Friday, October 7, 2016

I am Billy Bush

By now, you've probably heard of Donald Trump's horrific recorded comments from 2005 about how he treats women. It's hard to see how he survives this and gets elected, but this is a weird and stupid election season: Never say never.

What interests me in the recording, though, is the acquiescence of Billy Bush, who just goes with the flow as Trump describes his interaction with women in ever-more-disgusting terms:

“And when you’re a star they let you do it,” Trump says. “You can do anything.” 
“Whatever you want,” says another voice, apparently Bush’s.
Trump today described the comments as "locker room banter." It's been a few decades since I spent regular time in a locker room, and I remember it could get rowdy and bawdy — but Trump's recorded comments exceed anything in my memory.

Still, I'm now racking my brain. Am I Billy Bush?

Have I sat by, maybe even chuckled, as a man — thinking he was speaking among men — spoke of a women or women in such disrespectful terms? I don't have a clear memory of it if so.

But that doesn't mean it didn't happen. Indeed, it's all too easy to understand how, confronted with such comments, one might try to chuckle nervously and get the encounter over with. "Boys will be boys" and all that.

And yet.

I interviewed Fred Phelps, the notorious gay basher, once. It was brief phone call. A national Jewish group had put out a report demonstrating that Phelps was also a fairly accomplished anti-Semite. I asked Fred for his response, and his quote was this: "I welcome anything those Christ-killing fag lovers have to say about me."

I giggled.

I giggled because it was shocking. I giggled because I wasn't going to get into an argument with Fred Phelps while I was on the job and I didn't know what else to do. I giggled because, for whatever reason, I wasn't going to tell Fred Phelps he was wrong.

I've laughed at racist jokes, too.

The point is: This stuff happens unless we choose to make ourselves uncomfortable — if we choose to make other people feel uncomfortable — and confront comments that are so at odds with our values. It's tough. Oftentimes it doesn't feel worth it. But every time we don't — every time we chuckle — we signal our approval. We tell the person making the lewd, disgusting comments that it's ok to be that way. Even if we think otherwise.

So yeah. I've probably been Billy Bush. Probably you have too. What are we going to do about it?

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