Both suits are acts of bravery. They are arguments for accountability. They insist that no one—even, and especially, the president of the United States—should be above the law. But both suits, too, are seeking a justice of last resort. They are acknowledging the particular strain of apathy that tends to meet claims of sexual assault in general, but especially those claims made against Trump. In the cases of some other famous and powerful men, the volume of women who came forward to tell stories about them led to a volume of another kind: The women’s stories, told collectively—about Bill Cosby, for example, or Harvey Weinstein—eventually became too loud to ignore. The numbers alone had a corroborative effect. In Trump’s case, however, the physics are reversed in a way that is at once perverse and cruel: The more women come forward, the less any of their stories seem to stick.
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Instead, the stories themselves become subsumed in what I have come to think of as the fog: the cloud that hovers around Trump, invisible but omnipresent, made of ignored accusations and stifled voices. In its vapors lurk all the miasmic misogynies that are at this point extremely well known—I moved on her like a bitch; blood coming out of her wherever; a big, fat pig—and that, in their very familiarity, have lost the ability to shock. The fog surrounds Trump, but it also protects him: Every new allegation against him—of groping, of harassment, of humiliation, of rape—diffuses into its ether. Just as Trump himself has achieved a kind of atmospheric ubiquity, the cloud that covers him manages to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It expands, but is never expended. Assault is intimate; it is violent. The cloud absorbs those facts, transforming allegations of physical horror into airy notions.
The fog is at work when Trump and his defenders say, with straight faces, that every single woman who has made a claim against him is a liar. In the fog’s haze, it becomes possible for a weary public to learn that the president has been credibly accused of rape—and to throw up its hands. One more woman.
Carroll, in discussing her suit, acknowledged the physics of the fog. She made a point of noting that, in bringing Trump to court, she is seeking not only recompense for herself, but also a broader kind of justice. “I am filing this on behalf of every woman who has ever been harassed, assaulted, silenced, or spoken up only to be shamed, fired, ridiculed and belittled,” she put it in a statement.
And yet the mechanics of that effort will be distinctly personal. What might be most notable about the Carroll and Zervos cases is that they are fighting, in particular, for the dignity of individuality. They are fighting the fog by insisting that the minutest details of their stories matter; that the specifics matter; that the women’s own idiosyncrasies matter. A hallmark of the president’s style, with all its casual cruelties, is an insistence that some people are best understood not as people at all, but as something lesser and lower: as animals; as objects; as, indeed, hazy ideas. The women’s suits reject that premise. They will live or die by their human details. That is how the fog might finally be pierced.