If a local Trump supporters’ group is any indication, get ready for a wave of rank sexism in the presidential election — and after November as well.
Over at the number one gathering spot for Trump supporters around here, a Facebook site with more than 100,000 followers called “Washington State for Donald Trump 2016,” it’s no surprise they don’t much care for Hillary Clinton.
But what jumps out in the hundreds of posts is a particular strain of dislike.
“Life’s a bitch! Don’t elect one!” says one yard sign featured on the site.
“OLD HAG!!!” reads another post, linking to a video showing Clinton coughing during a speech.
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“This witch is killing the second amendment for sure,” reads yet another.
There’s plenty of criticism on the site of Clinton’s perceived actions in the past — she is routinely called a liar, for instance. While harsh, that strikes me as fair game in politics. But at the same time she is gratuitously labeled as “ugly,” “frail” and a “nag,” along with liberal use of the b-word and other misogynistic slurs both in the main posts and the comments.
“This page is for WA State residents to talk and keep up to date on current news, debates, rallies, and other factual Trump news,” is how the site describes itself.
This level of deep personal venom reminds me of when I traveled around Washington state in the fall of 2008, interviewing people in 18 counties about the election. Seeing as how I was standing there with a reporter’s notebook, it was startling how easily the n-word and other racist diatribes tripped from the lips of otherwise normal-seeming Washingtonians.
“I’m sorry to report I ran into surprising amounts of racism and xenophobia,” I wrote in an October 2008 column, titled “Will Obama’s race matter?”
Reviewing it now, it reads as a forecast of the unhinged politics of the past eight years. Obama, then a U.S. senator, was described to me as “not a full-fledged American,” as sympathetic to Arab terrorist groups and as illegitimate due to his background.
The question back then — “will Obama’s race matter?” — is fascinating to consider in hindsight. It clearly wasn’t a determining force in the elections, as he won two of them. But it just as clearly mattered to the world in the aftermath. For starters, the chief purveyor of the racist notion that Obama’s heritage and upbringing made him some sort of alien other has since gone on to become 2016’s Republican nominee for president.
So now the new question is: “Will Clinton’s gender matter?”
The rank sexism on display in this campaign is far more overt than the racism was in 2008. No one was openly selling “n-word” buttons at the 2008 Republican convention in St. Paul. But the b-word was proudly everywhere in Cleveland in 2016. Even the taboo c-word cropped up when one of Trump’s convention speakers took politics to a new low by tweeting it out.
Reading the posts on the Washington State for Donald Trump 2016 Facebook page, the purpose of the sexism seems the same as the racist comments against Obama. It’s to get beyond the usual political arguments, about policy or experience or governing temperament, and instead try to delegitimize the candidate entirely.
Trump has been doing this lately by questioning whether Clinton has “a presidential look.” As he said to a roomful of supporters in Cleveland this past week: “Does she look presidential, fellas? Give me a break.” This critique has nothing to do with her ideas or professional record. It’s to get the fellas of the country uneasy that yet another alien other — a she this time — might be about to take over.
My guess is that fear of a female president won’t decide the November election, just as fear of a black president didn’t defeat Obama at the ballot box. But that doesn’t mean it won’t work in the long run. The ludicrous question of whether Obama really is one of us, or not, dogs his administration to this day. It was fueled by fringe charlatans like Trump, then nurtured along for opportunistic reasons by the mainstream GOP, until the fringe and the mainstream shockingly became one.
I’m hard pressed how I’m going to explain this retrograde feature of our country to my 16-year-old daughter. But if Clinton gets elected, expect the b-word to take off like a rocket.