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Recalling my e-mails and Catholic locker room talk

| Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The recent alleged revelations about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s hacked staff e-mails by WikiLeaks, along with new sexual assault accusations by the New York Times against GOP standard-bearer Donald Trump offer voters a myriad of excuses to oppose their candidate of choice. The substance to weigh, however, is whether Trump’s prior personal conduct “trumps” any perceived disrespect — not yet authenticated — hacked through Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s private Gmail account, with dialogues attributed to campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri that mock Catholics, Latinos or southerners. As a Catholic — who bi-monthly serves as a lector at a cathedral and occasionally reads while the Archbishop of Washington, D.C. celebrates mass, who learned to swear like a sailor while a student at Notre Dame, who worked for President Bill Clinton as a political appointee and who has written my share of snarky politically scheming strategic e-mails — the Trump conduct is more egregiously offensive to me and a dangerous character flaw for a commander-in-chief.

Trump has no monopoly on misogyny, crudeness or lust when spewing his locker room talk. On my second day working as a congressional staff member, I was appalled by the conduct of a member of congress — a Notre Dame degree holder now deceased, but from an era when a man’s success seemed to make him think that it entitled him as a good ole boy to take liberties against women, any woman with whom he felt an attraction. I began my career on the Ides of March, and had the misfortune to accompany a few congressmen two days later after work to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at a popular Irish pub, the Dubliner. As the newbie of the group, I mostly observed the Capitol Hill banter as my fellow Domer frequently spoke the Trump “word” to disgustingly describe his desire to seduce female interns located across the room.

My experience with Trump-style locker room “talk” has not been confined to the politically powerful. The year prior to moving to Washington, while a graduate student at a major university, I worked as a resident assistant in a residence hall. During my duty shift well after midnight in the main lobby that connected several dormitories, an All-American standout football player who later starred in the NFL staggered into the lobby. After assessing the student hookup possibilities, he yelled using his best mating call that he needed the Trump “word.”

Nor have my family and the South Bend community been immune from unwanted male sexually suggestive advances. My sister, also a Notre Dame alumnus, personally witnessed an awkward moment while a student intern during her undergraduate days. A famous Notre Dame celebrity — not directly paid by or an employee of the university but whose career intertwined with university athletics — approached a female student intern from behind and initiated an uninvited shoulder massage. The other students froze, unable to react. These interns were there not to ascertain how to endure unwanted harassment, but to learn a specific trade unique to a career path through that office.

Hopefully, old political and athletic entitlement eras as well as Trump’s skewed generational male-dominated culture are waning from our society. According to the Times report, Jessica Leeds, 74, described how decades ago she was upgraded to first class on a flight and sat next to Trump. She moved back to coach when his conduct became an unwanted nightmare. She describes how he grabbed her breasts and tried to place his hand up her skirt. “He was like an octopus,” she said. “His hands were everywhere.”

Trump’s personal character flaws are so deplorable that they do not rise to any comparison of the Clinton staff’s in-artful if not unflattering e-mail dialogues during 2011-12, which called for a Catholic revolution or characterized former Governor Bill Richardson as needy. In an April 2011 e-mail discussion between Palmieri and John Halpin, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress founded by Podesta, Halpin notes that conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch raised his children as Catholics, and that it seemed like Catholics are the most “powerful elements” in the conservative movement.

He writes, “It’s an amazing bastardization of the faith. They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy.”

Palmieri responds, “I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they become evangelicals.”

Should a hardcore orthodox Catholic scold you, like the spouse of a Notre Dame administrator once insulted me, saying that I should leave the Church if I did not like its strict interpretation, this type of gossipy e-mail babble would not be an insult on Catholicism. Nor is “needy” a political insult aimed at Richardson — a personal friend whom I coached in baseball in preparation of a charity game during 3 months each year of his congressional tenure — who could be abrasive, needy or crass at times while remaining the most loyal friend throughout. These e-mail leaks are the sausage making of political strategy and mere bluster.

The contrast of human frailties from our presidential candidates seems straightforward. I personally have already endured e-mail insults, which remains for me less egregious than the possibility of a man groping my sister.


The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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