I am an optimist by nature. That is to say that optimism is my default state. There are many reasons for this, chief among which is the fact that I choose to believe human beings are capable of great things. That sounds wonderful, but it inevitably gives rise to a vast amount of frustration – particularly at times when society seems determined to prove me wrong. The 2016 U.S Presidential election is a prime example – and not just because this powerful nation has selected not one, but two, problematic candidates as nominees for the Presidency.
First things first – I’m not American, so why does it matter what I think? Well – brace yourselves for a shock – it is a very small world, made smaller by the internet and 24 hour news cycles. This, combined with the fact that the individual elected to be the U.S President has the very real power to influence the lives of every person on the planet in one way or another, means that the American electoral process concerns everyone. This has become even more important in recent weeks, as the election has become defined by sexual assault. Both main candidates for the Presidency, Trump and Clinton, are mired in allegations and accusations relating to criminal offences against women – she of silencing and intimidating her husband’s accusers, and he of actually perpetrating these violent crimes.
Like everyone else, I cannot prevent this male toxicity permeating my home, and the consciousness of all that reside in it – including my sons. And it is male toxicity. Hillary Clinton is not accused of assaulting anyone. The allegations against her are of her behaviour toward women that her husband is accused of physically attacking. She is accused of ‘enabling’ him as a sexual predator – but the predatory behaviour at issue was his, not hers.
This puts the world in an extraordinary situation. On the one hand, we could find ourselves with the leader of the most powerful nation on the planet being someone who validates the idea that women are there to be assaulted. On the other hand, the optimist in me hopes that the positive thing about this fiasco is that sexual assault is dragged from the shadows, into the glaring spotlight, and that everybody realises that the existence of rape culture can no longer be denied. That is what appears to be happening – but the further consequence of this is that, due to the prevalence of the coverage of this election, everybody is having their own, personal attitudes revealed. We are each now discovering who around us finds sexual assault tolerable, and who does not.
Donald Trump is a terrible candidate for the U.S Presidency. I firmly believe that he would not only be a dangerously incompetent and unreliable ‘Leader of the Free World’, but his election would also put the movement for social equality back decades, if not more. Disregarding, for a moment, his clear lack of knowledge and understanding of international and domestic issues, his inability to answer a question or form a coherent sentence, and his narcissistic tendencies and fixations, Donald Trump has also repeatedly proven himself to be a racist, ableist, misogynist tax-dodger who disrespects war veterans and anyone who doesn’t look like him, agree with him, or make themselves sexually available to him.
People around the world are shaking their heads in disbelief, wondering how this man in particular has managed to come so close to winning the Office of the President of the United States. I too, am one of those overseas observers, muttering to myself that if this monstrous individual is the best candidate the Republican Party could produce, how nightmarish are the rest of them? What good can possibly come of elevating this person, who behaves like a Neanderthal that woke up to find himself in 2016, with no comprehension of why people find his attitudes to be reprehensible?
The behaviour of this man – and in particular, his behaviour toward women – is making us all take a very long, very hard look at our world as a whole, and how it came to be the way it is today. The current situation demands that we reflect upon how we came to be living in a world in which a Donald Trump Presidency is a very real possibility. One of Trump’s favourite phrases is that he “tells it like it is.” Well, maybe this is the one useful lesson this serial-bankruptee can teach us. Let’s tell it like it is.
It boils down to complacency. As a species, we seem to be in the process of realising that sacrificing principles “for the greater good” doesn’t always lead you to a better place, when the “greater good” is being defined by the very people wishing to preserve the status quo of inequality. What do I mean? Well, to paraphrase the many Donald Trump “surrogates” after each incident:
“Yes, those things that Donald Trump said are offensive, but he apologised, and there are much more important things to be worrying about anyway – like ISIS.”
Excusing racist, misogynist, ableist behaviour for the sake of a different issue does two things – it dismisses the oppression of specific groups of people, and makes the statement that this behaviour is acceptable as long as there is a bigger threat to deal with. You want to talk about “distractions”? Funny how Republican Presidents are always so keen to focus on fights with big, bad foe, isn’t it? Not unlike Britain’s Prime Ministers Thatcher and Blair.
