Perhaps you or someone you know has said some version of, “I’m interested in what Clinton did, not in what Trump said,” in regard to Trump’s 2005 hot mic recording in which he brags to Billy Bush about groping and kissing women without consent because he can get away with it as famous and rich as he is. For the sake of argument, let’s pretend that his denial of ever having done such things is true. We can still see a horrible problem with what Trump said if we consider that words are in fact deeds.
When someone says, “I’m interested in what Clinton did, not in what Trump said,” they seem to be thinking of this kind of case: “Bob always talks about climbing Mount Sumeru, but Sara actually did it!” In such a case we can easily see the point of emphasizing Sara’s actually having done it. But consider how the Trump example differs:
1) In the context of loving relationship, if one person says to another, “I love you,” they are not merely speaking in contrast to doing. That is, by saying, “I love you,” the one person expresses and affirms their love, models the kind of behavior they want to see in the relationship, and thereby partially constitutes the existing context of the loving relationship.
2) In the context of a culture that regularly devalues women, treats them as mere sex objects, denies their needs and wants, etc., if a person says to another, “I grope pussy when I want because I’m famous, ha ha, isn’t that great,” they are not merely speaking in contrast to doing. That is, by saying those things Trump expresses and affirms the culture of misogyny, models the kind of behavior he wants to see, and thereby partially constitutes the existing context of the misogynistic, rape culture.
The point here is not to compare whether 2) is worse than anything either of the Clintons has ever done; the point is that Trump is not merely speaking, he is doing something in the hot mic recording, just as he is doing something every time he opens his mouth.