Of all the ripe metaphors for the absurdist moralities of the 2016 presidential campaign, the Access Hollywood tape might be the ripest. Donald Trump’s words, as he bragged to Billy Bush in 2005 about his exploits with women, operated with a kind of poetic ruthlessness: pussy, Tic Tacs, like a bitch, when you’re a star. And Bush’s words in response—all I can see is the legs, how about a little hug for the Donald?—revealed their own kind of insights: about the contagions of sexism, about how easily a bystander to misogyny can be made into an agent of it. The tape’s fallout was similarly revealing: After it was made public, Bush, the responder to the comments, swiftly lost his job. Donald Trump, the maker of them, attained the highest one in the land. It’s a discrepancy that has helped to fuel the outrage that helped to fuel the latest version of the #MeToo movement. And it’s a discrepancy, too, that has remained with us, still largely unaccounted for, still largely unreckoned with: Bush, removed from the scenes; Trump—who 16 women say harassed or assaulted them—part of most every scene.
The absurdity has recently taken an even more absurdist turn: Trump has been arguing to friends, reportedly, that the voice on the recording was not, in fact, his—that the Access Hollywood tape is yet one more piece of conveniently fake news. And in response, the tape has had another kind of rebirth, this time in the form of the public return of Billy Bush—via an op-ed in The New York Times.