I’ve told this story before. It’s the one about how I volunteered for Democrats Abroad UK so that I could be at a party and celebrate the historic election of our first female President. It’s also the story of how that went horrifically sideways. But the story always ends the same. Hillary Clinton, love her or hate her, won the popular vote by 2.8 million. She should be President. It is a failure in our system that she is not President and I have gone on about that.
I keep on repeating 2.8 million for a rather important reason. 2.8 million is engraved on my heart. 2.8 million along with her win in the primaries by near 4 million votes (3,708,294 to be exact) is the proof that women candidates for office are viable. In their respective primaries Hillary Clinton won 16.9 million votes, Donald Trump won 14 million votes and Bernie Sanders, who clung on to the bitter end won 13.2 million votes. She dwarfed both of them in popular votes by almost three million and then went on to win an election rigged against her and her voters by nearly the same. The only person who has won more votes than Hillary Clinton in a Presidential Election is a certain man by the name of Barrack Obama. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Donald Trump wanted to see his birth certificate and Bernie Sanders wanted to primary him.
My point here though is that even with a male dominated media publishing article after questionable article about Hillary’s age, and constitution, and awkwardness, and nerdiness, and whatever else they could think of to throw at her, she was still immensely popular. Regardless of your personal opinion of her, you have to acknowledge that there exist many people who were at least willing to vote for her.
Now, if you’ve read my other stuff it’s probably occurred to you that I kinda love HRC. Dismiss me for that at your own peril. But this does actually go beyond her. In this case, I’m just using her as an example. Tell me, when was the last time the Democratic Party was able to win a Presidential election with a white man? When was the last time the DNC managed to actually *seat* that white man? For the first you have to go back to the year 2000 and for the second you have to go all the way back to 1997 when Bill Clinton was inaugurated for his second term. Yeah, the DNC didn’t manage to seat Hillary Clinton, but they decisively won the election with her. That’s not something they could do with a white male candidate.
And that’s actually my point. Democrats have a huge problem. If American democracy is going to survive Trump needs to be removed from office. The GOP at this time seems unwilling to back a serious primary contender so it is literally the patriotic do or die duty of the Democratic Party to nominate a candidate who can defeat Trump. That candidate cannot be male. Not only has the DNC not been able to win the Presidency with a white man for 20 years but this actually comes down to Trump himself.
Donald Trump is terrified of women. He’s great at destroying men. If it can be said that he has any skill at all, it is in successfully bullying and belittling men. But he’s never been able to make that stick with women. He’s tried. In fact he routinely says far worse things about women than he does men. Just ask Megyn Kelly, Ihran Omar, Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, Angela Merkel, and Alicia Machado to name just a few. He’s tried to bar women from management positions because he feared having to face them at a board meeting and he lives in perpetual mortal terror of Nancy Pelosi. But while his insults and innuendos and remarks tend to utterly flummox men, they have the opposite effect on women.
Women — at least politically speaking — tend to thrive after being insulted by Donald Trump even though his insults against them are consistently worse than those he levels against men. Many of these women have initially needed to hire body guards which says something about our society, but in most of these cases Trump’s insult against them resulted in an outpouring of support. Megyn Kelly is problematic but after the blood comment she went on to host her own show. Ihran Omar is also imperfect (although I am of the opinion she largely misspoke), but her political career is now experiencing a pretty healthy bump because Americans recognize how Trump has targeted her in a racist and misogynist manner. Hillary Clinton — again, love her or hate her — is giving talks and interviews and writing books and will be the most sought-after endorsement in 2020. Meanwhile, Trump suggested Ted Cruz kinda looked like the Zodiac Killer and he nearly lost his seat to O’Rourke. The most positive coverage we’ve had on Ted Cruz is in regards to his beard.
This all has to do with learned and gendered behaviors. For one, girls are taught not to let insults get to them and to not respond when provoked. This is often a survival skill. Men though, don’t really experience as much conflict growing up and are taught to fight back. Weirdly, the best policy is sort of between these two extremes. One should always try to avoid a fight be it verbal or physical, but there are times where you must and in those times you should pick your ground. That said, because men are only taught to fight and never taught strategy or avoidance they usually overextend. This in turn makes them unsympathetic to the public. They do not look strong because they were provoked by an unworthy opponent, and then because they did not choose their ground they lost the fight.
