Donald Trump invokes memory of child molester enabler Joe Paterno

Speaking at a rally in Pittsburgh yesterday, Donald Trump gave a rather odd regional shoutout.

“I know a lot about Pennsylvania, and it’s great. How’s Joe Paterno?” he asked the crowd, reading from a piece of paper, “We gonna bring that back? Right? How about that whole deal?”

Joe Paterno, Penn State’s storied football coach who led the team to two national championships and five undefeated seasons, has been dead for four years.

In context, Trump’s call to “bring that back” appears to be referring to the statue of Joe Paterno that used to stand outside of Penn State’s football stadium — not the man himself. That statue was removed after it was revealed that Paterno had helped cover up a sexual abuse scandal involving one of his assistant coaches, Jerry Sandusky.

In addition to failing to notify the police when he was first informed that Sandusky was molesting young boys in the Penn State locker rooms, subsequent reports showed that Paterno and other members in the Penn State athletic department had worked to shield Sandusky’s actions from the public.

They also continued to grant Sandusky access to the school’s athletic facilities — where he continued to molest children — following his retirement from the football program in 1999.

Donald Trump, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Donald Trump, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

This makes calling for the reinstallation of the statue arguably odder and more problematic than if Trump thought that Paterno was either still alive or in need of literal resurrection. It puts Trump squarely in the camp which argues that child molestation, or the enabling thereof, is eventually forgivable, provided that the people involved in the crime win enough football games. To care that Paterno didn’t notify the police about his assistant coach — who was convicted on 45 counts of sexual abuse of young boys over a 15 year period — is, to these fans and apparently to Trump, a politically correct buzzkill.

This isn’t the first time that Trump has played to football fans’ baser instincts. Earlier this year, he complained that the NFL had gone “soft” for instituting rule changes aimed at slightly reducing the amount of brain damage that skill position players are likely to accrue over the course of their careers. In both cases, however, Trump is harkening back to “the good ol’ days” of American culture — a time when men were men, football players played football and sexual abuse victims knew their place.

It’s a particularly Trumpian form of pandering, and last night’s crowd ate it up.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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