Yes, it has actually happened. Donald Trump has, at long last, made a statement that is incontestably true. What’s the 2016 campaign coming to?
(Note: I wrote the rough draft of this snort before I read Gail Collins’s op-ed, which covers some of the same material. But I thought I’d finish it and send it off anyway, because some of my focus is different from hers.)
In a recent interview aboard his plane, Trump told ABC News anchor David Muir, “I just don’t think she has a presidential look.” In these few words, Donald J. Trump showed himself to be a man of many talents and achievements.
We know already about a couple of the achievements of Donald Trump.
Donald J. Trump, LMFC, is a marriage therapist. Of course he knows a lot about marriage: he’s done it so often. Recently, he demonstrated his perspicacity by holding forth on the marriage of Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner:
“Huma is making a very wise decision. I know Anthony Weiner well, and she will be far better off without him,” Trump said Monday in a statement.
“I only worry for the country in that Hillary Clinton was careless and negligent in allowing Weiner to have such close proximity to highly classified information,” he then pivoted. “Who knows what he learned and who he told? It’s just another example of Hillary Clinton’s bad judgment. It is possible that our country and its security have been greatly compromised by this.”
What an expert! Trump knows what is good for Abedin and what is wrong with the Abedin-Weiner marriage. And the sagacious Donald knows still more: that the problems of that marriage constitute a security risk that is naturally Clinton’ s fault. The equation of sexual compulsion and security breach is more than brilliant, and in managing to blame two women in one fell swoop, Trump is only doing what he does best.
This story may remind us of something Trump was talking a lot about a few months ago – the problems in the Clintons’ marriage. That, too, was a sign that Hillary Clinton was unfit for office. For Trump knows one thing for sure: when a marriage is troubled, it’s always the woman’s fault.
And Trump is also Donald Trump, M.D. We have seen his doctor’s note about his health – better than that of any other president ever. Though on his doctor’s letterhead, the style was unique to Trump. That’s medical expertise!
Now here comes Donald Trump, aesthetician and cosmetologist. He knows what a president looks like. For sure, Clinton doesn’t look like any past president of this country. That is one of the major reasons that it is important that she wins. And her opponent’s inability to grasp that truth – even coming from his own mouth – represents one of the major reasons that it is important that he loses.
Trump’s aesthetic judgment is spot-on. Clinton has something – I mean, two things – that no previous president has had: breasts. In Trumpworld, there are two kinds of people. One has breasts. The other is human. The second kind necessarily has power over the first kind, who are worthy of existence only in case they can function as the Donald’s arm candy.
But the fact that Clinton looks unpresidential, is one reason (by no means the only one, but significant) why she should become president, and Trump’s statement is one major reason why he should not.
The Presidency of the United States ought to be, and seem, open to all of us. For most of our history, though, POTUS could only look like a small slice of us: the white, male, Christian slice. Yes, our elementary school teachers told us that in this country, “any one of you can become President, boys and girls.” But some of us, looking at the presidential portraits on schoolroom walls and in history books, noticed that pictures of people like us were absent.
In 2008, America made its first move to solve the conundrum – a move that the selfsame Donald J. Trump so loathed that he perpetrated the infamous “birther” hoax. Now, heaven help us, we’re doing it again, and again Trump just can’t cope.
But it’s not just that Trump’s analysis was sexist and misogynist. Worse, for someone who aspires to the Oval Office, it is closed-minded and incurious: signs of a small intellect. By his effusions Trump shows himself to be a man who cannot embrace new ideas, who is only comfortable in a world of “business as usual,” plodding and predictable. He cannot stretch his mind to cope with new ideas and problems. His take on climate change, that it’s a “scam,” is of the same kind: the world has to work by the same set of assumptions he learned half a century ago; if it doesn’t, it’s the new assumptions, not Trump, that are mistaken. And if Trump’s mid-twentieth century (and medieval) assumptions about women and their permissible roles do not match what he is seeing every day, well, something is wrong with the latter, not the former.
In this way Trump and his supporters show themselves to be victims of “confirmation bias”: they believe only what they want to be true. None of them can tolerate cognitive dissonance: the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.
The Presidency is not a job for anyone who is terrified of new ideas that conflict with what he would like to believe. Our world changes too fast to permit such a person to respond rationally when events threaten to spin out of control, as all too often they will. So Trump’s offhand comment about his opponent’s unpresidential look should serve as a warning to voters to beware.
You might hope that that effusion was just a one-off, Trump not at his best. You might hope that he is not, despite such gaucheries, the misogynist he might seem. But he keeps showing that he is just what he seems.
As reported in the New York Times, at a candidates’ forum on September 7, Trump said, of the problem of sexual assaults in the military: “What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?”
