On CNN, the conservative pundit Betsy McCaughey was asked about the Republican politicians distancing themselves from Donald Trump after a tape leaked of him talking about grabbing women “by the pussy.” McCaughey quickly called those politicians “rats” and then asked to make another point.
“I abhor lewd and bawdy language,” she began. “I don’t listen to rap music, I don’t like that kind of thing. But Hillary Clinton, when she expresses—”
“Wait, you said rude and bawdy rap?” Don Lemon interjected.
“I thought you said rap music.”
“I did, I mentioned rap music because it’s full of the F word, the P word, the B word, the A word.”
McCaughey went on to quote Beyoncé’s “Formation,” saying “I came to slay, bitch, when he F me good I take his ass to Red Lobster,” in a cadence that makes it seem she’s never heard the original song. The argument: Because Hillary Clinton is a Beyoncé fan, she’s a hypocrite for calling Trump’s remarks “horrific.”
Lemon’s confusion at the apparent change of subject from politics to popular music is understandable. But McCaughey has not been alone in jumping, unprompted, from the topic of Trump’s lewdness to hip-hop’s lewdness. One of Ben Carson’s advisers, Armstrong Williams, told Business Insider that the Trump tape “unfortunately is the kind of language that we hear in rap music.” Conservative talk-show host Stacy Washington’s take on Trump included the idea that his words resemble “hip-hop music from today.”
This line of defense requires some very obvious logical leaps—like, say, over the fact that Beyoncé and other musicians are not running for president but Trump is. But the fact anyone would even attempt an argument so shaky—and that so many repeatedly do—speaks to the persistence of prejudices toward hip-hop and the culture around it.
The oddest part about the rappers-do-it-too defense is that it suggests that Trump’s comments offended people because of language alone. It implies that the problem with “the F word, the P word, the B word, the A word” is the words themselves, and if you don’t object to one use of them you can’t credibly object to any of them at any time. But Trump’s statements would have been controversial even if he hadn’t said “bitch” and “pussy.” Anderson Cooper tried to underline the real issue at Sunday’s debate by saying to Trump, “You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?”
If Republican surrogates’ underlying intention has been to call out not vulgarity in hip-hop but sexism on way to highlighting a double-standard against Trump, using “Formation” is a bizarre move. Beyoncé is a pop star—not a rapper, really—inverting stereotypically macho tropes to talk about consensual sex with her husband. And while few rap fans would say their preferred genre is free from misogyny, they would probably point out that even with its raunchier performers there are lines that don’t usually get crossed. When in 2013 Rick Ross rapped about putting drugs in a woman’s drink and taking her home, it triggered widespread outrage; he apologized profusely and lost a major endorsement deal.
trump: i do sex crimes— Miss O'Kistic (@missokistic) October 11, 2016
beyoncé: i reward consensual, enjoyable sex with cheddar biscuits
trump supporters: CHECKMATE LIBERALS https://t.co/VepXTJhF8Q
Rap fans would also point out the double standard that brings their genre more scrutiny than other styles. Rock-and-roll history is full of sexist, predatory lyrics, including those that use the “p word” and the “b word.” But it’s understood that rock is an art form for fantasy and exaggeration, a distinction that isn’t always afforded rap, long a scapegoat for those looking to blame social problems on the cultural output of people trying to survive those very problems.
Just last year, a recording of a pro-lynching chant among fraternity members became a chance for TV commentators to draw false equivalence with rowdy hip-hop lyrics. Rappers often see their songs used against them in court as evidence of criminal intent. Politicians talk about hip-hop’s concern with violence as a cause of, not effect of, real violence. And now, in perhaps the most tenuous connection yet, rappers and rap-friendly singers are being invoked to excuse a potential president’s “locker-room talk” that, still, is grosser than most anything you’re likely to hear on the radio.