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An American Dream: Porn and politics

By KATIE STOCKDALE

Our news cycle of outrage has, since January, been overtaken by the “Stormy Daniels Saga.” The adult film star’s alleged affair with President Trump, the subsequent nondisclosure agreement she signed to not discuss it and the money that may or may not have changed hands has been covered in papers, talk shows and the ever-present Twitter. Lawyers have been screaming at each other on national television, the White House has gone silent and Daniels has gotten a lot of publicity. People are fascinated by the story, as they often are with stories about famous figures’ infidelity (the alleged affair of Princess Diana is still making headlines, 22 years after her death). This isn’t even the first affair that’s come out about President Trump. It’s certainly not the first affair to come out about a president, or any political figure.

But America cares. We care a lot, much more than we cared about JFK’s many affairs and more than we currently care about Bill Clinton’s old affair. There’s something oddly entertaining about watching politicians, lawyers and reporters scramble over the case, yelling and insulting each other. It’s become grotesque, funny but almost unbelievable. The average American watches the story, the airing of all the secrets and dirty details, and is seduced. Seduced by the lies, the coverups and the seedy underside of politics, America watches and comes out on a high. Is it because of the forbidden nature of porn in society that an affair involving a porn star is so captivating? They have seen something terrible, have enjoyed seeing it, are happy to have seen it.

Porn, always on the fringes of acceptable society, has now been thrust into the center of the debate. It’s been edging its way in for a while, however. Whatever your views on porn are, it’s obvious that it is still looked as taboo by the majority of American society. But it survives because there’s something exciting about it. Enter political scandals. The story is always the same: people gather at TVs, computers, put it on the radio, grab the newspaper with the scandal as headline and enjoy the thing that has been deemed “bad” by broader society. They’re all exciting, they’re all about something wrong, and they’re all something people get hooked on. Scandals are the porn of politics.

Like porn, there’s also something fake about scandals. With Stormy and Trump, there’s already arguments that the whole thing is scripted, it’s bad acting, and it’s being done for media attention. If that is the case, it’s working brilliantly. It’s also drawing attention away from the real political problems. Policies, the national debt, if Congress can pass anything at all; you don’t see those topics in the news. What the American people should be reading and hearing about, what they should be thinking about, what they should be forcing politicians to address are not covered because they are not interesting. Because they can’t stand up to the story that Donald Trump slept with a porn star.

As a result, politicians don’t have to focus on the hard questions. Is it really a coincidence that after three months of the scandal, Michael Cohen’s attorney appeared on CNN with Daniel’s attorney to create a whole new moment in the scandal – right when the dialogue around gun violence and gun control is becoming even more heated? A nice scandal is an easy option to distract constituents from the difficult questions surrounding gun control and rights.

Americans certainly get distracted from politics by scandals, but that’s not the case everywhere. In France, the focus is not on politicians’ personal lives.  It’s not a consideration during elections, and the French are often confused by Americans’ reactions to political scandals. For them, what matters is what the politician does in their term, the political moves they make and policies they implement. The personal life is not important, and it should be kept private.

Americans are not going to be able to just forget about politicians personal lives, and I’m not sure they should. But I do think we care too much about personal scandals in this country. Trump is already in office. We cannot change that fact and proving whether or not he paid for Daniels’ silence is not going to change that fact either. Now is not the time to focus on this story, now is the time to hold politicians accountable for the policies they should be making and the bills they should be passing. A politician’s personal life is going to reveal the type of person they are – if they pay someone for silence in their personal life, it follows that there’s a pretty good chance they might buy silence while in office and be involved in cover-ups. Maybe this scandal will factor into a possible impeachment trial for President Trump, but I doubt it will, given that it is not relevant to what he’s done while in office, nor are affairs or nondisclosure agreements illegal.

Once politicians are in office, unless there’s a possibility of removing them from office, it’s too late. The focus needs to be on political action, political choices and making actual, effective policy change. While important for building support, hashtags like #MeToo and #NeverAgain aren’t enough on their own. Outrage is not enough on its own. Following the latest scandal is not enough. We have to vote.

Katie Stockdale can be reached at kaitlyn.stockdale@theminaretonline.com

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