Of course we have to talk about the first Republican debate last week, and that means we have to discuss The Donald, and that means we have to talk about
(Male readers have permission to leave the room, gibbering.) I agree that his remarks were offensive, vile, and infantile, but maybe not quite the way the commentariat and his Republican rivals see them.
Kelly asked Trump about the effects of his calling women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” Trump apparently considered this an unfair question, “ridiculous” and “off-base.” He went on to say that she was “very angry”:
“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes,” Trump told CNN’s Don Lemon on Friday night. “Blood coming out of her wherever.”
Pretty nearly everyone went ballistic, interpreting the statement as being equivalent to, “she was menstruating and therefore emotionally out of control.” Later, asked to justify the remarks, he said that only a “degenerate” would interpret them as everyone has done, that by “wherever” he meant her “nose” and her “ears.”
And what could be wrong with that?
Only just everything, and that’s for starters.
First, let’s think about The D’s interpretive suggestion. Could “wherever” plausibly have been intended to refer to Kelly’s “nose” or “ears,” rather than “vagina”? Not bloody likely. “Wherever” is necessarily interpretable as a euphemism in this context, and while “nose” and “ears” are four-letter words, they don’t generally require euphemizing as “vagina,” though not four-letter, does. Moreover, if we follow Trump’s interpretive suggestion, the comment makes no sense at all. He was trying to put it out that Kelly was out of control, emotionally wild. Why might that be? Well, when are women apt to be at their craziest? Not when there’s blood coming out of their noses or ears, but when…. Then.
By trying to salvage his original remark, Trump became the first person to confuse the nose and the vagina since Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Fliess over a century ago. And until recently, the worst possible swear-word that could be uttered in British English was “bloody,” so maybe we have to see Trump as a throwback to an earlier time.
Everyone went wild because The Donald had alluded to something too horrible to ever be uttered or even hinted at in public, especially by a man or in front of men, so he was disinvited from a conservative meeting the next day because what he said had been so very disgusting. But what was truly disgusting about the whole episode has been pretty much ignored by most of those who have commented on it, so much so that the objections to Trump’s remarks were more objectionable than the remarks themselves (although those were certainly vile, sleazy, misogynist, and thoroughly characteristic of their speaker).
What was disgusting about Trump’s effusions? Let me count the ways. First, it was disgusting because they made it clear that the candidate is totally incapable of treating women in any capacity as human beings equal to him. He found it so outrageous that Kelly dared speak to him in any way but totally deferentially (terribly unlike the “quality women” and “supermodels” Trump is known to favor), that he lashed out at length, both directly to her and later, about her purported incompetence: her “little” script,” her being a “lightweight,” neither “tough” nor “smart,” and so on. The net effect, I think, of the overkill is to establish Trump as both nasty and not ready for prime time. He can’t take the heat and should get out of the kitchen.
Next, Trump suggested that women become even more incompetent when they are menstruating. In so doing, he was trying to establish an identification with the heart of the current Republican party – straight white upper-middle class males. They understood – or were meant to understand – Trump’s intention: to bring politics back to the time before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment (as well,, given some of his earlier remarks, as erase the Fourteenth and Fifteenth), when women were outsiders and could be ignored or insulted at will. Once again, Trump is a throwback.
By suggesting that Kelly was someone who menstruated, intending thereby to reduce her to shame and ridicule, Trump meant to render her and other menstruators, present and former, unable to be taken seriously as human beings or anything else (except pigs, dogs, or supermodels). Trump, the alpha+ male, decides who can participate in human activity, and how: women must be subservient. Men probably should be too.
Yes, disgusting indeed. But the comments expressing disgust at the disgusting comments were themselves perhaps even more disgusting, leading inevitably to the unhappy conclusion that too many prominent pundits are no more advanced in their thinking about women than The Donald himself.
To do as Trump did – use the possibility that Kelly was menstruating as a reason not to take her seriously – was beyond unforgiveable in this day and age. But his critics did something even worse: they assumed that merely talking about menstruation, merely acknowledging it as a fact was ipso facto repulsive. This assumption is very old and very vile. It works by presupposing (1) that anything women do that men don’t is repugnant; (2) that anything mentioned in (1) that goes on down there (or, if you prefer, wherever) is even more so. So the very condemnation of Trump’s misogynistic remarks is itself misogynistic.
