Donald Trump’s campaign started with a rape allegation. The Mexicans being “sent” to America are rapists. He levelled an accusation that, disgustingly, rang true for enough people that he won his party’s nomination for the presidency.
Today, when the same allegations are hurled at him left and right, he has the hubris to believe that those accusations won’t stick, that he has enough power to shake them off without admitting a thing. He has denied every rape and sexual assault allegation, and has done everything to discredit the women levelling those allegations while blaming the Clintons for doing the same. He has railed against the “disloyalty” of Republicans for defending themselves and their seats (Hey, lots of women vote). Most people do everything not to get caught, and when they do, have a contrition chapter in their campaign playbook. Trump has a playbook that no one has ever seen before. It’s not about winning or losing the game. It’s about preserving the Donald Trump brand of masculinity.
So-called women’s issues and the “women’s vote” are a pawn in a larger political game, but Trump is so past the point, either unwilling to admit or uncaring about his pending loss, that he won’t even play the game. There will be no press conference, no tearful apology with Melania Trump standing in a sombre suit, demure but proud. There will be no Ivanka holding her parents’ hands like an angelic bridge, an endorsement of the man, but not the indefensible and uncharacteristic actions. There is no public mask for the ugly truths, and that’s what’s so unnerving.
What masculinity means to Trump is doubling down. Openly so. Undisguised. This might be why his supporters gravitate towards him. In Trump’s world, real men claim morality as their own, puppeteers of right and wrong, something malleable to the whim of the powerful. Trump is a panderer to the people who consider themselves immune and allergic to pandering, so he hunkers down with his team and denies, claims foul play, claims conspiracy.
In the wake of the now infamous video, in which Trump brags about touching women without their consent, his campaign published excerpts from a Washington Post article. The story goes on to quote many former Trump employees, some of whom acknowledged that they felt that Trump’s patronage meant promotions and being included in the “boy’s club”. But the first anecdote of the article is from Louise Sunshine, a former employee who had gained some weight around the time she started working for Trump’s real estate business. According to Sunshine, he kept a “fat picture” that he would pull out of the drawer when she acted in a way he didn’t like. The article goes on to mention various other examples of Trump’s preoccupation with women’s appearance, but also his inclusion of women in his business.
All this proves is that Trump is an opportunist. When it suits him, he makes sexual remarks and shames women for gaining weight. When it suits him, he brags about touching and groping women without their consent. When it suits him, he gives a woman a leg up. This proves nothing more than that he considers himself a powerful man and likes to be the one pulling the strings. He gives what he wants and takes what he wants.
What I’m concerned about now is what happens next. Sometimes when the voices of the oppressed band together and become a chorus, a chorus of detractors forms in opposition. The new “repeal the 19th amendment” hashtag (the amendment giving women the right to vote), is an indicator of this trend. We have all been exposed in this election. And women are left wondering, why do they hate us? Do people really feel this way?
Nothing about these allegations has shocked me. They have been made and brushed off before. Trump got away with ignoring them before. He is still ignoring them, expecting that they will roll off his shoulders, that his base will be loyal to him no matter what, that his grip on power and privilege cannot be shaken, and that a disruption of this natural order cannot stand. His 'repeal the 19th amendment' ilk probably believe the same thing. They can create an echo chamber, in which they convince each other that these pesky women with thoughts will soon stop talking so much.
It is not enough to be disgusted by the echo chamber. Here’s what should happen next. Every locker room is infiltrated by men who tell the men who objectify women to stop it. Every woman who has been raped comes into the light, speaking her truth in a world that not only deals her less power and agency over her life than the men around her but also denies her freedom to feel and to understand her anger and hurt. Every politician who abuses his power is made to feel the wrath of the people, not in defence of “family values” and chivalry, but in defence of human life and dignity. We should live in a world where power is checked and checked and checked yet again, a world where the raw, disgusting truth is exposed time and time again, until the sad truth of this time and our women is a strange and hideous nightmare.
(The author is based in New Orleans and writes on social justice.)