The Stormy Daniels Story Is So Much More Than Salacious Gossip
Anyone keeping up with the news knows who Stormy Daniels is; they know about her alleged 2006 affair with Donald Trump, and they know about the reported October 2016 $130,000 payout in return for her silence from then-candidate Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen. That alone provides for salacious headlines and talk of broken campaign finance laws. Daniels' telling of the alleged incidents in an interview with Anderson Cooper for 60 Minutes on Sunday, March 25, however, proved the Stormy Daniels story is so much more than another tabloid headline.
Daniels appeared confident and in control while speaking with Cooper, but the details of her alleged interactions with Trump reveal a power dynamic that was not on the side of the adult film actress. It's the undeniable imbalance of power that makes this more than gossip magazine material. This male-female power struggle transcends industries and is engrained in our patriarchal society. Meanwhile, how the president treats women is undeniably a significant story, given that he's supposed to be working for the American population, half of which is made up of women.
One of the more striking claims from Daniels was about the first and only time she alleges she had sex with Trump. (The White House has denied that Trump had an affair with Daniels and claims made by Daniels on the 60 Minutes interview.) Daniels told Cooper she did not want to have sex with Trump, but she believed she "had it coming for making a bad decision for going to someone’s room alone." Daniels said she thought to herself at the time, "Well, you put yourself in a bad situation, and bad things happen, so you deserve this."
Though Daniels alleges the encounter was consensual, there is a lesson to be learned from the way a man with power has the ability to wield his professional position and the promise of a job over a woman. That scenario — of a man in power promising a paycheck to someone (in this case, with the possibility of an appearance on The Apprentice) trying to advance their career — was the all-too-common plot in almost every allegation after the floodgates opened with the #MeToo movement in October 2017.
The imbalance of power between Trump and Daniels didn't cease to exist after that night in 2006. Daniels claimed that Trump continually promised her a job on The Apprentice, but according to Daniels, once Trump said it wouldn't happen, in 2007, their relationship ended. Daniels told Cooper she knew the job offer was unlikely, but she held on to the hope that it might happen. Elite Daily reached out to the White House for comment on the claim that Trump offered an Apprentice job to Daniels, but did not hear back at time of publication.
In 2011, Daniels agreed to discuss her alleged Trump encounters to a sister publication of In Touch for $15,000. According to New York magazine, the story wasn't published, and Daniels was never paid. That didn't stop the terrifying incident that allegedly took place weeks later in Las Vegas. Daniels claimed she was threatened by a man (whom she says was a stranger to her) as she was securing her baby daughter in a car seat. She claimed he walked up behind her and said, "Leave Trump alone. Forget the story." After looking at Daniels' daughter, he reportedly said, "That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom." (Cohen's lawyer, Brent Blakely, denied Cohen was involved in any such action or that it even took place; the White House also denied the claim on Monday).
That alleged incident could explain why Daniels was so inclined to follow directions from Cohen. She allegedly signed a nondisclosure agreement to stay quiet about Trump in return for $130,000 in late October 2016, a week and a half before the 2016 presidential election. Cohen has confirmed that he paid Daniels the money, but claimed it was unrelated to the presidential campaign. When that NDA was reported by The Wall Street Journal in early 2018, Daniels signed statements stating the two never had an affair. She told Cooper those signatures were a result of her team telling her Trump's people could "make your life hell in many different ways."
Daniels never appears to have had the upper hand in any alleged encounters with Trump or his surrogates. There is a broader lesson to be learned here about the way people in power (particularly men) wield their position and promise of professional advancement to get what they want. Even with the Time's Up and #MeToo movements, there is an imbalance of power to be reckoned with in order to protect those at the mercy of someone with a more impressive job title or more zeros in their bank account.
In his essay "Understanding Patriarchy and Men’s Power", Joseph H. Pleck describes men's power as it relates to women. Pleck writes that women serve as an "underclass" to men in their quest for power. He cites Elizabeth Janeway's Between Myth and Morning: Women Awakening to explain how women represent the lowest status in the patriarchy. Janeway describes, according to Pleck, a reality where men can never fall as low as women in society no matter how badly a man fails. She further explains that the liberation of women is terrifying to men because it would remove women as the underclass, and a failed man could then fall as low as a woman in society.
Given that Trump was a businessman with no political experience who ran for and won the office of the president, power seems to be very important to him. Even before the revelation of the Daniels case, Trump's treatment of women was far from pristine. There are numerous instances that display his sexist views ranging from disappointing (TIME reported the Trump administration "hired an astoundingly small number of women") to completely abhorrent (see: the 2005 Access Hollywood tape, which Trump apologized for). From Pleck's view, Trump acts this way because of his desire to maintain power to keep women in an underclass.
Daniels took back a little bit of that power in her reportedly unpaid interview with Cooper on Sunday (she quipped to Cooper, "You didn't even buy me breakfast."). There is still a looming lawsuit over the allegation that she broke the 2016 NDA. As recently as last week's interview with Vanity Fair, Cohen seems confident in a hefty payday from his Daniels lawsuit since he said, "I might even take an extended vacation on her dime." With comments like that, he appears confident to have still have the upper hand, but the legal cases are still playing out.