Ah yes: the problem lies in putting men and women together. When that happens, it is natural and inevitable that manly men will harass those women. So once again Trump is being absolutely truthful: institutions like the military cannot contain both men and women. Look what happens when they do.
But Trump’s remarks don’t go far enough. What is true of the military is equally true of most other contemporary American institutions that have been sexually integrated since the 1970s: education, at all levels; business; politics; the media, medicine; and so many others. If the military made a mistake bringing women into the armed forces, the same is true of every other institution. Trump’s cure for sexual harassment is simple: it’s women’s fault, throw them out. (As quoted in the Times article, retired Col. Don Christian, a former air force chief prosecutor, called Trump’s assessment “blaming the victim,” as indeed it is.)
But as so often, Trump’s solution to a pervasive problem would create worse problems, and not just related to gender. Today we are a nation that needs people of every kind to do its work; we cannot throw out half of them just because President Trump would like to. Women have proven themselves to be highly competent and essential to the running of pretty much everything, and modern institutions work better because of their female components. Yet again, Trump’s “solutions” prove shortsighted, unimaginative, and dangerous, even if his supporters see them, and him, as bringing them back to the power position where they belong. But that’s a fairy tale. A twenty-first century president cannot operate as if he were living and governing a century earlier; America would go out of sync with the rest of the developed world. We used to worry that, if we didn’t keep the Commies out of Vietnam, we would become a “powerless, helpless giant.” Fortunately we didn’t, but if we were to elect Donald Trump, that’s exactly what we would become.
Perhaps you think Trump’s remarks are unique to him – that the rational Republicans of the RNC would never hold, and even less express, such antediluvian attitudes. Think again:
Reince Priebus, RNC Chairman, tweeted after the national security conference where Trump made his remark on military sexual assaults, about Clinton’s demeanor at that conference: “No smile and uncomfortable,” he noted. Of course, when national security and the role of POTUS as C-in-C are the topics of discussion, grins, beams, and chortles are what we ought to expect. Needless to say, neither Priebus nor anyone else had anything to say about Trump’s demeanor – the pouting, the smirks, the precious hand gestures – and still less about some of his truly horrifying ideas. But women’s faces are fair game.
Like all the critiques of women’s communication style that ignore what women say in favor of how they look, Priebus’s comment is a way of suggesting that women are of interest only superficially – we should care only about how their appearance pleases men, not about what they say (which is of no interest). And even more than any other sexist concentration on women’s looks, Priebus’s focus on Clinton’s non-smile is particularly misogynistic.
While social scientists are not sure when smiling started, or why our species developed it or even why we do it today (and different cultures may smile differently and for different reasons), a smile is often intended, and perceived, as a signifier of harmlessness: I won’t hurt you. It might suggest: See? Look at all these teeth I have. But since I’m showing them to you, I don’t intend to use them.
So subservient people often smile at their bosses and superiors – it’s a way of convincing them that the underdogs mean no harm and should be treated kindly. Therefore women are expected to smile, as a way of showing their subservience. And a woman who doesn’t smile and smile – well, she’s a villain. But we knew this already about Clinton.
But fun as the above has been, criticizing Trump’s (and other Republicans’) sexism and misogyny (like Collins and me), misses the real point. Trump’s followers are drawn to him to a significant degree because of rather than despite his s&m, and therefore are not put off voting for him by critiques of it. If I thought Trump’s fans might be reading this article, I would worry about sending it out. (No fears, though…right?)
Sure, people tell pollsters that this is a “change election,” and they are drawn to Trump because he represents “change,” an end to Clinton’s status quo. But that is their superficial rationale: what they tell the pollsters, and often, too, what they tell themselves. But more deeply and typically unconsciously, they are not voting for Trump as an agent of change, but as a guarantor of more-of-the-same, and in fact a move backward to a time when racism, sexism, and misogyny were the norm (hence his frequent smirking dismissals of “political correctness”) and white men had no reason to fear a loss of superiority. This is why, despite everything each of them actually says and does, Trump is triumphantly Teflon while Clinton is Velcro: everything sticks to her. The rhetoric of 2016 is a clear case of confirmation bias, not only on the part of Trump’s overt supporters, but many fearful souls in the media.
What is “unlikable” about Clinton is not derived from anything she says or does as an individual, but from the correct perception of her as a smart, tough, competitive and utterly competent woman – in other words, a bossy bitch. It would take an enormous amount of coughing, tripping, and fainting to fix that perception. Rudy Giuliani and Trump don’t realize that, in harping on Clinton’s allegedly poor health, they’re helping her – letting her appear weak and sickly, i.e. a proper old-fashioned woman and not so dangerous as they might fear.
It would be good if commentators on Clinton’s “negatives” would realize that these stats aren’t about Clinton’s weakness, but ours: isophobia, or the fear of equality. And that’s the truth.