Tag Archives: sexism

Who’s Driving?

“Who’s driving?” is actually a very scary question.

The New Republic recently ran a first-person account of a Trump rally, written by a creative writing professor who attended out of curiosity. His report on the event–what he heard from attendees and from those hawking paraphernalia–was deeply disturbing, and gave rise to a “chicken and egg” question: Did The Donald create the angry, mean-spirited crowd at that rally? Or did their seething hostility to the various “others” who are his targets create an opening for Trump or someone like him?

This campaign, whose success has long been attributed to the forgotten working and middle classes, the so-called Silent Majority, has been, and always will be, an unholy alliance between the Hateful and the Privileged, the former always on a never-ending search for new venues for their poison and the latter enjoying, for the first time since Reagan’s ’80s, an opportunity to get out and step on some necks in public.

I considered the odd pairing and its implications as I left the lot and turned onto Coliseum Boulevard. Trump can be defeated, and most likely he will be, but elections cannot cure this disease. It’s always been here and perhaps it always will be. Trump’s narcissistic quest to “Make America Great Again” has only drawn the insects to the surface, and there’s plenty of room to wonder whether he’s driving the movement or if it’s driving him.

It is sobering and very depressing to realize that a substantial percentage of Americans reject what really does make America great: our willingness to treat our neighbors as valued fellow-citizens, whether or not they look, pray or love the same way we do. Diversity, inclusion, civic equality….those are the aspects of American culture that most of us (or so I hope) value and embrace.

Of course, America’s commitment to inclusion and equality has always been as fragile as it is laudable.

If you  click through and read Professor Sexton’s article–fittingly titled “American Horror Story”–you enter an America very different from the “can do” nation that has long taken pride in welcoming “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The people cheering for Trump aren’t welcoming huddled masses, and they aren’t looking for solutions to America’s problems; they are looking for someone to blame for whatever has gone wrong in their lives.

Trump’s supporters are attracted to his nativism and bluster, his ability to reassure them that whatever “it” is, it isn’t their fault. His appeal lies in his ability to focus their discontents and direct their animosities outward: toward Mexicans or Muslims or women or immigrants. His supporters find his utter ignorance reassuring–there’s no need to know all that mumbo-jumbo about policy and the Constitution and how government works. Just know how to wheel and deal and screw the other guy.

If the nature of his appeal is obvious, the number of voters who will respond to that appeal is not. Less obvious still is an answer to the question posed by the shaken professor who attended the rally: is Trump a cause or an effect? Is he driving this current “know nothing” eruption, or has an increase in nativism and resentment created Trumpism?

And most worrisome of all: how widespread is the Trumpian conviction that making America “great” requires making Americans white and Christian?

 

Sexism and Public Life

I’ll begin this post with a confession: I’ve never been a Hillary Clinton fan. Unlike the “Hillary haters,” I don’t have a major grievance (real or imagined); I just haven’t been inspired by her. I will absolutely vote for her in November (a vote for Trump is unthinkable, and a vote for a third party is effectively a vote for Trump), but I haven’t been an enthusiast.

I’ve been thinking about that, believe it or not, because I keep remembering two jokes my Jewish mother used to tell.

The first was about the elderly woman who went into a kosher butcher shop and inspected a chicken. She smelled under both wings, both drumsticks, and sniffed in the cavity, after which she held the bird up and said “Butcher, this bird stinks!”

To which he replied, “Madam, could you pass that test?”

How many of us would appear unblemished if for 25+ years, virtually every aspect of our lives had been publicized, scrutinized and subjected to public debate? How scandalous or mendacious would even our innocent blunders look–especially to political adversaries gleefully jumping on every misstep and interpreting them in the most sinister way possible?

So why has Hillary Clinton generated a degree of animus and scrutiny that has vastly exceeded that experienced by most male politicians?

On that question, my mother’s second joke may–or may not– be instructive. It involved an elevator operator at the Chicago Merchandise Mart. (Yes, that used to be a real job.) There was a radio station atop the Mart, and one day, a man got on the elevator and, stuttering badly, asked for the top floor. He was the only one on the elevator, and the operator asked why he was visiting the station. The reply: “The-the-they have a-a-a opening for an an-an-anouncer.”

As luck would have it, an hour later, the same man was again the only passenger on the same elevator coming down, and the operator couldn’t resist asking how the interview had gone. “T-t-terrible,” the man replied. “The-the-they hate Jews.”

My mother’s reason for telling that particular story was cautionary: members of disfavored groups should avoid the temptation to blame our failures on prejudice. We are responsible for most of our own disappointments, and we need to take responsibility for our personal deficits. It was a profound–and I think important–lesson, and together with her insistence that women could do anything we wanted, it inculcated in me a reluctance to attribute criticisms to sexism or anti-Semitism.

