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Megyn Kelly isn’t ‘Fascinated With Sex.’ Trump-Surrogate Newt Gingrich Might Be.

The problem, Americans had heard for years, was that we, unlike our more sophisticated counterparts across the Atlantic, expected puritanical saintliness from our politicians. Why couldn’t we just (tosses neck-scarf) look the other way, and focus on our leaders’ ability to do the job?

And then, 2016 happened. All of a sudden, we have a major-party nominee whose, uh, colorful past with women (now alleged to be more than this) is front and center. What does it all mean?

What it all means became clear in a now-viral exchange between Newt Gingrich and Megyn Kelly, in which Gingrich told Kelly, “[Y]ou are fascinated with sex, and you don’t care about public policy.” Megyn Kelly being, remember, the journalist whose presumed menstrual cycle Trump discussed on CNN.

What Kelly had been discussing was the heap of sexual-assault allegations against the Republican nominee. That’s hardly evidence that she’s obsessed with sex. But in nominating a man famous not for policy experience but for pageant-funding and tabloid-fodder weddings and divorces, the GOP has either decided or confirmed that sex-broadly-defined sells, and is more or less running on that strategy.

Yes, there’s been far too much moralizing in U.S. politics, far too many consensual dalliances turned into news stories. But caring too much about a candidate’s private life and celebrating bad behavior wind up, as I’m sure many have now noticed, amounting to the same. In the old scenario, the thing was to offer political power as a reward for an impeccable personal life (or extreme discretion). The new scenario also allows for giving leadership positions in exchange for flagrant, monetized disregard for those expectations, very much including non-consensual behaviors for which “sex” is not actually the appropriate term.

And the new one is by no means a way of breaking free from the old. We’re still hearing about what candidates are up to on their own time, but now with the added layer of, we the voters are meant to be impressed by everything from casual misogyny to abuse. Puritanical unpleasantness (with its associated dismissal of members of minority religions and the areligious) has been replaced not with liberation and a focus on the issues (which, by the way, include topics like sexual assault), but with some sort of caricature of those early-2000s ‘game’ blogs, where would-be pick-up artists would trade notes on how to be optimally awful to women. Trump is running as the hero protagonist of one of those blogs, as a seducer not of women but, in a con-artist sense, of men who want to seduce (as versus, say, date) women. This is the GOP candidate. For the presidency. But sure, let’s say it’s his critics who are too preoccupied by sex to care about the running of the country.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood. Her book, The Perils of “Privilege”, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2017.

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