Let me be more specific, though. Every time Donald Trump says (as he did during the internationally televised second Presidential debate) that discussion about his ‘pussy-grabbing’ comments is less important than talking about ISIS, he adds to the erasure of the experience of literally millions of women around the globe – including those brutalised by ISIS. It validates the widely held attitude that women can be treated this way (violently sexually assaulted), and it is of little or no consequence. It validates the belief of many women that if they speak up, they will also be dismissed. But, let’s dig down a little deeper. Let’s look at the white male privilege which assures Donald Trump that when he brags about committing violent sexual assault, his behaviour toward women bears no relation at all to the way that members of groups such as ISIS behave toward women.
In interviews and debates, whenever anyone mentions his treatment of women (and, make no mistake, there are lawsuits and long-standing accusations that allege this could well be more than “just locker room talk”), Donald Trump’s first go-to response is to deflect onto the subject of ISIS. This is the group that – in addition to horrific acts of terror against anyone that doesn’t submit to their rule – specifically treats women as if they are property to be owned. The physical and sexual abuse of women committed by its members is well-documented, as is the establishment of a modern-day slave trade, in which women are bought and sold like cattle – their price tags often determined by their perceived attractiveness, and alleged ‘purity’. In other words, in ISIS, the value of individual women is determined by the men objectifying them for their own purposes. Where do you think these extreme actions and attitudes come from, if not the very same kernel of male privilege that informs the violent attitudes of Donald Trump – the attitude that makes him think he can determine the value of individual women by objectifying them for his own purposes, and encouraging others to do the same?
For ISIS, the aim of this abuse and domination of women is clearly the wiping out of bloodlines – just as it has been, historically, for any invading group that has ever wished to impose its rule and will on a resistant populace. For Donald Trump, the abuse and domination of women is about wiping out competition. It serves the dual purpose of eliminating women that might challenge him, while establishing himself in the dominant position among other men, in a society that capitalises on the creation of self-doubt, and the assessment of outward appearances. Make no mistake, the strategies of ISIS (along with other patriarchal terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram, FARC, the Taliban, and Abu Sayyaf), and the strategies of Donald Trump (along with non-terrorist patriarchal systems, i.e. general society in most countries in the world, and most organised religions) occupy space on the same, male-invented spectrum of the oppression of women.
Trump’s second go-to response to questions about his own behaviour toward women is to list the trespasses of former President Bill Clinton (who is not currently running for President). This is also appalling because – like the ISIS deflection, it creates this spectrum by essentially using the argument, “Well, other men do worse!” (in other words, “at least I’m on the less-bad end of the spectrum!”) Trump alleges that Bill Clinton’s actions are “far worse” than his, which immediately places a value judgement on the experiences of survivors – all the while being broadcast around the world on every TV channel and internet provider, and all the while reinforcing the same attitudes in others. It says, in no uncertain terms, “I may be on the same spectrum, but I think my end of the spectrum is acceptable.”
But, guess what? Violence against women is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable when ISIS does it, it’s unacceptable when Bill Clinton does it, and it’s unacceptable when Trump does it, too. It’s unacceptable at every perceived level of male-defined ‘severity’, and it’s unacceptable to feed into the social oppression of women by bragging about it to your buddies – I don’t care what room you’re in. The very fact that this male-invented spectrum of violent oppression exists at all is unacceptable. That stance is not ‘political correctness’, by the way. Nor is it an attack by the ‘thought and speech police’. It’s basic human decency, and if you find yourself falling short of that criteria, you may need to consider the fact that you might be part of this worldwide problem.
Misogyny is misogyny – whether it is perpetrated by a civilian, a soldier, a religious representative, a President, a business person, or an extremist. It is borne of the idea that men have the right to have physical, emotional, financial, educational, religious, and psychological power over a woman; that women have no right to physical sovereignty, and that they exist simply to facilitate the lives of men. It manifests in different ways in different cultures, in different religions, and in different places around the world – but it all stems from the same malignant place: Male entitlement.