But after watching 7 years of ridiculous and unprecedented attacks on a black President –and seeing the wildly contradictory and vicious attacks on Hillary Clinton– I have to conclude that racism and sexism explain a lot.

A recent column in Market Watch, of all places, was eye-opening. Titled “All the Terrible Things Hillary Clinton has Done–in One Big List,” it began

Am I supposed to hate Hillary Rodham Clinton because she’s too left-wing, or too right-wing? Because she’s too feminist, or not feminist enough? Because she’s too clever a politician, or too clumsy?

Am I supposed to be mad that she gave speeches to rich bankers, or that she charged them too much money?

I’m up here in New Hampshire watching her talk to a group of supporters, and I realized that I have been following this woman’s career for more than half my life. No, not just my adult life: the whole shebang. She came onto the national scene when I was a young man.

And for all that time, there has been a deafening chorus of critics telling me that she’s just the most wicked, evil, Machiavellian, nefarious individual in American history. She has “the soul of an East German border guard,” in the words of that nice Grover Norquist. She’s a “bitch,” in the words of that nice Newt Gingrich. She’s a “dragon lady.” She’s “Elena Ceaușescu.” She’s “the Lady Macbeth of Little Rock.”

Long before “Benghazi” and her email server, there was “Whitewater” and “the Rose Law Firm” and “Vince Foster.” For those of us following her, we were promised scandal after scandal after scandal. And if no actual evidence ever turned up, well, that just proved how deviously clever she was.

The article went on to list all of the various accusations, many of them contradictory or patently ridiculous. I encourage you to click through and read the whole thing.

Hillary Clinton has been the subject of more intensive investigations (conducted by people absolutely salivating to find something ) than anyone I can think of. Either she hasn’t been guilty of whatever the accusations were, or we have the most inept investigators in the world.

Does that mean she hasn’t been guilty of clumsy lies, poor decisions, tone-deaf pronouncements? Of course not. She’s no saint. But it’s hard to escape the conclusion that a man who’d made identical mistakes and had identical personal defects would have been subjected to far less vilification.

Sometimes, the problem is prejudice.

 

THAT Explains It….

I’ve never been able to understand the hysteria of Obamacare’s opponents.

I certainly “get” political disputes, policy disagreements, differing approaches to economic analysis…but the mean-spiritedness, the over-the-top vitriol, the consistent lies about what the law does and how it works, and the ongoing contrived legal attacks motivated solely by a desire to deny poorer Americans access to medical care have astonished me.

From whence the paranoia?

A recent story at Talking Points Memo may provide an answer.

In case the situation with the latest Obamacare lawsuit, King v. Burwell, wasn’t surreal enough, along comes the anti-Obamacare lawyer Michael Carvin, and some of his, um, more colorful ideas about why the Affordable Care Act is bad law. Trying to contrast the ACA with the constitution, Carvin characterized the ACA as “a statute that was written three years ago, not by dead white men but by living white women and minorities.”

It’s startling to see an Obamacare opponent so bluntly characterize efforts to destroy the law as a way to preserve white male privilege in this way, much less taking it so far as to suggest the privileges of dead white men count for more than the needs of living women and people of color. But it shouldn’t be. The race- and-gender-based opposition to the ACA has been baked into the fight against it from the beginning, when the bill was very nearly derailed by opponents claiming that it would somehow override federal bans on funding abortion.

Since then, though rarely with as much directness as Carvin, the conservative fight against Obamacare has been about needling the gender- and race-based resentments of the conservative base in an effort to demonize Democratic efforts to create universal health care.

….

Social science, as Paul Waldman showed in the Washington Post last May, bears this out: Attitudes about race and about the ACA are tightly interwoven. Research has shown that negative attitudes about black people increase hostility to health care reform, that opinions about health care reform polarized by racial attitudes after Obama’s election, and that nativist attitudes predicted hostility to health care reform. Research has found that white people with high racial resentment, regardless of their opinion on Obama, view health care reform as a giveaway to lazy black people. You can see why people don’t say these things out loud in public, but the eyebrow-wriggling and hinting has been strong throughout this debate.

The gender-baiting, in contrast, has been way more explicit. Ever since the HHS announced that contraception would be covered as co-pay-free preventive service, conservative media has gleefully portrayed the ACA as a program to give hot young sluts an opportunity to screw on the public dime, an argument that managed to get this narrow provision all the way to the Supreme Court. Never mind that young women with private insurance are no more on the public dime than any other people who have private health insurance. The idea that sexy young things are having fun without you but making you pay for it has been just too provocative for conservative pundits to let facts get in the way.

I’d love to reject this thesis, but its explanatory power is too persuasive.