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#MeToo movement comes full circle with Trump verdict, columnist argues

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Does the verdict yesterday against Donald Trump represent the #MeToo movement coming full circle? In a Manhattan courtroom, the former president was found liable for sexual abuse and defamation. E. Jean Carroll, who says Trump raped her back in the '90s, was awarded $5 million. In The New York Times today, Michelle Goldberg sums up the state of events in a column headlined, "The Fury Of #MeToo Finally Comes For The Man Who Inspired It." Well, Michelle Goldberg, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Hi. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: In a few sentences, make the case. Why do you think this marks #MeToo coming full circle?

GOLDBERG: I think the reason that #MeToo blew up as it did was because there was such an explosion of female fury after what a lot of us interpreted as, like, the profound shock and insult of Donald Trump's election, right? So you had the Women's March. You had women pouring into politics, both as activists and as candidates, and then you had the #MeToo movement. And the reason that I think, you know, the revelation of Harvey Weinstein's misdeeds spurred such a nationwide paroxysm was because there were so many women who were furious about Trump. There's very little they could do about Trump, so they turned to the abusers in their own industries...

KELLY: Right.

GOLDBERG: ...And kind of, you know, defenestrated them in his place.

KELLY: Right.

GOLDBERG: And it was because of #MeToo that E. Jean Carroll came forward. It was because of #MeToo that New York passed the Adult Survivors Act, which allowed people to sue for sexual assault long after the statute of limitations had run out. And now she has - now there's finally this verdict that - of liability against the person who inspired all this anger.

KELLY: Right. Well, and I'm remembering, you know, of course, the "Access Hollywood" tape, which was part of what you're talking about that stoked so much anger among women and others. That was played for jurors as evidence in this trial. E. Jean Carroll's lawyer said this was a confession. I'm thinking Trump did not pay a political price for that back when it surfaced during the 2016 campaign. He was elected president anyway. Would you argue yesterday marked him paying a legal price for it?

GOLDBERG: I mean, I think clearly. You know, there's now a - it's not a criminal trial, but there is now a jury verdict that he is responsible for sexual assault. And, you know, while it's too early to say whether this will affect the Republican race - and obviously, I don't think a lot of Republican primary voters are going to take this particularly seriously - this is the first time that he's being held legally accountable for his well-documented harassment and abuse of women.

KELLY: So what do you take from the trial that goes beyond Donald Trump that may, you know, be a litmus test for how much #MeToo has changed the culture?

GOLDBERG: Well, so I didn't go to the whole trial, but I did sit in on a few days. And I was, frankly, pretty worried. I mean, it was a six - you know, it was 6 to 3, men and women. There was one juror who had - you know, who listed a very far-right podcast - podcaster as part of his media diet.

So I wasn't - you know, I thought that this might be a jury that would be skeptical of her claims and that would be responsive to - you know, I wrote in the piece that Trump's lawyer basically tried the case as if #MeToo hadn't happened - you know, kind of asking these stereotypical, badgering questions - you know, why didn't you scream? Why didn't you go to the police? - acting as if this was all a scheme cooked up between E. Jean Carroll and her friends, you know, trying to undermine the stories of the other two women who came forward with their own stories in similar ways. And so, you know, I...

KELLY: And the jury obviously didn't buy that.

GOLDBERG: Right. And they - not only did they didn't buy it. I mean, it was like, they were out for, like, three hours, right? So this was - they didn't - they barely even considered it.

KELLY: Although to follow on something you just touched on, Republicans do not appear to be stampeding away from Trump. You quote in your column Republican Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota saying, and I quote, "it's not a disqualifier."

GOLDBERG: Well, I think that - if you don't mind, I just want to read the whole thing - I'd rather have a president that isn't found liable for battery. But then he said, but it's not a disqualifier, which I feel like is - you know, might as well be the epitaph for the Republican Party. Of course, they're not stampeding away from him. You know, I feel like anybody who finds sexual abuse a deal breaker, you know, left Donald Trump when they saw the "Access Hollywood" tape. I think that there might be some second thoughts about his electability - or you're already seeing those second thoughts. Whether the party, given the passions of its base, can act on those second thoughts is another matter.

KELLY: So I hear you making the argument that you believe we got a different verdict in this trial than we might have had E. Jean Carroll come forward and filed suit a decade ago. Is that right?

GOLDBERG: Oh, I think that - I think definitely. I mean, yes, I feel like - you know, I feel like there was so much more. And it came up in trial - just the - both the lawyers and a psychologist kind of explaining how trauma works, why there is no - why victims don't necessarily behave the way they're stereotypically supposed to.

KELLY: Yeah. The last line of your piece - I only hope his other antagonists are as valiant. Briefly, what do you mean?

GOLDBERG: I just mean that E. Jean Carroll was so brave. You know, she really had to go through so much - both to come forward in the first place and to, you know, file this lawsuit, to be cross-examined, to have her personal life, her friendships, her relationships, her finances open to public scrutiny, to endure the threats and the possibility, frankly, of losing. And, you know - and she stuck to it.

KELLY: That is New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg. Thank you.

GOLDBERG: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.