But that’s not all that is obnoxious in the commentariat’s response to The Donald’s tantrum. They have failed to discern that rather than, as many wise people are opining, the comments’ being bad for the Republicans, they are in fact the very best comments the GOP can hope for: Donald Trump is the Republicans’ best friend.
The Trump comments, and the commentaries on them, have eaten up all the attention available for the debate. We can easily forget that there were nine other hopefuls on stage with him, and seven more at the kids’ table before. What the others said merited a lot more attention than they have been given, and that is a good thing for Republican hopes for 2016.
While Trump’s remarks were disgusting and insulting to all women, and especially to Megyn Kelly, they were otherwise harmless. They did not advocate policy (e.g. repealing the Nineteenth Amendment or making menstruating women wear red stars). Looked at as dispassionately as possible (admittedly, for me, not very), they were no more than an up-to-date version of the Malleus Maleficarum, the medieval witch-hunting manual. As always, Trump fulminates, but has nothing of current relevance to propose.
But his rivals most definitely did, and a good deal of what they had to say was much more dangerous to American women than The Donald’s vituperation. Most of them went after Planned Parenthood with bloody vengeance. Those of us with good health insurance may not be as concerned as we should be by the Republican struggle to destroy PP. But millions of women depend on the organization for their very lives. The Republicans claim that they want to destroy It because it does abortions. But (even if we were to accept that rationalization as plausible) abortion is the least of what PP does for women. According to their budget for 2013-14, they spend:
42% of their funds for testing and treatment of STDs;
34% for contraception;
11% for other women’s health services;
9% for cancer screening and prevention;
3% — count it, three per cent – on abortion;
and 1% “other.”
So to account for the Republicans’ loathing of PP, we have to follow the breadcrumb trail dropped by Jeb Bush when he opined that half a billion dollars spent on women’s health care was too much. How much, then, is enough? Well, a lot less than is spent on men’s, you can be sure. The problem with Planned Parenthood, it would seem, is that its services primarily benefit women. That leaves men out. How can America possibly tolerate an organization that leaves men out?
Their outrage makes sense only if we realize that Republican males are suffering from a terrible neurodegenerative disease known as Hyper-Machismo Syndrome (HMS). Terrified that they might become less powerful and potent, they have to oppose anything that benefits women and not them; any way that women get respect at all. HMS leads us to pity The Donald, and it makes some sense of the Republican baying for the death of Planned Parenthood.
Between the kids’ table and the debate proper on Thursday, Chris Matthews officiated on a special version of MSNBC’s Hardball. On one panel he had, among other guests, George Pataki, former governor of New York and clearly desperate to move up to the grownup table. (He is polling at about 1%.) He seemed not to grasp that he had been invited by Matthews to provide commentary and perspective on both parts of the debate: as a moderate (presumably), to offer a reasoned overview of what had happened and would happen next and what it all meant. But he used his face time for self-inflation, in effect giving a stump speech, a good part of which was was a harangue against Planned Parenthood and a demand to defund it completely and thus destroy it. The only sense I can make of Pataki’s bizarrely inappropriate behavior is that he must be one of those suffering from HMS.
If Pataki and his buddies have their way, a great many poor women will find themselves in desperate straits. This should have received a great deal more attention than it did. But we can understand why it didn’t.
Unsurprisingly, most of the Republican mob went after abortion. Marco Rubio in particular demanded that opposition to abortion should be without exceptions even for rape and incest. For a man who seems to be campaigning on the basis of how nice he is, this position appeared remarkably savage. (Full disclosure: I tend to feel that Rubio’s position is the less hypocritical, if crueler, one. If you genuinely believe that life begins at conception and that fetal life at every stage is at least as valuable as the life of the person bearing it, then incest and rape exceptions make no sense: a human life is a human life. But then, I don’t believe this.)
Now Rubio’s statement is interesting in being against his and his party’s interests: Rubio is being touted and feared as the voice of youth; his own comments at the debate were to this effect: he represents the future, and Guess-who represents the past. But the young tend to be more pro-abortion than older voters, so Rubio may be hoist with his own petard.
As may be the whole Republican cause, and this is why Trump is the GOP’s best friend. The proposals they were offering on Thursday, and will continue to offer, are bad for everyone but those suffering from HMS. The more attention commentators pay to what the potential and eventual candidates are saying, the more voters are likely to catch on to this realization. So the best possible thing for Republican hopes in 2016 are Trump’s distractions, his harmless babbling and burbling that will draw everyone’s attention away from what the Republican program is really all about. They have no reason to want him to go away.