Donald Trump has reignited his sexist harassment campaign against Megyn Kelly, and the folks at Fox News are, in seemingly coordinated fashion, striking back. Fellow Fox News hosts and pundits are asking Trump to cool it, and even Roger Ailes has released a statement calling Trump’s abuse “unacceptable” and “disturbing.” It’s almost touching, watching all these conservative media people who usually profit at peddling sexism choose, this time at least, to join together in an effort to stop this one particular instance of it.
It’s also going to backfire.
Conservative media and Fox News in particular have spent years – decades, if you count talk radio – training their audiences to believe that exhortations against sexism and racism are nothing but the “political correctness” police trying to kill your good time. Indeed, one reason that Trump was able to get so much attention for his presidential run in the first place is that Fox has spent years building him up, knowing that their audience enjoys vicariously needling imagined liberals and feminists with his loud-mouthed insult comic act.
As Jill Filipovic as Cosmopolitan recently explained in a feature piece about the conservative website Twitchy, there are entire sectors of the conservative media dedicated to getting the audiences to spend all day and night trying to piss off liberals, believing themselves to be courageous freedom fighters against the P.C. police. Women, in particular, are favorite targets. There’s apparently no getting tired of the pleasure of feeling naughty because you say mean things about women and racial minorities for conservative audiences.
Well, conservative media built Twitchy Nation, and now it looks like they have to live in it. You can’t tell people, day in and day out, that nothing is more fun than putting some mouthy broad in her place and then get upset when they continue to think it’s fun, even when the mouthy broad is one of yours.
“Bossy” women are treated, in conservative media, like the great Darth Vaders of the world who need to be harassed and resisted and abused at all costs. Of this, there can be no doubt. Michelle Obama started a program to encourage exercise and healthy eating, and conservative media reacted like she was holding a gun to your dog’s head and telling you to eat broccoli or the pooch gets it. The news that women sometimes make more money than their husbands was treated like a national emergency on Fox, with Lou Dobbs suggesting that “society” is “dissolv[ing] around us” and Erick Erickson arguing that women’s inability to stay in our place is “tearing us apart.” The possibility of women being Army Rangers has created a similar meltdown at the network, with Andrea Tantaros whining, “men can’t have anything to themselves anymore.”
Hell, this is a network where a man literally told a female host, “Know your role and shut your mouth.”
The position at Fox News and elsewhere in the conservative media on women who talk back to men, or even just have the power to talk back to men, is not obscure or confusing. They are to be put in their place, with a vengeance. Any woman who has been targeted the right wing flying monkeys of Twitter can attest to how well the audiences have absorbed this lesson. Screaming at bitches who don’t know their place is both a sacred cause and just a rowdy good time, in right wing circles.
And if you push back and criticize that behavior? That’s treated as an invitation to double down.
“When you write about them, get ready,” college professor Anthea Butler told Filipovic when she interviewed Butler for her article on Twitchy. “They’re coming for you.” The prediction, you will not be surprised, came true immediately. The article is over a week old, but Filipovic is still getting angry conservatives tweeting at her all day, trying to harass her into stepping down and shutting up.
No one should understand this better than the people at Fox News. After all, this is the monster they created. They should know what it wants and what it’s capable of. But instead, they seem to think that if you just shake your finger at the right wing base and tell them to be nice to the lady who dared talk back to their hero, Donald Trump, they will somehow realize that they’re not actually courageous warriors holding back the forces of political correctness, but that they are instead just a bunch of jerks. But it doesn’t work that way.
There are some lines that Trump could cross that would derail his campaign. If he insulted Christians, perhaps. If he cracked and actually used the N-word, that might do it. If he went beyond just saying nasty things and honked someone’s boob in public, that might be a step too far.
But dog-piling a woman for daring to tell a man that sexist language isn’t cool? That’s just business as usual. Trump and his audience may seem like a bunch of idiots, but they know that there’s no good argument for why it’s cool to do it to liberals, but not cool when the victim is a conservative. And that’s why there’s no reason to think that telling them to cut it out will do anything but encourage them to do it more.
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about liberal politics, the religious right and reproductive health care. She’s a prolific Twitter villain who can be followed @amandamarcotte.