Saturday, February 03, 2024

Is it really sexism that Trump is showing? Or is it something worse? (Monica Hesse, WaPo opinion column)

Women's TRUMP problem and TRUMP's woman problem.  Pathologial.

Is it really sexism that Trump is showing? Or is it something worse? 

Trump’s resentment toward certain women may be a sign of a something beyond simple misogyny

Supporters pose for photos with cutouts of former president Donald Trump and former first lady Melania Trump before a campaign rally in Florida. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

While reading one of Donald Trump’s recent Truth Social posts, my eyes focused on two words and a slash. “A PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES MUST HAVE FULL IMMUNITY, WITHOUT WHICH IT WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM/HER TO PROPERLY FUNCTION.”

Him/her. It seemed like such an oddly mindful accommodation. Here was Trump grandiosely declaring his office above the law, but in the course of doing so he was going out of the way to note that a woman could be president, too. I don’t know a lot of conservative septuagenarian men who would have remembered to add that nod to gender equality in the middle of an all-caps rant.

The question of Donald Trump’s misogyny is something I’ve been thinking about recently, as he was ordered by a jury to pay E. Jean Carroll $83 million — and as he is supposedly simultaneously considering several female politicians as running mates. Donald Trump is a vulgar man. A vindictive one. Self-centered, all of it. But … exactly how sexist is he?

ecause I have a wild theory.

If you’ve read along this far, you might think I’ve just asked a very stupid question. The answer seems self-evident. During Trump’s first presidential campaign eight years ago, some two dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct (he denied all of it); last year, a jury found him liable for sexually abusing Carroll in 1996. If you believe those jurors were competent — and I do — and if you believe it would be truly extraordinary for some two dozen women to have independently cooked up a sexual misconduct conspiracy, then you could argue that he’s not only sexist but criminally so.

Back when the “Access Hollywood” video showed Trump bragging that his celebrity status enabled him to grope women at will, back when he called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman,” back when he acknowledged calling Rosie O’Donnell a “fat pig,” this was the one thing the country briefly seemed to agree on: Donald Trump was a sexist boor. Investigation complete.

Trump, who many believe will choose a woman as his 2024 presidential running mate, has a number of female champions in Washington. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) is one of them. (Adam Glanzman for The Washington Post)

But the other thing about Trump is that he is cruel. To women, to men, to immigrants, to the media, to Democrats and often to fellow Republicans. He is cruel to anyone he sees as an enemy, and his insults are regularly recycled. As I was familiarizing myself this week with the oeuvre of Trump’s attacks, I noticed something interesting. News outlets have published lots of lists with headlines like, “11 insults Trump has hurled at women.” But when I cross-checked the so-called women-specific insults, I found that many of them were actually levied against men as well.

“Nasty woman” — the term he flung at Hillary Clinton, which her supporters then reclaimed with feminist pride — sure seemed sexist. But then last week Trump used the same insult against Lewis Kaplan, the male judge presiding over his defamation trial: “He’s a nasty man, a nasty judge.” Other public figures that Trump has deemed “nasty” include Nancy Pelosi; Ted Cruz; Meghan, Duchess of Sussex; and Lindsey Graham and Mitt Romney (a joint insult). “Nasty” flies out of his mouth so often I’m not certain that it is sexist so much as it’s a verbal tic. Similarly, I’d originally spotted breathtaking sexism and racism in his description of Rep. Maxine Waters as a “low I.Q. person” in 2018 — but then he later used similar phrases to describe Joe Biden (“a low I.Q. individual”) and George W. Bush. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd was deemed “crazy,” but then again, so was CNN’s Jim Acosta. Ann Coulter was a “nut job,” but then again, so was Anthony Scaramucci.

Parsing his insults sometimes requires some subjective judgment: Is it worse to call Stormy Daniels a “horseface” than it is to call Adam Schiff a “little pencil-neck”? Is it appreciably different to call Rosie O’Donnell a “fat pig” than it is to get on a podium, as Trump once did, and say, of Chris Christie, “He’s eating right now; he can’t be bothered”? (Trump then playfully reminded his audience that they weren’t “allowed” to call people “fat pigs” anymore.) He referred to journalist Mika Brzezinski as a “ditzy airhead,” which definitely seemed sexist. But the attacks he lobbed at her husband and co-host Joe Scarborough — “psycho,” “dumb and sick” — don’t seem much better.

How do we measure sexism anyway? Do we measure it by insults? Do we measure it by policy positions? Do we acknowledge that every one of us was born into a society with sexist roots, and that many men of Trump’s generation might have been raised to see nothing wrong with calling female aides “sweetie” or “honey,” as former Trump official Miles Taylor has alleged the former president did?

There’s definitely a lot of evidence that Trump is a misogynist! But how much more sexist is he than his cohort?

