WEST HOLLYWOOD, California — As he prepared to hand Stormy Daniels a key to the city of West Hollywood, Mayor John J. Duran introduced her as “our very own Lady Godiva.” It’s easy enough to presume why Duran referred to the in vogue porn star as the historic Godiva, Countess of Mercia. Daniels has become a media sensation since it was revealed that President Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, paid her $130,000 for her silence in the final weeks of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As legend has it, Godiva was an English noblewoman who rode naked on horseback through the streets of Coventry in order for her husband to lower taxes on his tenants.
The comparison isn’t quite apt, however. Godiva’s gallop was at the request of her husband—a humiliating quid pro quo in order for him to relinquish his hold on taxpayers, not born out of some desire to share her body with the masses. Images of Godiva show her long hair, engulfing her body, and the story includes her request that all of Coventry stay in their homes with the doors and windows closed so as not to gaze upon her.
Godiva’s legend couldn’t be further from Daniels’. The latter’s work as a porn star makes her decision to share her body her own choice—not an act of coercion—and her brazen, guns-blazing attitude while taking aim at the rich and powerful Trump stands apart, as Daniels alleges that they had an affair in 2006, months after his first lady Melania gave birth to their son Barron, and that she’s suffered through a series of intimidation tactics by those loyal to “Mr. Trump.”
And far from wanting no one to look upon her, Daniels has been everywhere, eager to capitalize on her moment in the spotlight—from her “Make America Horny Again” strip club tour, to a feature in Penthouse, to now a press conference as she receives the key to West Hollywood.
Arriving just before her scheduled photo op, I was met with a throng of gay men and women of various ages, though they tended to skew older. Daniels can certainly draw a crowd—and an aggressive one at that, as older people shoved and clawed their way for a closer glimpse, shouting Daniels’ name along with other cheeky phrases like, “You’re my favorite Republican!,” “Make America Cum Again!,” “Spank me like you spanked Trump!” and “How big is he?!”
Hours later, a huge line formed for Daniels to sell #TeamStormy shirts from her personal online shop StormyStore.com (that’s brandished with the tagline: “Fake Boobs > Fake News”). The proceeds seem to go directly to her, which makes her as shrewd a businessperson as Trump himself. And herein lies the beauty of Daniels: Her fans are thoroughly convinced that she’s doing this to bring down Trump and she’s the hero America needs right now, despite her making quite a pretty penny off her time in the limelight. Her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, insists he’s not a celebrity despite his frequent TV appearances, as well as taking time after the press conference to pose for photos with fans. Is that any different from how Trump’s supporters believe one thing while also watching him eat up media attention and line his own pockets?
I’ve always wondered what it would take to match a personality as huge as Trump’s. He was able to play billionaire in 1980’s New York, parlaying that into a reality-television gig and then the presidency. If the media’s been turned into one big reality show, he’s been the dominant character. The Jax Taylor of Vanderpump Rules, so to speak. He’s a pathological liar, but he’s the main focus and soaks up most of the screen time—that is, until another character comes along who doesn’t particularly compete with him, calls him out on his bullshit, and commands their own storyline that’s somehow even more engrossing. For this season of Vanderpump Rules that was Lala Kent, who parlayed her relationship with a sugar daddy into a storyline of female empowerment while trashing Jax for his lies and misogynistic attitude. Daniels seems to be no stranger to how narratives work, whether in reality television or the media. Let’s not forget that when she had her alleged affair with Trump, she tried to angle for a gig on The Celebrity Apprentice.
How do you combat one media vulture? You create another one. And grassroots moments, stirring up anti-Trump sentiment amid sex-positive communities like sex workers and gay men, are a way to be aligned against Trump while also appealing to another demographic. Even the protesters at Daniels’ event—five men in MAGA hats—were gay men. They were Log Cabin Republicans, and seemed more interested in being on TV and securing photo ops than spewing anti-Stormy vitriol as her more dedicated fans bought up her merchandise and rushed to the VIP section of West Hollywood gay bar The Abbey (unsurprisingly, the location of a failed E! reality series that was a knockoff of Vanderpump Rules) in order to take photos with Daniels and Avenatti.
If it sounds cynical to insist that Daniels and Trump might be cut from a similar cloth, you should know that Duran, the aforementioned Mayor of West Hollywood who handed her the key, mires the entire event in hypocrisy.
Duran complimented Daniels on her fortitude as she takes on the president and exposes his alleged corruption, like the $130,000 hush payment she received from Cohen, while ignoring the fact that his own purported sexual misconduct cost the city of West Hollywood $500,000 in settlement money. Duran is accused of meeting a man named Ian Owens on Grindr, having sex with him, and then hiring him as his deputy. Owens then claimed he was frequently propositioned by Duran (“well over 100 times,” he alleges) and was made to organize a list of contacts he’d had sex with. Owens subsequently sued and the city awarded him $500,000 to settle his claim.
If Stormy Daniels Day, a proclamation created by Duran himself, is to celebrate someone who was sexually misused by a man in power and then paid off, shouldn’t Owens have been standing at the podium beside Daniels? But then again, positioning Daniels beside Duran offered him the photo op he seemed to crave as he grinned through Daniels’ speech.
It’s most likely Daniels didn’t even have a clue about Duran’s alleged improprieties, and since the press was barred from asking any questions whatsoever, there wasn’t an opportunity for clarity. For what it’s worth, Daniels’ speech appeared heartfelt. She took time to thank the gay community—and her two “gay dads”: “As a woman with two wonderful gay dads, Keith and J.D., I feel especially at home here. The community of WeHo was founded more than three decades ago on the principle that everyone should be treated with fairness and dignity. This community has a history of standing up to bullies and speaking truth to power.”
If Daniels’ event was hypocritical on the part of West Hollywood, at least for her it seemed genuine. She and Avenatti might be angling for all the camera time they can get, but if it’s to speak positively about underrepresented communities and call out Trump for his supposed corruption, maybe they’re the ones who can finally beat Trump at his own game—and maybe the diva deserves her stage.