Ms Magazine: E. Jean Carroll and Donald J. Trump: Now What?

(Published in Ms Magazine here. )

This large award to Carroll will make Trump pause—but only until he finds the next target to go after.


E. Jean Carroll leaving the Manhattan Federal Court on Jan. 26, 2024, in New York City. (GWR / Star Max / GC Images)

On Friday, Jan. 26, a Manhattan jury awarded Elizabeth Jean Carroll $83.3 million for defamation by former President Donald J. Trump. If you’re thinking, Wait, what? Didn’t we just do this? you are not alone. Less than a year ago, in May 2023, a civil jury found that Trump had sexually assaulted Carroll 30 years ago in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room, then defamed Carroll in statements he made in 2022. The defamation came from Trump’s repeated denial of the assault and his accusations claiming Carroll was lying. Carroll was awarded damages of $5 million in that 2023 decision; Trump has since appealed that award.

This most recent decision was for damages for defamatory statements Trump made earlier, in 2019, back when Carroll first published her memoir revealing the assault, and for statements made after the 2023 decision. The only issue at this trial was the amount of damages Carroll would be owed for the destruction to her reputation from statements Trump made. The sexual assault could not be re-argued and was legally assumed to have happened.

Beyond the Carroll case, Trump and his team are still awaiting the outcome of a civil fraud trial brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is requesting a $370 million penalty on the former president. Ninety-one felony charges, part of four criminal indictments, also loom.

Will This Jury Award Make a Difference?

As Trump continued to deny the assault and denigrate Carroll right up to the recent trial, some wondered how much money it would take to shut him up. It should be noted that Carroll’s lawyers have amended her complaint to seek damages for additional defamatory statements made since May 2023. This suggested that a financial pain point of some amount would be sufficient to deter Trump’s attacks.

Carroll celebrated the ruling and thanked her lawyers. “This is a great victory for every woman who stands up when she’s been knocked down and a huge defeat for every bully who has tried to keep a woman down,” she said in a statement.

Still, we can ask, if $5 million—last year’s award—was not enough, will $83.3 million do it? I say no; I’d be surprised if we have reached the point of deterrence.

Keeping the Carroll story front and center has been wonderful for the Trump brand. Yes, last year’s jury found he sexually assaulted her; for most Americans, of course, that’s a huge Ugh, but the dark underbelly dog-whistle code of masculinity says, What could be more ‘he-man’ than forcing yourself on a woman? Trump’s machismo and gender-baiting have been center stage during his entire tenure on the national political stage. Remember the Access Hollywood tapes? The Hillary Clinton stalking and slurs? The charming Megyn Kelly blood discussion?

While Trump will undoubtedly stop attacking Carroll by name, I’d bet there’s almost no amount of money that will stop Trump from misogynistic comments. Trump’s very brand is dominance—specifically a crude macho dominance. Trump’s favorite take-downs question the ‘masculinity’ of male opponents or attack women with old-school tropes (their ‘attractiveness’ or lack thereof, the tone of their voices, their body parts and so on). This is not a candidate running on wonky policy prescriptions, after all.

Continuing anti-female slurs yield benefits in Trump’s world. It permits him to demonstrate his absence of political correctness, but even more importantly, it offers him perfect opportunities to wave the flag of toxic masculinity.

The Demonization of Femininity as an Election Tool

If you want more evidence that the Trump brand needs male dominance and the swaggering style evidenced by his Carroll defamations, look no further than Ron DeSantis. Headlines blared on Jan. 22, the day the new Carroll trial opened: “The Emasculation of Ron DeSantis.”

The ultra-conservative Harvard-educated Florida governor, once seen as the next best thing on the Republican political stage, ended his presidential bid after one primary. How did Trump get at him?

The Trump campaign used what he sees as the ultimate slurs possible against a man: that DeSantis was feminine. The Trump team suggested DeSantis was a 10-year-old girl in her mother’s high heels, that he would ‘cuck himself,’ that he needed a ‘sugar daddy,’ that he didn’t have testicles, and that he might be gay—to mention just a few choice phrases.

Sure, DeSantis may have had other liabilities; but the line of attack used by Trump, and the success of that approach, showed once more that the Trump misogyny brand works just fine. This large award to Carroll will make Trump pause—but only until he finds the next target to go after. Stay tuned for Trump the Brand: Nikki Haley edition.

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