Trump and Hillary Clinton at a debate in 2016. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Business associates have remembered that Trump’s top lieutenants were often women. According to data from the Center for American Women and Politics, during Trump’s time in the White House, he appointed a total of seven women to Cabinet or Cabinet-level positions, including Gina Haspel, the first woman to helm the CIA. That’s a far lower number than Joe Biden’s 13 women (at maximum level, Biden’s Cabinet was 52 percent female, the first administration to have true gender parity). But it’s just a hair lower than the number of women Barack Obama appointed in either of his terms (eight apiece), and it’s higher than George W. Bush’s record (four women per term). Recent Republican presidents have appointed fewer women than Democratic ones, but their bench is shallower, with fewer female politicians in general.

Trump also nominated a woman to the Supreme Court, which leads to another question: Do we measure misogyny by intention, or by effect? Because whether or not Trump thought that he was championing women by nominating Amy Coney Barrett, her support of the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade (which was also backed by Trump’s other appointees, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh) had disastrous effects for millions of women around the country. Trump seems to view reproductive rights as a malleable political tool — years ago he said he was “very pro-choice,” then later said abortion should be banned, then later said Florida’s ban was “a terrible thing.” His promise to nominate antiabortion judges was probably a political calculation to shore up support from evangelical voters — but in effect it harmed women.

Whether or not Trump intended his “nasty” attack on Hillary Clinton to be specifically about her womanhood, it launched a sexist climate — “Trump That B----” on T-shirts — that he seemed more than happy to benefit from. Trump is almost definitely sexist! But how much more sexist is he than large swaths of the constituents who voted for him, who themselves lobbied for the overturning of Roe v. Wade and who took to chants like “Lock her up” like ducks to water?

He’s swum in such a swamp of sexism, is the thing. Such a Roger Ailes-y, Rudy Giuliani-ish, gross-feeling swamp.

But then there’s also this: Once his opponent was Biden, the chants changed to “lock him up” without missing a beat, the vitriol fully transferrable.

Trump supporters gather at a 2020 event. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Here is my theory, which is based on a lot of reading, watching, scrolling and living over the past seven years — and which, at the end of the day, is also my fallible gut instinct. As a columnist, there is no way for me to know what is in someone’s heart, only to try to make sense of what has flown out of their mouth.

I think Trump sees women as his playthings, something to provide him amusement, which is why he feels free to comment on their bodies and appearances and weight, as he allegedly did backstage at the Miss USA pageant. I think Trump also sees men as his playthings, which is why he amassed a collection of “my generals” and seemed obsessed with military parades, little toy soldiers lining up in a row.

I think he takes what he feels is entitled to him; I think he feels everything is entitled to him. I think he talks about grabbing women’s crotches because that’s what he wants to grab; I think if he were attracted to men he would talk about grabbing men’s crotches instead.

Neither act would be about whether he’s a misogynist or a misandrist, it would be about Trump feeling with certainty that he should be allowed to have what he has stated he wants to have: full immunity.

I think he thinks most women are lesser than him. I think he thinks most men are lesser than him. I think he wants admiration and power, and he is shrewd enough to know that in this society, power over women looks different from power over men. Please note that when he tells one of his “sir” stories — the made-up-sounding anecdotes in which a constituent is groveling in front of him or praising him — it’s almost always the male constituents who are fully abasing themselves, blubbering like children, saying, “Sir, you gave me my life back.”

E. Jean Carroll walks out of Manhattan federal court in 2023. A jury found Trump liable of sexually abusing and defaming her. (Seth Wenig/AP)

I think that it is hard to parse which sexist things Trump is doing because he is sexist, and which sexist things he is doing because he is, as former White House attorney Ty Cobb once said on a CBS podcast, “a deeply wounded narcissist,” who is “incapable of acting other than in his perceived self-interest or for revenge.” Because he is, as his niece Mary L. Trump once wrote, unable to “experience the entire spectrum of human emotion,” including empathy for others. Because he is, as former aide Cassidy Hutchinson told ABC News, “a weak and feeble man who has no sense of character and integrity.”

In other words, my wild theory is this: I don’t think that Donald Trump is actually as sexist as he seems to be. I think that what often gets interpreted as sexism is in fact a flagrant disregard for humanity in general, which is so unparalleled in American political history that we don’t have the vocabulary to describe it. Sexism, we have a vocabulary for.

My scenario is actually a worse scenario. Sexism is endemic, but on an individual level it’s curable: All it takes is for one decent person to recognize the error of their behaviors and the flaws in their thoughts, and to put a good-faith effort into changing course.

Whatever Donald Trump is, it’s not endemic. It’s singular. It could only be changed if he wanted it to, and he’s shown no indication that he wants to behave any way other than how he’s already spent seven years behaving.

Trump might pick a female running mate. Trump might have been found liable — again — for defamation in the Carroll trial. Neither act really says much about how he feels toward women. They say much more about what a deeply wounded megalomaniac thinks of himself/herself, and what he/she is willing to elevate or ruin to stay on top.


Sam said...

He's a delusional narcissist and many of his supporters are psychopaths. You can ask them questions about wages, the economy, democracy, and other subjects and it's easy to figure them out by their answers.

Nelson said...

All the bad and or stupid people in our society gravitated to him. The bandwagon effect was in play. Lack of critical thinking is in play. Irrational ideology is in play. The Chinese panda is laughing.