Opinion

Sexual Politics in the Age of Trump

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Posted: Mar 29, 2019 12:01 AM
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Sexual Politics in the Age of Trump

Source: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The Mueller report ought to bring an end to the obsession that Hillary Clinton was robbed of the presidency, but it won't. President Donald Trump beat her fair and square. He didn't get any help from the Russians.

Clinton empowered feminism by losing. Anger is a great galvanizer. That anger is a gift for the sisterhood that keeps on giving. Clinton, in defeat, inspired women to march, gave courage to female candidates and fired ambition to succeed where she had failed. Women who had been sexually abused were emboldened to speak up.

Millions thought the sordid "Access Hollywood" videotape would finish off Trump, but he softened the exposure by inviting three women who had accused Bill Clinton of felonious gross behavior, including rape, to be his guests at the second presidential debate, and tried to seat them in his VIP box. The anger of the #MeToo movement hit The Donald hard, but accusations snared male aggressors in both parties.

The war between the sexes has always found ample battlegrounds, but now, without Hillary Clinton in the fight, Democratic women are divided over the best way to focus their anger against Trump.

One approach is to adopt the president's tactics and try to outdo him: Get in his face and get on television. That means challenging his impulsive attacks and sharing in the notoriety of his Twitter and television presence. Last week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York stood in front of Trump International Hotel & Tower in Manhattan and described it as his "shrine to greed, division and vanity." She also called him a "coward" and claims that she's got the most anti-Trump record of anyone in the Senate.

The senator, however, did not arrive with clean hands. She had been hurt by a sexual harassment claim against one of her Senate staff and for only reluctantly dismissing him. Patti Solis Doyle, manager for Clinton's 2008 campaign, said that Gillibrand's "clearly not breaking through, and she needs to do something to change that," according to Politico.

Since a president speaks with greater clout than a mere senator, and whatever a president says or does inevitably gets the most attention, the message to the ladies is to get vicious to go viral. No matter whether a man or woman is put up by Democrats to run against him, it's likely that the president will continue to set the tone.

This is politics by performance.

Clinton tried various and often contradictory approaches in her failed quest to be the first woman president, and she complained frequently that a double standard worked against her and other female candidates. In her book "What Happened," she clearly blames "sexism and misogyny" for losing what was earlier considered a slam dunk for her. "Exhibit A," she wrote, "is that the flagrantly sexist candidate won." She dismissed her own over-the-top partisanship and the way she shamed and dismissed her husband's credible accusers, exposing her own hypocrisy. A woman scorned has to play a different game in public life than in a private one.

In the two years since Clinton failed to break the glass ceiling, women in politics are clearly appealing to new standards of acceptable behavior. Trump's attacks have spawned a generation of grown-up "mean girls," who aspire to a new pecking order for popularity.

"The freshman Furies," as they are called in certain quarters, including Democratic representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York have destroyed the myth of female moral and dispositional superiority. Gone is the assumption that women cultivate a peculiar talent for cooperation and compromise to get things done. Gone, too, is the notion that women are naturally more caring, more sensitive, than men.

In the age of Trump, there's a new double standard in perceiving differences between Democratic and Republican members of the sisterhood. When Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, was favorably profiled in the CNN series "Badass Women of Washington," a compilation of stories meant to inspire, critics accused author and narrator Dana Bash of going soft, of "putting lipstick on a pig." Philippe Reines, Clinton's longtime communications adviser, even likened Conway to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister.

Feminists once cheered the tease of a male presidential candidate taking a woman as running mate. Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin thought it an honor to be asked. Democratic women today say it's a condescending question to ask a male candidate if he'll choose a woman as his running mate when so many women seek the top position. A male candidate who does that will be accused of using a woman as a prop.

Mr. Dooley, the fictional political philosopher, famously warned that "politics ain't beanbag." Mrs. Dooley might remind him today that politics ain't powder puff, either -- and neither is it, as Robert Mueller observes, Russian roulette.