It's difficult to have a reasonable conversation about sexual mores in the Age of Trump. We could start with the "Access Hollywood" tape, made in 2005 when Donald Trump was the star of a different kind of reality show than the one he is now. His vulgar boasts about how to seduce women did not prevent him from being elected president.
Enough voters understood that he thrived in a contemporary culture of macho manhood, which many hoped was receding but knew was far from finished. If Trump was still on the retro side of public sexual attitudes, there were many men (and women) keeping him company.
Now a porn star on the women's side of those retro attitudes attempts to rise to a higher pay grade and porn-glam aura with credible tales of intimate relations with the president, which she says began a decade ago. This may cast the rest of us as voyeurs, but it doesn't stop anyone from reading all about it. Reporters interview her with barely concealed prurience, trying to play presidential "gotcha." She's scheduled to appear on "60 Minutes" Sunday, which gives her a prestigious platform to titillate with tales of an X-rated presidential performance.
Stephanie Gregory Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, exemplifies the equal-opportunity woman exploiting those retro-sex attitudes, an enterprising woman using prevailing mores to her advantage. She makes no complaint of harassment. She concedes she was a willing player and sees no harm in turning a romp into an investment.
The retro sexual standards that the Donald enjoyed with Daniels are common among the men found wearing an expensive woman as arm candy at exclusive golf clubs and fashionable restaurants. Both arm and candy are usually satisfied with brief flings into hedonism. Moral judgment has always been tempered by double standards among the rich, famous and powerful.
As president, Jack Kennedy flourished in the retro system, and he was likely the last presidential womanizer who would be protected by both women and the press. He kept suites for his women at The Woodner Hotel on upper 16th Street NW in the capital, a conveniently brief ride down the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Jackie Kennedy, like Hillary Clinton later on, knew of her husband's infidelities. But the two first ladies handled things differently.
Rumors about Jack, brother Bobby Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe still enliven the pop-history version of how Monroe died. But Jack's gracefully articulated politics, good looks and studied New England manners, bolstered by a luxury lifestyle supported by daddy's money, conspired to protect the Kennedy name.
That took place in a century and a culture now vanished. Now, powerful men who expose themselves, literally and figuratively, face a new kind of pushback. While women in Hollywood and the media are largely credited with driving changes in attitudes toward sex, the targeted villains have been selected with care. Trump has none of the savoir-faire of a Kennedy, and he practices the wrong politics to expect a break from the media. But few of his constituents seem to care about his adventures with a porn star, or anyone else, beyond how saucy tales can be used against him.
Third-wave attitudes have splintered feminism with the early success of the #MeToo movement. The first wave was launched by the suffragettes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who only wanted the vote. The second wave was ignited by Betty Friedan and the women's liberation movement in the 1960s. The third wave is young, and it's sometimes difficult to discern distinctions between sexual assault and merely the sending of mixed messages.
Jack Kennedy was the knight in shining armor at a time when a rich, glamorous, powerful man could get away with almost anything; Donald Trump arrives on the scene when a man, no matter his status, is suspect merely by virtue (or vice) of his sex. Third-wave feminism began with the toppling of Harvey Weinstein, the colossus of Hollywood, and it set off aftershocks that punished even the likes of comedian Aziz Ansari, who was publicly humiliated simply for being a lousy lover.
The porn star's charges against the president are specific and lodged at a moment when there's a vacuum of feminist leadership. The president vanquished Hillary Clinton, who then sang a remarkable swan song with her authorship. In India last week, she claimed that she lost white women's vote and the election because their husbands and boyfriends told them how to vote.
Stormy Daniels is playing her Trump card before the moment cools. But great expectations, as author Gail Collins observes in the history of American feminism, "give birth to great disappointments." Daniels can't expect fair weather and smooth sailing.