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Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Mistresses Of Presidents - Trump, JFK, Clinton, Sarkozy, And Hollande–Times Change, Men Do Not

The mistress of Francois Mitterrand, former President of France, and his illegitimate daughter attended his funeral alongside his wife.  Few in France – the country that made the Cinq á Sept an institution – saw anything unusual about their attendance.  They were as much a part of Mitterrand’s life for decades, affairs are taken for granted in a sexually liberated country, and there could be no shame about a long relationship that was accepted if not admired and certainly fit within the country’s norms.

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President Francois Hollande’s mistress moved into the Elysees Palace, and although there were plenty of fireworks.  His ambitious former wife who had always planned to move into the Place with her husband but who had been shunted aside by an equally ambitious arriviste, was very unhappy, and the ménage a trois were Page One tabloid news for months.

Nicolas Sarkozy had his own very public affairs, and although they were even more sensational than Hollande’s and far from the tasteful affair of Mitterrand, only a few Frenchmen grumbled.  As Edward Cody of the Washington Post reported

Sarkozy opened the door to “Dallas” as he won the presidency and took office in 2007. More or less publicly, he was at the time struggling to prevent his second wife, Cecilia, a former model, from running off with a buttery-smooth event planner. He failed, and Cecilia left for a new life in New York. Within weeks of moving into the Elysees Palace, however, Sarkozy met Carla Bruni Tedeschi, another ex-model. After a swift courtship that included much-photographed excursions to Disneyland Paris and the ruins of Petra in Jordan, they were married, and the willowy Carla became a celebrity first lady — and later a celebrity mother.

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If there was any censure, it was over the American character of the affair rather than the affair itself.  France was used to sexual affairs, but nothing quite so much like a soap opera. 

Nevertheless, both Sarkozy and Hollande continued to govern France, both lost elections not because of their sex life but because of bad leadership, and both will be remembered more for their failed policies than their indiscretions.  Mitterrand by comparison is the elder statesman of the sexual adventure, tasteful, discreet, and temperate.

John F Kennedy was alleged to have had many mistresses, Marilyn Monroe among them.  Little was publicly known of his extramarital affairs while he was President.  The press considered it their responsibility to protect public figures’ private lives, and J.Edgar Hoover, then Director of the FBI was quite happy to keep the information quiet.  Knowing that Hoover was well aware of his infidelities, JFK allegedly went slow on civil rights to appease the man whom Washington insiders considered the most powerful player in the capital.

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The Secret Service knew quite well about Lyndon Johnson’s tomcatting, and it was reported that those in his security details not only covered for the President but facilitated his trysts.

The times have changed, and the press, the Congress, and the public went after Bill Clinton with a vengeance.  No more complicity and protection.   The President was fair game.  The country was transfixed and fascinated by Clinton’s feints and evasions, and because this was Puritan America and not libertine France, he knew that admission of sexual wandering would be tantamount to dismissal or at least political marginalization.  The country was at least spared an impeachment; but the fact that it was even considered showed how censorious and sexually inhibited Americans were.

Donald Trump is currently involved in a controversy over an alleged affair he had with a porn star before his election and suggestions have been made that he paid her hush money to keep quiet at a particularly delicate political time.   As in the case of Bill Clinton, Trump’s accusers are insisting that the President’s fault is not in his sexual pleasures but in his denials and obfuscations.  Yet everyone else knows that the real reason for the fuss is about sex.  Since the 2016 campaign Donald Trump has been accused of sexual predation, abuse, and misogyny; and his opponents see this as a chance to further discredit him.

The zeitgeist of the country has changed since the 60s, and America appears to be a more sexually open and tolerant society; yet a significant proportion of the country still regards marital infidelity as a sin, and more importantly a sign of moral failure.  If a President deceives his wife, then he is quite capable of deceiving the country.  Americans, therefore, are complicit in the sexual witch hunt.  This is the real difference between France and America.  We see infidelity as a sign of moral weakness, a turpitude that spills over into governance while the French most certainly do not.

What is not new is male sexual appetite.  Whether in France, America, or India – a highly conservative and religious country not unlike the United States – men stray, stray often, and stray continually.  Whether in the echelons of power or in the bushes, men are having sex with women other than their wives.

Henry Kissinger is perhaps best remembered for his aphorism, ‘Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac’ not only because the annals of history are filled with the sexual exploits of kings, courtiers, popes, and emperors, but because he was openly proud of his own machismo. 

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During the Clinton affair only Americans were morally upset by the President’s sexual adventures in the Oval Office.  Men from Africa, Latin America, Europe, and Asia were not surprised at Clinton’s infidelity but found it ridiculous, smarmy, and definitely un-presidential.  Presidents can have any woman they want and bed them wherever and whenever; and the President of the United States only diddled and twaddled an intern under his desk.  Sex goes with the Presidential package, and only in America could that include only sexual incidentals.

Americans would certainly have been more understanding if Bill Clinton had been more like JFK and Sarkozy, involved with starlets and international beauties instead of trailer trash; yet the tale of Washington sex always seems to picked up on the cheap.  It was very much in keeping with our conflicted attitude towards sex that the former Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, frequented prostitutes and was dunned out of office because one such assignation was found out and revealed.  It is OK to go with prostitutes, to have online porn sex (laughable photos of another well-placed New Yorker, Anthony Weiner, recently made the rounds and he too was turned out of the House of Representatives), to have cheap girlfriends because that is really not infidelity.  Infidelity would be a betrayal of love and and affair of passion. 

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For this reason, no one should be surprised at the presumed sexual delinquency of Donald Trump.  Of course he had sex with a porn star.  How could a man of glitz and cheap Las Vegas and reality television glamour do otherwise? Of course he has had affairs, but these do not and cannot challenge his proper, attentive, and respectful relationship with his wife.

So he may have paid hush money to keep his affair out of the news; and this too should not be news to anyone who has followed his career in two of the toughest businesses around – New York real estate and Hollywood – where money changes hands for all kinds of reasons.

In short, l’affaire Trump is simply not interesting.  Everything is in character, either Trump’s or America’s.  A powerful man with a take-no-prisoners attitude loose in a country still profoundly Calvinist who has cheap affairs is exactly the way the script should be written.

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