Stormy Daniels and the Politics of Shame


The expert legal commentators have told us that however engaging the courtroom testimony of Stormy Daniels was last week, it is not really at the heart of the case and probably won’t have much effect in a trial that is, in the end, about fraudulent business practices.

They may be right. But on the larger screen of the Trump Saga, it seemed to me as if the Donald had finally met his match. He stood undone (exposed in all senses of the word) not by the law, a judge, a special prosecutor, congressional inquiry, or impeachment trials. All these have so far failed to bring Trump to account — but he has been undone by an adult film actor and director, yes, “a porn star.”

Trump’s m.o., some would say his special gift, is that he is devoid of a normal human capacity for embarrassment. He lacks “the shame gene.” However tawdry or disgusting his behavior, he bulls on, unashamed of himself or his actions. So when you think the guy, or any normal person, would blanche red (or orange) and want to crawl into a hole, he is untouched, unfazed. He only ratchets up on the lies and turns up the volume of attacks and insults.

He is incapable of a guilty conscience. No matter what happens it is never his fault. Regardless, this week he sent his lawyers out to try to make Stormy Daniels ashamed of herself and of her chosen way of making a living. His lawyers alleged she was a veteran fabulist who had made up the whole thing.

One of Trump’s lawyers, Susan Necheles, grilled Daniels by saying to her, “You made all this up, right?” To which Ms. Daniels said simply, “No.” Trump’s attorneys implied she should be ashamed of all that she is and all that she has done. But she was having precisely none of it.

Two could play at his game! How he must have seethed as he sat in that Manhattan courtroom and was defied by someone he, while in his boxers, had compared to his daughter, Ivanka, whom he said was also “blonde and smart” and was “often underestimated.”

Do you think maybe Trump underestimated Stormy? She who refused to be embarrassed or ashamed when put under pressure from his high-powered lawyers.

The difference between the two is that Trump hides his tawdriness and many failures under a landslide of lies, lawsuits and counter-attacks, while Stormy Daniels is who she is. No lies, no cover-up, no pretense. It’s a tough world, and she has made her way in it as she has, without apology.

You may be surprised to learn that there’s a comparable story in the Bible itself, although I’m guessing that Donald Trump may not know this part of his “favorite book.” Found in the 38th chapter of the Book of Genesis is an account that likewise pits a powerful man against a vulnerable woman. That woman, though without any real power, uses what she has to gain justice. It is the story of Judah and Tamar.

Judah was one of the 12 sons of the biblical patriarch, Jacob. Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law, married to his eldest son. When that first husband died, Judah was obligated by law and custom to provide another of his sons to become Tamar’s wife, so rescuing her from the ignominy and poverty of being a childless widow. After a second son also died, Judah reneged on this responsibility refusing her a new husband, thus leaving Tamar in the lurch.

To gain justice, Tamar posed as a prostitute in the path of Daddy Judah as he made an out-of-town business trip. He solicited her services. Tamar, disguised and unrecognized by Judah, accepted his proposition. But she required several of his possessions as a pledge for pending payment, which was to be a lamb from his flock. Judah’s fixer subsequently failed to locate the mysterious woman to deliver payment and reclaim his boss’s signature items.

Three months later, Tamar turned up pregnant. Told that his daughter-in-law had been “playing the harlot,” Judah was outraged. He decreed that Tamar should be executed, burned to death. At just this point, Tamar produced the staff and signet ring of the man who had gotten her pregnant . . . her own father-in-law, Judah.

Unlike Donald Trump, Judah had the decency to own up. “She is more in the right than I,” said Judah of Tamar.

There’s an additional footnote: Tamar subsequently gave birth to twins, Perez and Zerah, who show up — guess where? — in the 42-generation genealogy of Jesus which leads off The Gospel of Matthew. As the saying goes, “God works in mysterious ways.” God uses an ill-used — abused — woman with almost no power or resources to bring down the mighty.

Not sure we are going to get something quite so redemptive from the story of Stormy, though one may hope. For now I will settle for a woman who has succeeded, in my book, in shaming the shameless one, and so gaining some sort of justice for all the people — wounded veterans, prisoners of war, Gold-Star families, Muslims, immigrants, African nations, people who are disabled, political opponents, and yes, countless women — insulted and demeaned by Trump.

Anthony B. Robinson
Anthony B. Robinson
Tony is a writer, teacher, speaker and ordained minister (United Church of Christ). He served as Senior Minister of Seattle’s Plymouth Congregational Church for fourteen years. His newest book is Useful Wisdom: Letters to Young (and not so young) Ministers. He divides his time between Seattle and a cabin in Wallowa County of northeastern Oregon. If you’d like to know more or receive his regular blogs in your email, go to his site listed above to sign-up.


  1. Dear Rev. Robinson: So interesting to see you vacillate between the posture of an Old Testament god when it comes to Trump, and the forgiving Christ re: Stormy Daniels. This is how the Donald scrambles our brains, I guess, as well as a manifestation of the Good Book: To quote from Marilynne Robinson in one of your earlier columns, “the very special genius of the Bible . . . is that it sees no one as simple.” Trump defies political norms, and to what purpose? Is he evil personified? (Please, no Hitler references!) Or is he a temple crasher at a time when our political and legal systems feel like they need some upending? Can either party produce the leadership we need? No answers here, just questions.

    • I think that if Trump were as honest about himself as Daniels is about herself, both God and Christ (in whom I don’t believe, but whose places in the Bible I recognize) would acknowledge each of them for who they really are. I won’t speculate on whether Trump is unforgivable or ‘evil personified.’ I think calling Trump a ‘temple crasher’ is an inappropriate comparison, that is, if it’s a reference to the account in one of the gospels of the New Testament in which Jesus is said to have done that.


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