So, what does the success of Donald Trump say about us? We are responsible for him getting this far along in the process. The Republican Party undoubtedly thought his celebrity would work in their favour in trying to recapture the Oval Office. He is a ‘celebrity’, in part, because people watched his show, The Apprentice, and were entertained by the confrontational, dictatorial style of his treatment of contestants – in the same way that all those other reality shows thrive on manufactured conflict. This ratings strategy, again, falls in with the attitudes held by the man, which have been utilised in his campaign – the enjoyment of pointing the finger at other people, and putting them down because he thinks it makes him look stronger; the sense of personal power that comes from being able to humiliate a person when they fail to please you; the rush of having power over another human being.
He’s built upon that fan-base, and campaigned to become President, largely by promising power to those that feel powerless – which, in itself has caused a further split in the electorate. The people he undoubtedly appeals to most are those who feel they have lost power as society in general has pushed further toward inclusivity and diversity – this is obvious, because Donald Trump promotes the exact opposite of inclusivity and diversity. The truth of the matter is that there are many groups in American society (and every society) that feel powerless and, in real terms, everyone is essentially powerless except the wealthy and ‘elite’. But, while women and minorities – and all the people at points of intersection between them – have always experienced actual powerlessness, it is white people that are, in general terms, socially conditioned to erroneously believe that the power is rightfully theirs.
And what of this social conditioning? What does it program everyone to do in an election cycle, where there are only problematic candidates on offer (also known as, ‘every election cycle’)? Well, it tells us to be motivated by the “greater good” – the bigger issue, the larger threat. If he can ensure continued tax breaks for the already wealthy people that are supposed to ‘create jobs’, can’t we turn a blind-eye to all that pussy-grabbing nonsense? If he can ‘make America great again,’ can’t we just forget about all that blatant and coded racism he just spewed on international TV for 18 months?
That attitude may sound very familiar. We recently heard the same about another white man – Brock Turner. If he can swim really well and bring money into the university, can’t we just give him a break on the whole ‘brutalising a woman behind a dumpster’ thing? It’s also the attitude that leads women in relationships with (alleged) sexual predators – such as Hillary Clinton and Melania Trump, for example – to remain and ‘enable’. He can achieve so many great things – can’t we just let these sexual assaults slide?
The very nomination of Donald Trump – by the Republican Party – as a Presidential candidate has forced both sides of the argument to adopt this “greater good” approach. With just weeks to go before the election is held, it comes down to the idea of voting for Hillary Clinton largely to stop Donald Trump getting the job. That’s a deeply skewed version of democracy, at best, and it has prevented the proper examination of actual policy put forth by each candidate.
Due to the actions of Donald Trump, the Clinton campaign is asking American voters to overlook her controversial email issue, her questionable actions as Secretary of State, and allegations of intimidating her husband’s accusers – for the purpose of preventing a Trump Presidency. The Trump campaign is asking American voters to overlook his misogyny, racism, ableism, questionable business practices, tax-dodging, and allegations of actually perpetrating violent assault – for the purpose of preventing a Clinton Presidency.
Forcing this “greater good” approach undoubtedly achieves an important goal for the Republican campaign. It distracts from the fact that – even taking into consideration the questions over her past actions – Hillary Clinton remains the single most qualified person to apply for the job of President in a generation, and she has continually advocated bi-partisanship and inclusivity as a way of resolving important issues.
Historically, the “greater good” tactic has originated from the desire to preserve the status quo, which means men have power and priority over women, and specifically white men have power and priority over everybody else. Historically, it has effectively silenced anybody that might be subject to these horrific behaviours, and has highlighted very clearly that there are people willing to tolerate the oppression and abuse of other human beings for the sake of securing their own personal position.
Does that also sound familiar? Yes. That’s because, historically, that’s also been the attitude of most western nations with regard to the rest of the world. And now here we are, with Donald Trump. You see, Trump makes a big deal about being a ‘Washington outsider’, as opposed to Hillary Clinton’s ‘more of the same’ – but, if we “tell it like it is”, it is Donald Trump that represents the status quo of inequality. Until now, the “greater good” has always been perpetuation of white male privilege, of which Donald Trump is the very embodiment.
It’s time the world tried something different, for the sake of all women, everywhere.