Sep 15, 2017
It didn't make a lot of headlines the other day when word came down that President Trump has picked two of his three U.S. attorneys for Pennsylvania -- and why would it, in a strange time of human sacrifice, mass hysteria, and cats and dogs (a.k.a. Chuck and Nancy and Donald) living together? So you probably didn't notice that -- pending confirmation -- the new top federal prosecutor for Harrisburg will be the blandly qualified David Freed. Cumberland County DA. The Republican who lost to Kathleen Kane in 2012.
A 40-something white dude.
What are the odds? Pretty darned good, actually. Since Trump replaced ex-President Barack Obama in January with -- through resignations and a batch of firings -- a chance to install new GOP-backed prosecutors from coast to coast, the White House has picked 42 new U.S. attorneys. Someone did the math and realized that 41 of the 42 are men. (If you don't have a calculator handy, that would be 97.6 percent.)
Of course, most law school grads are m... wait a minute, it turns out that a majority of law school grads -- currently 50.3 percent, in fact -- are women. And while it's true that male lawyers are still somewhat more prevalent in the pool of older candidates for a U.S. attorney opening, it's not that hard to find super-qualified female candidates. In Pittsburgh, Trump could have stayed with the acting U.S. Attorney Soo C. Song. Instead, he went with a square-jawed guy who looks almost exactly like David Freed except that his name is Scott Brady. (In comparison, about 22 percent of Obama's nominees were female.) In Trump World, "A Boy Named Sue" would seem to have a better change of becoming a U.S. attorney than a woman named Soo C. Song.
There was a time when Trump's hiring practices would have been normal -- the 1950s of Father Knows Best. What's alarming is how quickly this restoration of American patriarchy is becoming the New Normal of the 21st Century. The U.S. attorney thing is hardly an aberration. Trump is nominating women judges at less than half the rate of Obama (20 percent versus 42 percent). Just four of 23 Cabinet-level positions went to women, the worst rate since Jimmy Carter. The U.S. workforce may be 47 percent female, but women comprise just 27 percent of Trump's appointed jobs. And despite the prominence of some women in the Trump White House -- Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Dina Powell, and, ahem, the president's daughter Ivanka -- the gender pay gap there is actually double the national average.
But the numbers don't really convey the daily bombardment of microaggressions and macroagressions toward women from Mount Trumpmore. Since taking office, Trump's Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and some of her unorthodox appointees have tackled the issue of campus rape with a zeal that -- although even many liberals agree on a need for better due process on campus -- threatens to swing the pendulum further back to the dark time when sexually assaulted women were afraid to come forward. Meanwhile, Vice President Pence cast the tie-breaking vote to strip family planning money from Planned Parenthood, the Trump administration immediately cut funding for women's health programs through the UN, and it offered zero follow-through on vague 2016 promises to do something on issues such as the gender pay gap and family leave.
Women across America are shocked, shocked to see these policies coming from a president who was caught bragging in the crudest possible terms about his ability to grope women, who was then accused by more than a dozen women of making unwanted sexual advances, who made numerous lewd sexual comments about women and their bodies on The Howard Stern Show, who doesn't think fathers need to change diapers, etc., etc., etc. It's so overwhelming there's almost a tendency to say that it's just The Donald being The Donald, that when you're a star you can get away with anything. That overlooks the fact that misogyny and male entitlement were central to Trump becoming president.
I've been thinking a lot about this in terms of another debate that's been raging this week: Over whether Trump is a white supremacist. After ESPN Sportscenter host Jemele Hill called Trump "a white supremacist" on Twitter, White House press secretary Sanders called that "a fireable offense" -- a shocking First Amendment transgression for the government to urge the firing of a private citizen for criticizing the president. This came as a remarkable piece was making the rounds from arguably America's greatest public intellectual of the 21st century, Ta-Nehisi Coates, who argued that white identity was a part of Trump's election much more so than the 42 white men who came before him, that Trump is arguably "America's first white president." Writes Coates:
Replacing Obama is not enough -- Trump has made the negation of Obama's legacy the foundation of his own. And this too is whiteness. "Race is an idea, not a fact," the historian Nell Irvin Painter has written, and essential to the construct of a "white race" is the idea of not being a [n-word]. Before Barack Obama, [n-words] could be manufactured out of Sister Souljahs, Willie Hortons, and Dusky Sallys. But Donald Trump arrived in the wake of something more potent -- an entire [n-word] presidency with [n-word] health care, [n-word] climate accords, and [n-word] justice reform, all of which could be targeted for destruction or redemption, thus reifying the idea of being white. Trump truly is something new -- the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say that Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his rightful honorific -- America's first white president.
I believe that Coates -- who, not unexpectedly, has generated a good bit of controversy with his analysis -- is right on the money here, but it also begs the next question. As much as Trump and his supporters take glee in trying to nullify Obama, how much of his 2016 win was also about negating the power of the first female major-party nominee, Hillary Clinton? Why is it, exactly, that nearly a year after Trump's election victory, attendees at Trump's rallies still break into chants of "Lock her up! Lock her up!" -- because defeating a female candidate wasn't enough, that Clinton's audacity of hoping to be president needed to be crushed by depriving her of her freedom as well. Why does Trump still go to his endless pool of "Crooked Hillary" tweets every time his approval rating takes another drop? When will we acknowledge that shoddy treatment of women isn't a bug of the Trump presidency, but a key feature?
Isn't it also fair to label Trump a male supremacist, to note that America's first white president is also very much America's first male president?
The indisputable role of misogyny in Trump's election is front and center with this week's re-emergence of Clinton herself, aggressively promoting her book about the election called What Happened. My thoughts on Hillary Clinton, the politician, are complicated, and I have no interest in going back down that rabbit hole when the narcissistic despot in the Oval Office should be our only real concern right now. But I will 100 percent endorse what Clinton writes here: "Sexism and misogyny played a role in the 2016 presidential election. Exhibit A is that the flagrantly sexist candidate won. A whole lot of people listened to the tape of him bragging about sexually assaulting women, shrugged, and said, 'He still gets my vote.'" She added: "Women's advancement has set into motion vast changes that inspire intense feelings of all kinds. Some of us are exhilarated. Others feel a whole lot of rage."
Given the fact that a slim majority of white women actually voted for Trump, you can make an argument that Trump's whiteness was, at the end of the day, a bigger factor last Nov. 8 than his maleness. That said, Trump and his most rabid supporters chanting "Lock Her Up" don't even make the slightest effort to hide their misogyny, which is a deeply discouraging statement on the current state of female empowerment in this country.
Trump's open contempt for empowered women is the reason that The Resistance movement in this country -- beginning with the remarkable Women's March on Jan. 21, the first full day of the Trump presidency -- has been led by a posse of strong, irrepressible females. The ascension to the White House of a man who openly boasted about his assaults -- and the willingness of 62-plus million Americans to still vote for him even with that knowledge -- wasn't just a depressing turn of events for them, but an existential threat. If Trump is somehow removed from office before the scheduled end of his term in January 2021, I can guarantee you that women will be the ones making that happen. Because they were the first to see the risk of what all of us should acknowledge, that President Trump is a male supremacist.
© 2023 Philadelphia Inquirer
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