Donald Trump’s claim that former US president Bill Clinton was ‘the worst abuser of women in the history of politics’ shows just how politically ignorant he is, says historian Ryle Dwyer.       

Donald Trump has raised the nastiness of the US presidential campaign several notches with his distorted attack not only on Hillary Clinton, his likely opponent in November, but also on her husband, former president Bill Clinton.

Trump accused him of being “the worst abuser of women in the history of politics”. He then went on to accuse Hillary of “hurting the women” that Bill had abused.

“She’s married to a man who got impeached for lying,” said Trump. “He was impeached for lying about what happened with a woman. Hillary was an enabler and she treated these women horribly. Just remember this.

“Some of those women were destroyed, not by [Bill Clinton], but by the way Hillary Clinton treated them after it went down.”

People were left to their own imagination about how Hillary supposedly destroyed these women. Surely nobody would have expected her to embrace any woman who had been involved with her husband.

Hillary and Bill Clinton
Hillary and Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton was impeached, but many people do not realise impeachment is just a charge. He was charged on two counts — perjury and obstruction of justice — by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, but the Senate acquitted him on both charges.

Trump’s allegation that Bill was “the worst abuser of women in the history of politics” is as much a reflection of his historical ignorance as his penchant for distortion. By comparison with some of his predecessors in the White House, Clinton was a virtual innocent.

In 1923, following the death of president and notorious philanderer Warren G Harding, Nan Britton wrote a memoir claiming Harding was the father of her daughter. Congress and the FBI tried unsuccessfully to block the publication of her book, which duly became a runaway bestseller. Her claim was confirmed by DNA testing in 2015.

Harding’s wife, Florence, reportedly caught the president with another woman in flagrante delicto in the White House. They reportedly fled into a closet, and the Secret Service had to rescue them as Florence was trying to hack through the door with a hatchet.

Franklin D Roosevelt had his fatal stroke in 1945 while closeted with his long-term mistress, Lucy Mercer, but it was hushed up. Dwight Eisenhower, later to become president, had a famous tangle during the Second World War with Kay Summersby, a married woman from Baltimore, Co Cork, where she grew up as Kathleen McCarthy-Morrogh.

Eisenhower actually planned to marry Kay, but General George Marshall, the army chief of staff, threatened to have him busted to private. Marshall was not going to have American wives worried that their husbands were messing around in Europe.

President Harry Truman later learned that Eisenhower’s letter was in his presidential library among Marshall’s papers. Truman destroyed it, even though he personally detested Eisenhower.

In the 1960s, John F Kennedy was renowned as a serial adulterer, as was Lyndon Johnson, but the latter did so many other shady things that a sex scandal would only have seemed like a diversion.

John F Kennedy
John F Kennedy

Johnson was particularly adept at planting sordid stories about others. He liked to tell of the Texas politician who told aides to spread the word that his opponent was having sex with a pig.

“Nobody would believe that,” said one aide. “I know,” replied Johnson, “but we might get the son of a bitch to deny it.”

One presidential candidate had the distinction of being open about a past indiscretion. During the presidential campaign of 1884, the Buffalo Evening Telegraph broke the news that Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland, a bachelor, had a 10-year-old son named Oscar Folsom Cleveland.

“Yes, it’s true,” Cleveland told the press. He had been paying for the child’s upkeep over the past 10 years.

Republicans tried to embarrass Cleveland by chanting, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” When they persisted with the chant after Cleveland won the election, Democrats used to respond, “Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha!” In the 50 years after the start of the Civil War, Cleveland was the only Democrat elected president.

However, twentieth-century presidents seemed virtually immune to such public scandals before Monica Lewinsky came along. Her problem was she couldn’t keep her mouth shut. Her biggest complaint was that Bill would not consummate their relationship by having sexual relations with her.

Yet he was impeached for supposedly lying when he said they did not have sexual relations. Bill Clinton was a virtual choirboy in comparison with some of his main accusers — people such as House speaker Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, and Henry Hyde. When they went after him, they became fair game themselves because they were thundering hypocrites.

Back in 1995 Anne Manning, one of Gingrich’s campaign workers, wrote in Vanity Fair that she used to have oral sex with Gingrich, because he preferred it that way so that he could deny having committed adultery with her. He said he could thereby legitimately deny having had penetrative sex with her.

The White House
The White House

But Gingrich then led the impeachment process against Clinton on such grounds. It was “common knowledge” that Gingrich was involved with several women during his first marriage, according to one of his aides, Dot Crews. Another aide, Kip Carter, witnessed him having oral sex with a colleague’s wife in his car mid-afternoon.

“As I got to the car, I saw Newt in the passenger seat and one of the guys’ wives with her head in his lap,” said the aide. “Newt kind of turned and gave me this little-boy smile.”

Amid these revelations, Gingrich announced that he was stepping down as speaker of the House of Representatives. The Republicans selected Livingston to replace him. But before he could even take over, Livingston was forced to step down after being named as a serial adulterer with several members of his own staff.

Hyde, chief inquisitor at the impeachment trial, was exposed for having had an affair with a young married woman with children. As a result of this affair, her marriage broke up, and Hyde was duly washed up politically.

Trump’s allusions last week to Bill Clinton’s impeachment were an apparent attempt to combat Hillary Clinton’s popularity among women voters. A recent public opinion poll found that 64% of women view Trump unfavourably.

For generations, politicians have been promising to tear down walls between people, but Trump is promising to build walls. He is as dangerous as he is politically sinister.

Of course, he professes to like women. He has married three of them and is trying to become the first twice-divorced man to be elected president. But nobody should be surprised if he comes a cropper, like the hypocrites who tried to destroy Bill Clinton with similar tactics.

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