Donald Trump’s Sex Tape Allegation Against Alicia Machado Is So ‘90s
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s pre-dawn Twitter blitz against former Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado — during which he suggested that Machado has a sex tape, with no evidence to back it up — betrayed many of Trump’s worst qualities: his insecurity, his vindictiveness, and his problematic (that’s putting it mildly) attitudes towards women. But there’s another strange quality to Trump’s latest offensive: It’s so ’90s, and that’s a yuge problem.
What struck me first about the ’90s quality of Trump’s attempted character assassination of Machado was the term “sex tape” itself, “tape” being one of the delightfully anachronistic holdovers of the VCR era. While nobody was confused about what Trump meant in his usage, it sends a clear signal that the GOP candidate is operating in a different political culture than the one we currently occupy.
It almost makes twisted kind of sense, considering that the worst of Trump’s behavior towards Machado went down in the late ’90s. At the time, much of the media eagerly co-signed Trump’s deplorable treatment of the Venezuelan pageant winner; a CNN article from 1997 about Machado’s weight gain playfully joining in on the fat-shaming fun with the headline “Expanding Miss Universe works to shed pounds.” Get it? It’s a joke about her weight that plays off her being Miss Universe. Isn’t this fun?
For an extra dose of oof, check out some of the images of her Trump-enforced workout routines, to which Donald gleefully invited reporters and cameramen.
What is becoming disturbingly clear is that Trump’s social politics are about 20 years behind the times (though, some have suggested his rhetorical politics are strictly 1930s Germany). Some of us who are old enough to have vivid memories of the ’90s may not immediately associate the era with the mistreatment of women, the way we might with, say, the Mad Men era. But dipping your toes back into ’90s culture can be a bit of a rude awakening — rewatch The West Wing, which launched in 1999, and you’ll see the condescending mansplaining is rampant.
Trump’s crude allusion to an as-of-yet theoretical sex tape might have been a game-over for a female public figure's reputation 20 years ago, but we’ve (mercifully) grown more nuanced in the meantime. We’ve begun conversations about female sexuality and empowerment, about consent and exploitation, and about stigma and shame. We may have a long way to go, but we've made some major steps — we, apparently not including Trump.
That Trump doesn’t seem to realize this is just further evidence of his atemporality. This latest attack on Machado suggests to me that his desire to “Make America Great Again” may include putting women back 20 years (or more).