There’s a really good article in Slate by my friend Frank Foer under the headline “Donald Trump Hates Women.” It’s good for two reasons. First, it pulls together the numerous anecdotes, quotes, incidents and events going back five or even six decades demonstrating the point embodied in the headline and, second, weaves them all together in a way that is not just as an indictment, which it can’t help but being, but an explanation of a certain type of character.
Reading the piece what came through to me is how Trump’s demeaning, dominating way of treating women maps almost perfectly onto how he treats men – particularly, men who challenge him, challenge his power. I am not saying they are the same. There’s clearly a major difference. But they are of a piece. What I’ve called ‘dominance politics‘ is not only central to Trump’s political success with one portion of the electorate. It is central to his personality going back decades, seemingly deep into childhood, one of the reasons he was sent to a military school as an early adolescent in the first place.
This raises another question. Does Donald Trump hate women? And I guess this begs the question of what is misogyny? I don’t want to put myself forward as an expert on the issue, for obvious reasons. But looking just at Trump’s case, it is not hatred of women per se but hatred of powerful women or female power itself that is the defining trait. In a society where women have become more powerful in all aspects of life for decades and where gender equality is a defining political issue, the distinction may be rather semantic. But this is about power and being out of place in the proper hierarchy of power which has Trump at the top at all times.
To put this in perspective, it is worth remembering that the race hatred which long permeated the white South (and of course in a different way did in much of the rest of the United States) was never about or at least did not start as hating black people in themselves. Southern planters imported hundreds of thousands of black slaves, brought them into their homes. Indeed, the most aggressive and unbridled defenders of what was called the Southern ‘slaveocracy’ were themselves literally raised by and nursed at the breasts of black women. What we call ‘racism’, with all its hatred and violence, was the effort to defend and preserve the white supremacy that slavery and later Jim Crow and segregation were built on. Of course, this didn’t begin with Emancipation. Because slavery always rested on force and violence. But the intensity of ‘racism’ has always been precisely related to the degree to which white supremacy was contested. Trump’s misogyny is of a piece with this.
It is all of a piece. Trump’s personality and political traction is one rooted in dominance – indeed, assertions and demonstrations of dominance. We’ve seen it played out with his presidential competitors, often in fairly gendered terms, even with his mainly male opponents.
Two points are worth noting here.
The first is how this relates to the on-going issue of violence at Trump rallies. These aren’t just stern reactions to hippie-loser protesters. These have evolved into campaign rituals where Trump and his followers play out the centerpieces of his campaign: authority, domination and violence – and Trump’s ability to reassert the proper hierarchies his followers crave.
Second, this tells us why many evangelicals and other traditionalist, right-wing Christians are so supportive of Trump, notwithstanding his fairly open life as a sexual braggart and libertine: because he stands – quite convincingly – for authority, hierarchy and patriarchy.
For many of his supporters, whether they use the phrase or not, he stands for white supremacy.
All of this goes back to the earlier point we’ve discussed. Trump hasn’t been able to maintain this stranglehold over half the electorate in spite of this stuff but precisely because of it. It is the essence of his popularity, albeit it one that is locked down into perhaps 25% of the voting electorate.
I keep hearing people saying, let’s face it. No rules apply to Trump. He breaks every rule of politics, decency, everything and yet he just keeps getting more popular. No. That’s not true. Outside of his constituency, which is broadly but not entirely coterminous with the base of the Republican party, he in fact is unpopular and continues to be more and more unpopular.
Take just one example: according to the just released Monmouth poll, 69% of women have an unfavorable impression of Donald Trump. Among non-whites, 70% have an unfavorable opinion of Trump. This is one poll but the numbers are broadly in line with other recent polls. Outside of his base, Trump is overwhelmingly unpopular and getting more unpopular as he goes.
This chart tells the story.
If you think Trump’s antics don’t affect his popularity, you’re just not paying attention to the evidence. As we noted, the dynamics in the right-wing quarter of the electorate are quite distinct from the rest of the electorate, quite apart from simply being more conservative.
And here’s the final point. It now seems very likely that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee and that he will face Hillary Clinton, the first woman ever to be the presidential nominee of a major US political party. If Trump is driven by a contempt and anger at female power at his core that is a pretty big thing in itself. Of course, Hillary Clinton since the early 90s has been a focus of, a symbol of empowered women not just for her many political supporters but even more for her political enemies. This is, to put it mildly, a highly combustible situation. I’ve said before that I don’t think Trump can just etch-a-sketch it and become a totally different candidate for the general election. The primaries will come with him and because the psychodrama and resentment operating within his supporters is operating within him. In this case, the need to dominate or knock down powerful women is clearly something that transcends political calculation for Trump. So, yes, there’s going to be racial and religious bigotry but it will be a woman battling Trump and standing between him and the presidency. That will bring out in him something of a different order entirely. That means the general election will be very ugly but in all likelihood lead to Trump’s devastating defeat.