Politics & Policy

The White House Response to Rob Porter’s Resignation Is Sickening

White House staff secretary Rob Porter departs Air Force One in Morristown, N.J., August 2017. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
Porter is not the victim here.

The domestic-violence accusations against Rob Porter are credible and despicable — and the White House’s attempts to diminish them are sickening.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the White House staff secretary was recently accused of domestic violence by two of his ex-wives. These weren’t just random, baseless accusations, as some detractors would have you believe. Colbie Holderness (his first wife) released a photo of a black eye she said Porter had given her, and Jennifer Willoughby (his second wife) obtained an order of protection against Porter from the police after he smashed through the glass of her front door when they were separated.

Porter eventually resigned last week, as he absolutely should have, but I’ve been disgusted to see how the White House has still not given up singing his praises. After Porter’s resignation, President Trump made the following comments:

Well, we wish him well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well.

It’s a, obviously, tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career, and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it. And, certainly, he’s also very sad.

Now he also — as you probably know, he says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent. So you’ll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well. Did a very good job while he was at the White House.

Not only does this statement place Porter in the position of the victim — “he’s also very sad” — but it also clearly expresses doubts that the actual victims were telling the truth, despite hard evidence backing up their stories. President Trump thinks “you have to remember that” Porter denies the allegations, but I think you’d be better off remembering that there is a mountain of actual evidence supporting their claims. These women did not just flippantly accuse Porter. Not only did one produce a photo, and another produce an order of protection (note: they don’t just hand out orders of protection for no reason!), but both of these women also detailed their abuse to the FBI. Would you really sooner believe that these two women lied to the FBI, when they had absolutely nothing to gain by doing so, than to believe that the abuse they described actually happened? Holderness told people about the abuse during their relationship, and they have confirmed having heard the same story. Porter may deny the allegations, but the actual evidence — including photographic evidence and police-report evidence — shows that he abused them, both mentally and physically.

I’ve written previously about how difficult it is to accuse a powerful man of inappropriate behavior. There’s the fear of not being believed — a fear which, unfortunately, is validated by these kinds of reactions — and also the fear of retaliation from his powerful network. No doubt, these women faced these fears before deciding to come forward, but they decided to do so anyway. They deserve respect and admiration, not accusations that they are fabricating their accounts. They are the ones who deserve sympathy, not their abuser.

What’s more: Whether the man in question is a powerful one or not, abusive relationships are hell. Domestic abusers tear down their victims by first gaining their trust (wooing them, making the victims feel as though they are the men the victims have been waiting for their entire lives) and then emotionally destroying them. They make women believe they’re not good enough, and if only they were to do a little bit better, then that wonderful man whom they once knew might return for good.

“If he was a monster all the time, perhaps it would have been easier to leave,” Willoughby wrote in a 2017 blog post detailing his abuse. “But he could be kind and sensitive.”

Willoughby’s is not an uncommon story. It is common for women to stay in these relationships for long periods of time — or even forever. If you think to yourself that you “would do” something different, then I’d just like to point you back to that word “would.” The word “would” means you’ve never been through it; it means you actually have no idea what you would do because you haven’t had that experience.

It doesn’t matter how strong or brave you think you are, men who serially abuse women are very good at what they do. They know how to find their way into a woman’s heart only to steal her soul. They make women doubt the truth: “I thought he pushed me, but he said I fell.” They make women believe it’s their fault: “He hit me, but I was standing in the way.” “He hit me, but I was out of line.” Often, they even make victims bond with them over the abuse: “He verbally assaulted me, but he said he only got so angry because of how strong his feelings are for me.”

Women doubt themselves, become ashamed of themselves, and often lie to cover up what’s really going on in the relationship. Getting your head on straight and actually being able to come out and say that what happened to you was real and wrong is one of the most difficult things in the world to do when you’re in this type of relationship. In the case of Rob Porter, two women had this bravery — only for the president of the United States to give sympathy to their abuser. Even worse, President Trump’s statement pointed to Porter’s denial as a reason to doubt that these women were telling the truth, yet it completely neglected to make any mention of the actual, tangible evidence showing that they were. That’s not just insensitive, it’s irresponsible reporting.

Being in an abusive relationship with someone who claims to love you is one of the most harrowing, mind-bending experiences any woman can go through. I’m in awe of the bravery of all the women who have come forward, and disgusted by the defenses of their abuser. They disgust me not only on an emotional level, but also on a logical one — because all actual evidence points to their honesty.

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