The gawkers at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa are where we are as a nation right now. They started showing up right after news broke last Friday that billionaire Patriots owner Robert Kraft was allegedly a customer at the massage parlor in a Jupiter, Fla., strip mall. Authorities say the frowsy spa was part of a trafficking ring that lured women to this country from Asia and enslaved them, forcing them to perform sex acts seven days a week, with as many as 1,000 men per year.
Stories of trafficked women don’t register with most people — unless the victims are white, of course. This awful crime would surely have been a local story that quickly slid from view were it not for Kraft’s celebrity.
And so they came. According to the Globe’s Dugan Arnett, they posed for goofy pictures, and rolled by in golf carts and luxury cars, pointing and smiling. Pats fans arrived to defend Kraft — enough for them that the great man has professed his innocence — and to be part of this very strange moment in their beloved team’s history.
Police say they have videotape of Kraft paying for sex acts twice in two days. But NFL fans will forgive a multitude of sins — unless the offense is truly heinous, like kneeling during the national anthem to call for racial justice. And so, they made their pilgrimages to the strip mall for their brush with celebrity.
Celebrity, infamy, who knows where the line is these days? And who cares?
Time was, being charged for soliciting prostitution — especially at a place accused of running a trafficking scheme — would send any respectable soul to ground for a couple of days, let alone a philanthropist who, like Kraft, has supported organizations that protect women. But there’s a famine of shame in this broken world. Kraft showed up at Oscar parties over the weekend.
The show must go on, because the show is all.
That’s truer now than ever. This country, after all, made Kraft buddy and reality TV star Donald Trump president, choosing to believe in the fictional, self-made billionaire genius of “The Apprentice” rather than the irrational, born-rich, bankruptcy magnet overflowing with demonstrable lies.
Trump’s former fixer was Wednesday’s showstopper. Michael Cohen confirmed at a Capitol Hill hearing what many have long suspected: that Trump’s presidential run wasn’t a genuine campaign for the White House, but a marketing strategy: “The greatest infomercial in political history,” Cohen said Trump called it. Trump had never expected to win, his former attorney said.
The marketing plan backfired, or succeeded beyond Trump’s wildest dreams, aided and abetted by Republicans who have all too eagerly stepped in to become Trump’s political fixers, a role from which even a moral invertebrate like Cohen finally retired out of shame, or shameless self-interest.
“I did the same things that you’re doing now,” he told Republicans running interference for the president. “I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years.”
Despite Republicans’ many attempts to run cover for their idol, Cohen repeatedly lifted the curtain, exposing the ugliness behind Trump’s show: He said the president inflated his net worth to get into Forbes Magazine, then deflated it to lower his taxes, once telling Cohen he “could not believe how stupid the government was” for giving him a $10 million refund. He said Trump was part of an illegal scheme to pay hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who had threatened to go public with their affair, and that Trump continued to reimburse Cohen for the payment and obscure his role in the scheme well into his presidency.
The irony is, it’s not clear Trump needed to silence Daniels in the first place. The president’s supporters, including the Republicans who leapt onto the wrong side of history on Wednesday, will forgive him for anything, including previous affairs, a tape of him boasting about his own sexual misconduct, and allegations by many women that he assaulted them.
Like those gawkers in Jupiter, they don’t care to see what’s behind the curtain.
“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” Trump said on that infamous tape.
He was even more right than he knew.