Views / Opinion

Rosemary Westwood: White House feels #MeToo's effect

Trump official Rob Porter losing his job should signal something about the power of this new focus on violence and harassment within sexual relationships.

White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, seen with Chief of Staff John Kelly and senior adviser Jared Kushner, resigned after allegations of domestic abuse by his two ex-wives.

Alex Brandon / The Associated Press

White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, seen with Chief of Staff John Kelly and senior adviser Jared Kushner, resigned after allegations of domestic abuse by his two ex-wives.

A Trump official falls amid the #MeToo movement.

Rob Porter — the influential White House staff secretary who you’ve likely never heard of before — is resigning. And to be honest, most Canadians are unlikely to need to know his name once he leaves.

But right now, Porter’s story is key, and not because it’s in any way unique for a Trump appointee to lose his or her job.

Quite the opposite.

Porter now ranks as only the latest in a unusually long line of administration officials and cabinet members who have been pushed out in the last year, whether by dint of foul language, conflicts of interest, lying about contacts with Russian officials, feuding with Trump’s children, being spoofed in one too many Saturday Night Live skits or, in this case, allegedly abusing two ex-wives.

And the way those allegations were treated underlines the Trump approach to questionable or even criminal behaviour: Stand by your man, as long as you can.

Support for Porter — expressed forcefully by press secretary Sarah Sanders on Wednesday — mimics the enthusiasm with which Trump embraced Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican and alleged pedophile who ran for a senate seat (and lost in spectacular fashion to a Democrat). 

In news reports that broke early this week, Porter’s two ex-wives claimed he subjected them to verbal abuse, punched one in the face and kicked another. His second wife acquired a temporary protective order against him. 

The F.B.I. interviewed these women before giving Porter his security clearance. Chief of Staff John Kelly knew about them, and Kelly’s first move, when the story broke, was to defend Porter as a “man of true integrity.”

But in this case, unlike others in the White House, these abuse allegations against women sealed Porter’s fate.

Steve Bannon, for example, was pushed out of the White House not because he once faced domestic violence charges which were later dropped when he wife reportedly failed to show up to a court date, but because his white nationalist vision for Trump clashed with other aides. 

Andrew Puzder, who Trump nominated to lead the Department of Labor, withdrew his nomination after both Republicans and Democrats rejected him, only in part, for some, on the basis of claims by Puzder's ex-wife that he attacked, choked and hit her. 

Few likely need reminding of Trump’s pussy-grabbing comments, but some may have forgotten that his ex-wife Ivana once claimed, and later retracted, that he raped her, or that more than a dozen women have accused him of sexual misconduct.

Clearly, the White House would have preferred to keep Porter — described in news reports as a pivotal gatekeeper to President Trump — since it already knew of the abuse allegations. That it felt it couldn’t should signal something about the power of this new focus on violence and harassment within sexual relationships, and sexual abuse and misconduct in the workplace.

Perhaps we’re seeing #MeToo infect even Trump’s administration, the whitest and most male in recent history, with the movement’s unflinching demands for consequences.

Further evidence is needed, and given the pace of resignations and various accusations of abuse, it’s likely to come at some point. Perhaps soon.

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