Expectations were high going into Sunday night's second presidential debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, especially in light of the release of some particularly damaging videos that feature Trump making lewd comments about women. Viewers knew it would depend on the second debate moderators, Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC, to keep this debate on-track and make sure Trump answered questions about the tape. And viewers weren't disappointed.
In the video, leaked to the Washington Post, Trump and Billy Bush, then the host of Access Hollywood, discuss Bush's co-host, Nancy O'Dell, off-screen but with hot mics. Trump brags to Bush about how his celebrity status allows him to kiss women and grab them by their genitals. "When you're a star they let you do it," he said, as recorded by the hot mic. "You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."
Unsurprisingly, the issue of the tape was brought forward early in the debate — but not by Clinton and not by the audience. Nope, debate moderator Anderson Cooper asked Trump about it directly in his first question of the night after the presidential candidate evaded an audience question about whether or not he modeled "appropriate and positive behavior" for today's youth.
"We received a lot of questions about the tape released on Friday. You called what you said was 'locker room banter' — kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. This is sexual assault," Cooper told Donald Trump. "You bragged about sexually assaulting women. Do you understand that?"
Yep, Cooper called it for what it was: sexual assault. And the internet loved it.
Trump initially pivoted to ISIS in his response, but he later justified the comments with one particularly problematic response: "It's just words, folks."
It's. Not. Just. Words.
What he said was a perpetuation of rape culture. Trump implied it's OK to inflict violence upon women if you're a "celebrity." He implied it's OK for him to assault women. This is not "locker room talk" and it cannot be justified with the statement "boys will be boys." He was a 59-year-old man when he made these comments, and he deserves to be held accountable for them for what they are: lewd statements that seek to normalize violence against women.
Kudos to Cooper for saying the words out loud: sexual assault. Trump, they aren't just "words," because what you were describing was action — a specific action: violence against women.
So, say the words "sexual assault." They mean something to the millions of women who have been groped, touched, kissed, penetrated and more without their consent. Women who have been assaulted because men think they can dismiss violence against women as "locker room talk" need to hear that it's not OK.
And Cooper wasn't afraid to say the words so many women needed to hear. He wasn't afraid to make Trump angry. He was doing his job by stating the truth, even if it made someone uncomfortable. I hope future debate moderators aren't afraid to stand up to blatant acts of violence against women, against marginalized people, against Muslims, against Latinx, against African-Americans, against Jews, against disabled peoples, against veterans, and against anyone and everyone who Trump has insulted in his campaign.
We need more people to stand up and say it: It's not just words.