversial view – that evangelicals vote on a very narrow range of issues and offer little nuance when it comes to backing politicians supportive of their pet peeves – guns, god and abortion.
The last of these three is of particular interest, as this president – a serial philanderer with five children by three wives and at least 22 plausible accusations of sexual assault to his name – has implemented perhaps the most pious sexual health policies in modern American history. Sex education under Trump has fallen back heavily on the zealous promotion of abstinence over more practical measures, abortion clinics are under greater pressure than ever before, and Roe v Wade (which legalises abortion in America) may face an existential threat during this president’s tenure. One of Trump’s first acts in office was to implement a ‘Global Gag Rule’ that banned US funding for any NGOs worldwide that offer abortions or even mention abortion as an option for women’s reproductive health.
White evangelicals make up around 15% of the US adult population, but their political zeal is such that they totalled 26% of votes cast in the 2018 mid-term elections. Evangelicals turn up at the polls, and thus punch above their weight in the national political debate. With Trump’s overall approval rating hovering semi-permanently around 40%, the loss of a significant chunk of this evangelical vote would put him down near Nixon territory in no time at all. Yet nothing appears able to cool Christians ardour for this despicable man.
Which brings us to abortion, and to Donald Trump and abortion to be specific. Before addressing the details, it’s worth noting that Trump’s adult life has centred around money and sexual gratification, or using one to obtain the other. Trump bought beauty pageants to gain proximity to nubile young women, and exploited his position as event owner to walk in on teenage girls dressing rooms. ‘Trump Model Management’ was a company notorious for being used as a vehicle for putting impressionable models wishing to advance their careers in social situations with a powerful man who just might be able to help them. Trump found third wife Melania through his own modelling agency. It has been reported that Trump hosted drug-fuelled parties at his penthouse apartment, where young (sometimes under-age) models and girls were introduced to powerful older men, with inevitable results. Trump even went so far as to phone journalists and pretend to be a man named John Barron, to plant stories in newspapers bragging about his bosses many celebrity dates and sexual conquests.
Of the women who have given detailed descriptions of their affairs with Trump, all noted that the future president did not wear a condom. So, statistically it is far from a leap of faith to suggest that during decades of sexual profligacy, Trump may have had the occasional brush with an unplanned pregnancy.
The idea that Trump has been involved with abortions has occasionally (but briefly) made the news. Late last year, the US Spectator published an article suggesting as many as eight women have been paid to have abortions after sexual liaisons with Trump, and made to sign non-disclosure agreements, something Trump uses on nearly everyone in his orbit.
But it’s the story of Shera Bechard that has come closest to joining the dots between Donald Trump and the funding of an abortion. It’s a little speculative, but the cast of characters in the Bechard story also helps illustrate the challenges facing women abused and discarded by powerful men, and there are none more powerful than the President of the United States.
In 2018 Ms Bechard, a former Playboy model, sued Elliott Broidy, a married Republican fund-raiser with whom she had allegedly had an affair. The legal action was in relation to the cessation of regular payments Bechard said formed part of an agreement to hush up an abortion Broidy had arranged for her to have. Broidy is a seriously shady dude, and held the role of deputy finance chairman of the RNC (the other deputy was Michael Cohen, who reports to prison in a few weeks) at a time of immense fraud and corruption under the new President, Donald Trump.
A few things didn’t stack up about the story, and in May 2018 New Yorker magazine made a brief splash pointing out inconsistencies in the official tale.
The non-disclosure agreement signed by Bechard was issued by Michael Cohen, and used the same pseudonyms for the parties (‘David Dennison’ and ‘Peggy Peterson’) as used in the NDA which Stormy Daniels signed when she took money to keep quiet about an affair with then-candidate Trump. The payments to Bechard also came via the same company that Trump used to pay off Daniels – Essential Consultants LLC.
Elliott Broidy was one of just three clients retaining the services of Michael Cohen (Trump and Sean Hannity being the others). Shera Bechard’s lawyer was Keith Davidson, the man who negotiated both Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal’s NDAs with Michael Cohen, so the cast of characters – both personal, legal and corporate – was the same as that of the Stormy Daniels story.
Broidy had every incentive to ‘take the fall’ for Trump – as evidenced by deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars that came his way once Trump was installed at the White House.
The New Yorker article offered an alternative explanation for the Bechard/Broidy story, and supporting hypothesis.
