Donald Trump’s defense attorney in rape trial may have accidentally revealed the motive

The common wisdom in the post-#MeToo era is that bullying an alleged rape victim is a bad look. So many legal experts were surprised when Donald Trump’s defense attorney Joe Tacopino tore in E. Jean Carroll on the witness stand Thursday, during a defamation and rape civil trial of the former reality TV host-turned-fascist coup leader. There wasn’t a misogynist rape myth that Tacopino left untouched. His browbeating got so bad that Judge Lewis Kaplan was forced to repeatedly interrupt and repeat Tacopino.

“Tacopina was derisive, derogatory and dismissive,” former federal prosecutor Mitchell Epner wrote at the Daily Beast.

“Not exactly the impression Team Trump wanted the jury to be left with on the way home,” defense attorney Robert Katzberg wrote at Slate.

Tacopino fell “into this other trap,” former US Attorney Joyce Vance said on MSNBC on Saturday, “of putting the jury on her side and willing to listen to her testimony.”

It may be ill-advised, but it’s not a surprise that Trump would hire a lawyer committed to the strategy of pure misogyny. This is the same Trump who pushed Justice Brett Kavanaugh towards the whining-and-shouting response to similarly credible allegations of attempted rape. Trump has always thought he looks “tough” to be a coward who only bullies people who can’t fight back.

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Badgering an elderly woman isn’t just a bad look, however. In going for maximum belligerence, Tacopino may have accidentally revealed a telling detail about why Trump allegedly raped Carroll in a dressing room that day. Not because he was overcome with lust. No, because Trump was angry over a perceived insult. We all know how he loves to take revenge over imaginary slights.

There wasn’t a misogynist rape myth that Tacopino left untouched.

The crucial moment came during a back-and-forth between Carroll and Tacopino about a detail that seemed irrelevant from the day. In her original recounting, Carroll described Trump asking her to try on lingerie, and teasing her countering with, “you try it on” and “it’s your color.”

Carroll was using a standard bit of feminine self-protection, deflecting sexual overtures with jokes. She said as much on the stand. “Laughing is very good—I use the word weapon—to calm a man down if he has any erotic intentions.” But Tacopino would not let it go. He insisted on treating these jokes as if they were evidence that Carroll was unhinged when she was obviously just being silly. He kept after her about why she thought it was funny, forcing her to remind him that she wrote an Emmy-winning skit for “Saturday Night Live” about men in lingerie.

Q: You wrote a scene for Saturday Night Live about a man putting on lingerie over a suit?

A: About a man getting dressed in the bathroom, and he was wearing his underwear.

Q: Over his suit?

A: No. It was just a man in his bathroom falling in love with himself in front of the mirror.

Q: To you that’s a similar scene as Donald Trump, in the middle of Bergdorf Goodman, with his suit on, trying on a piece of women’s lingerie?

A: That’s how my mind works. That’s how comedy is born. You take two opposite things, you put them together, and it creates a new scene. That’s where comedy comes from.

Q: Did that ever air on Saturday Night Live?

A: Yes.

Q: When was that?

A; 1987, William Shatner played the role.

As I was reading this baffling exchange, I couldn’t help but start picturing how Trump, who we all know has a tissue-thin ego, would react to having a pretty, witty woman tease him with jokes about putting on a teddy. There’s no question about it. He would have felt goldculated. He would have been furious. He would have grown angrier and angrier as he kept the banter up. She probably thought they were having fun. In reality, she was dealing with a short-tempered narcissist who cannot take a joke.

Tacopino inadvertently answered questions that Carroll himself has said haunt her: Why her? Why that day? Why did Trump allegedly get violent so suddenly?

The lingerie jokes hold the answer: Trump felt humiliated by Carroll’s teasing. He wanted to put her in her place.

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We all know how Trump reacts with over-the-top rage at perceived embarrassment, especially at the hands of those he demands as lower status than himself. Think of how furious he was when President Barack Obama made fun of Trump’s racist conspiracy theories at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner in 2011. The cameras captured Trump, who had been so proud of himself for getting invited, glowing with barely contained fury. Legend has it that it’s one major reason Trump decided to run, as an act of literal revenge.

She probably thought they were having fun. In reality, she was dealing with a short-tempered narcissist who cannot take a joke.

Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, during her testimony before the House January 6 committee, shared similar stories of Trump blowing up over perceived inferiors talking back to him. He lunged at the neck of a Secret Service agent who refused to take him into the Capitol riots, he reported. He threw ketchup at the wall when Attorney General Bill Barr rejected his claims that the election was stolen, he said. Trump went on to prove her picture of his ugly temper, by raging like a madman on Truth Social after her testimony. Indeed, his inability to stop his own public tantrums is why he’s getting sued by Carroll. She sued for defamation after similar rage-fueled public insults from Trump.

Note that the other reported story of Trump moving past groping to full-blown rape was also rooted not in lust, but anger.

During her acrimonious divorce from Trump, Ivana Trump tested in a deposition that he raped her in a fit of rage, blaming her for his bad plastic surgery. “Does it hurt?” she recalls he said afterwards, taunting her. She withdrew the allegation later, but Trump’s biographer points out that her alimony payments were likely in danger if she did not recant.

Researchers who interview convicted rapists have repeatedly shown that men who commit rape tend to have more hostile views of women. Rapists also tend to have rigid ideas about gender roles, making them especially sensitive to perceived slights against their masculinity.

In other words, rape is less about sex than it is about power and control. It’s a bad weapon men use to dominate women. Trump, of course, also fits this model of toxic masculinity, believing women are inferior and putting a lot of stock into maintaining his image as a manly man. It would be the least surprising thing in the world, given everything we know about him, that he reacted to harmless teasing by exploding into a violent rage. And rape is, unfortunately, a common way that angry men lash out at women.

It’s likely that the emasculating nature of the lingerie joke is why Tacopino kept going after Carroll for it, even though her explanation for why she said those things is understandable to the point of banality. As I wrote last week, Tacopino can’t defend Trump’s honor, as he has none. So instead he has to persuade the jury not to care about Carroll. Likely, Tacopino’s hoping at least a few male judges also find lingerie jokes threatening enough to decide they hate Carroll enough to deny her justice. Sadly, this kind of victim-blaming strategy has worked plenty in the past. So strategically it makes sense, even if it’s morally bankrupt to go this route.

But the strategy is risky for this reason, as well. Tacopino just told the jury the likely story of what happened here: Trump got mad because some woman teased him, and flipped out on him with violence. Since Trump’s almost as famous for his hair-trigger temper as he is for his lying, it’s easy to picture it. If the plaintiff’s attorneys circle back to that aspect in closing, Tacopino’s questions could be used to make the case that Trump’s bruised ego led him to take revenge with rape.

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