It was unclear, to the end, which way the jury would go in the E. Jean Carroll v. Donald J. Trump trial. Would members believe the 79-year-old woman, speaking up about her alleged rape at the hands of the former president and current presidential candidate? Or would they believe the accused, who never appeared in court and never called a single witness — and whose lawyers held that the trial was a sham cooked up by a vengeful woman to take down a powerful man?
Ultimately they found Mr. Trump liable in the civil suit — both for sexual assault and for defaming Ms. Carroll — and awarded Ms. Carroll $5 million in damages. It’s hard not to think that what they saw, not just what they heard, played a part.
As she sat there in Manhattan federal court every day, Ms. Carroll presented the very opposite of the “wack job” Mr. Trump had described in his video deposition. She did not look “mentally sick.” She did not look like the money- and fame-grubber Mr. Trump’s lawyers described. She was an almost perfectly calibrated study in neutrality, calm and composure, both in the way she spoke during her testimony and in the way her appearance spoke for her.
It was almost as if she were offering an answer to a question she might once have been asked as Elle magazine’s advice columnist, E. Jean: “I am about to testify in a rape trial. I am a private citizen, and the accused is a man who once sat in the Oval Office. What should I wear to help amplify my voice and make people take it seriously?”
After all, this was in part a case about appearance. Mr. Trump made it so when he announced “She’s not my type” as part of his defense after Ms. Carroll’s allegations first appeared in a 2019 New York magazine excerpt from her memoir. How Ms. Carroll looked was always going to be a factor in the calculations — even 30 years after the alleged incident occurred. Her lawyers reminded the jury of her presence — of her sheer physical self — in their closing arguments, when they pointed out that Mr. Trump had not been there to look jurors in the eye. Like all victims of sexual assault who take their cases to trial, her body was at the heart of the case. What she put on that body, how she presented it, mattered.