Trump was well known to be specifically obsessed with Playboy models, and Bechard looked strikingly like a series of other girls who appear to be Trump’s ‘type’ (she looks a lot like Ivanka too). Broidy had a history of bribing public officials and making illegal payments, including to the girlfriend of someone he was bribing.
Despite a sleazy business record, Elliott Broidy’s personal life appeared settled – he had been married for 25 years and had three children. Yet, despite an allegedly lurid two-year affair involving a Playmate, an abortion and a secret pay-off of over a million dollars, his marriage remains intact.
Now it may just be that Michael Cohen used the same NDA and LLC company that he had used for Trump and Daniels, as the two stories were remarkably similar (how fortunate to have a ‘Republican official having affair with Playboy model’ hush-hush agreement to hand), but the remuneration seems totally out of proportion. Broidy had almost no public profile – the exposure of an affair would have engendered almost no media attention. Yet Broidy paid Bechard more than 12-times the amount that Donald Trump paid Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about their brief encounter.
What seems more plausible is that a high-profile, serial sexual philanderer, known to have affairs with Playboy models and not use a condom, impregnated a Playmate and got an associate with a history of bribery to pretend it was his child, with the promise of untold wealth as a reward for such loyalty.
This is far from an open and shut case. There is no public evidence that Bechard has even met Trump. Older men have affairs with ravishing young women all the time, and rich men pay the girls off when things go sour. But for a time I felt that the exposure of a story like this had the power to end Trump’s presidency, reasoning that the proven involvement of Trump in an abortion would be a bridge too far for America’s evangelical sect.
While that may have been true of Trump the presidential candidate, today – I contend – that is no longer the case. Trump commits a moral outrage every day. Racism pours from his lips. He insults and attacks anyone in his way. When Trump said there were fine people on both sides of a neo-Nazi riot, few of his religious backers chose to speak out. Most helped ‘translate’ for the president, which is to say they made excuses for him. Some blamed the press for mischaracterising the president’s words, despite those words being broadcast in full on national television.
Given what we have seen over the last two years, you would be a fool to suggest that the exposure of an abortion involving the president would inspire a rush to the exit by America’s evangelical leaders. These men (they are nearly all men) have shown a Cirque du Soleil level of moral elasticity when it comes to the behaviour of Donald J. Trump. They would find a way to save face and continue to stand by their man. After all, it’s only one abortion, when you think about all the other ones our President is stopping.
And there’s the rub. Because when one party is held inviolable, the other is rendered powerless. Where is the incentive for Shera Bechard, or another woman, to come forward with an abortion story. There is none, and in fact there are considerable – perhaps overwhelming – reasons not to make such a claim against Mr Trump. Consider the experience of others.
Stormy Daniels was approached in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011 by a man who told her to keep quiet about her affair with Trump, saying ‘that’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom’. Ms Daniels has been forced to hire security, even at her home. She reports often being terrified, and buying a gun for protection. Trump has shamelessly goaded her on Twitter, calling Daniels ‘horseface’ and threatening to ‘go after’ her.
Imagine how much greater the risk someone alleging an abortion would face. Try to imagine the power of the Republican attack machine, augmented by the screeching masses on Fox News, when taking a story like that public. Would you want to have your life, and that of your family and children, turned upside down just to try to prove that you had an abortion for Donald Trump? Would you wish to hire security, to sleep fearfully at night, perhaps for years, in the hope of proving something at the cost of your name, your job, your life?
Maybe the twitter taunts that follow Monica Lewinsky to this day will persuade you of the disincentives women have when it comes to exposing the collateral damage caused by powerful men and their sexual indiscretions. Or look at the case of Christine Blasey Ford, whose testimony against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh went from honest and plausible to disgraced and mocked in the course of one afternoon. Ford had nothing to gain and everything to lose in testifying against Kavanaugh, yet it was he who rose to sit on the Supreme Court, while she has had to endure death threats for months, moved house four times and is yet to return to work. The victim’s life is ruined, the attempted rapist now one of the most senior legal practitioners in the land.
Whether true or not, the Shera Bechard story graphically illustrates that at the top of the political tree attractive young women remain playthings, to be used and discarded at will, and whose voices remain ignored or, worse, actively threatened with personal destruction and violence.
Donald Trump wields this sexual violence in the same way he used to assault women. This is how tyranny takes over – norms of behaviour that used to be disqualifying no longer apply to the dictator, and those with legitimate claims of bad behaviour are intimidated by the state machine and stay quiet. To a great extent, America’s evangelical movement is responsible for this.