Women, on the other hand have learned to wait. This is an invaluable tactical skill particularly when dealing with someone like Trump. It forces him to overextend and in several cases up against a woman, Trump publicly defeated himself. But also, by refusing to engage, or using only a single phrase or polite word to fight, women maintain the figurative high-ground. Consider Trump’s attacks on Megyn Kelly. She was visibly disgusted with Trump, but she carried on. Her response to the remarks afterward was genuine and mature rather than acrimonious. This bought her considerable sympathy. In the debates when Trump constantly interrupted Clinton with inane remarks and sniffling she just carried on speaking. This resulted in some memorable lines including, “I’m not the puppet, you’re the puppet!” and “what a nasty woman,” as well as Carrie Fisher’s public speculation that Trump was a coke fiend. The result was that Clinton cleanly swept the debates. And all she had to do was ignore him and use his first name.
The other piece of this of course is how the public reacts to men and women respectively. The one disadvantage white men actually have is when insulted in a Trumpian manner if they fail to respond it will impinge on their masculinity. That’s weird and wrong. We should have a version of masculinity in our society that allows for considered responses, empathy, and responsibility. Men need to behave more like women. But until men start acting like women society will not respond well to them when they are targeted by someone like Trump. Conversely, while the flip side of toxic masculinity means there are a lot of misogynists quite happy to tow Trump’s line when he attacks a woman they make up a small — albeit annoyingly vocal — minority of Americans. Most Americans particularly post #MeToo are going to stand up for women being targeted by Trump or his ilk particularly if she is able to behave in a relatively dignified fashion.
Now, I cannot really underscore the importance of the #MeToo movement enough. Trump himself may have always been afraid of women, but a lot of toxic white men are finding themselves forced to answer for actions and words they never thought they’d have to defend. As recently as 2016 men thought absolutely nothing of referring to female politicians as “shrill” or women who disagreed with them as “c**ts” and sending rape and death threats to women who dared to have public discourse. Men, particularly rich white men, could reasonably expect that if they raped a woman they could shrug it off. Workplace harassment was common and men were happy to continue it because it reinforced the power structure and if women complained it would be they, not the men who faced disciplinary action or even termination. All of a sudden, post-#MeToo men suddenly had to answer for themselves. And a big part of this isn’t actually because male allies have demanded an end to sexual discrimination and harassment, but because women have started believing one another and stopped suffering in silence.
#MeToo flipped the script. Previously the idea was that rape and sexual harassment only happened when a woman was dressed inappropriately or in the wrong place or doing something wrong. In school and in church we were repeatedly taught to distance ourselves from that woman and that if it happened to us it was our shame. We were groomed to be victims. We were trained that each night there would be a woman who was raped or murdered or harassed and we’d better make sure it wasn’t us. But the issue with that and the reason #MeToo caught fire was because virtually all of us were victimized. So when that secret came out the entire structure fell apart. The deal had been that obedience and performative weakness would buy safety and that rebellion and naked strength would buy shame. But American men violated the terms of the deal. There remain women who try to take power and money by proxy, but most of us no longer have any use for faithless men.
As a little girl it took me ages to understand that there was no law against women becoming politicians or even President. And that’s because there basically were no female politicians. But now there are. And there’s going to be more. I’ve explained in a previous post why women are the only way to save our democracy. But the reason we need a female President is not just because men make poor leaders, not just because men have profited from such an unjust system for so long that many of them don’t even understand how to be people anymore, not just so little girls can expect to do great things, and not just because only a woman can beat Trump, but because there is no reason anymore to ask men to speak for us. We are now capable of speaking for ourselves.
Every time I express my support for the four major female candidates already announced in this Presidential race someone asks me, “but do you think a woman can beat Trump?” And my answer is, “I think a woman already has.” Love her or loathe her, Clinton already soundly defeated him. But let me expand. Only a woman can beat Trump. Regardless of his worst flounderings Trump always manages to hold onto the most “deplorable” of American voters. There will always be hateful people in the world. You cannot undo that. But in the America that we have the only figure with the dignity and strength to survive a campaign against Trump is the figure of a woman.