Donald Trump and the 'Woman's Card': Why Men Need to Speak Up

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton smiles as she speaks to supporters
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton smiles as she speaks to supporters during her five state primary night rally held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania , U.S., April 26, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller

I was busy watching the returns from the Northeast primaries last night. My 8-year-old son and my wife were sitting in the room, doing origami as I followed the political commentary. It was still early after the polls had closed, but the news anchor seemed excited to let us know that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton looked to be big winners.

At the mention of Donald Trump, the 8-year-old’s head popped up from his paper-folding like somebody had grabbed his hair and yanked. You see, the boy has a thing about Donald Trump -- a visceral, knee-jerk reaction, inculcated in him I suspect (I hope) because of his mother’s and my frequent grousing about the boorishness of the pompadoured one. The boy thinks Donald Trump is the anti-Christ, a delightful bit of parental brainwashing in which I take a juvenile amount of pride -- pride that is admittedly unbecoming in a properly socialized adult. (We celebrate our victories where we find them.)

Anyway, the boy also heard Hillary Clinton’s name, and he asked who we “are for again.” The world is a binary for him right now. Either/or. If he gets into a squabble with one of his siblings, unless we express full-throated support for him, he will invariably ask, “Oh, so you’re taking they’re side now?” He always wants to know who’s “versing” whom -- as in “Are the Cubs ‘versing’ the Reds tonight?”

So, last night it was, “Who is Donald Trump ‘versing?’”

I said, “Well, if things keep going the way they’re going, it’ll be Hillary Clinton.”

And I could see the confusion in his eyes. “Is she a girl?” (We apparently haven’t gotten the whole parental brainwashing thing quite perfected yet. We’re working on it. Don’t email me.)

“Yep.”

“Are we for her?” The mental gears turning in his head. (I could feel my wife looking on expectantly to see what I’d say.)

I said, “I think she’s the best political candidate. Yes.” [1]

But the biggest reason I named Hillary Clinton as my favorite over Donald Trump had less to do with offering political commentary for my son’s benefit (which he probably will have forgotten by the time this comes out) than to have him hear a man say that a woman is the best. Obviously, I haven’t done it enough to sink in.

We’ve tried to instill that sense of equality in our kids from the time they were infants. But the world being what it is, we know they’re inundated by a counter-narrative every day that reinforces women (and a lot of other people) as inferior. This point was driven home to me later in the evening by none other than Donald Trump himself.

After Mr. Trump had a moment to absorb his impressive victory in five states, he took the opportunity to consider his probable general election opponent. “If Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5% of the vote,” he said. “The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card and the beautiful thing is, women don’t like her.”

That she’s been Secretary of State, a Senator, First Lady, etc., is irrelevant, because the only thing she’s got going for her “ is the woman’s card.” That’s the message my 8-year-old, all efforts on our part to the contrary notwithstanding, has gotten. Distilled to its essence, the message is: All you need to know about Hillary Clinton is that she’s a woman -- and being a woman is never enough if there’s a male alternative.

I suspect that this is precisely the “America” Donald Trump wants to return to “again” to “make it great,” the one where women occupy subordinate, largely decorative positions -- because “that’s all they really have going for them.”

Donald Trump is appealing to a constituency made up of insecure white males who believe with everything they can muster that the world was a much better place when women (or you could substitute Latinx, African Americans, LGBTQ folks, poor people, etc.) knew just where they belonged in the hierarchy of importance.

Moreover, Mr. Trump also appeals to disaffected white evangelicals who are certain that any world where women aren’t viewed as submissive partners and LGBTQ people have the same rights they do should be experienced as a departure from Eden.

America was great, according to Donald and his disciples, when the binary prevailed, when the folks in charge knew instinctively who they were “versing,” and therefore knew self-evidently who ought to be counted as winners, and who (with exacting specificity) were obviously losers.

But the problem is, that binary (if it ever did) doesn’t work anymore. We don’t live in a world where middle class white guys enjoy the same deference they did fifty years ago, a world in which “everyone knows” women are inferior. And this truth should be embraced . . . especially by Christians.

Because those of us who claim to follow Jesus dream of a different world from the one Donald and his minions want to “make great again.” And we know it in it’s absence, just as surely as we will know it when it arrives.

We know that the world we long for will be present when we stop trying to provide incentives to rich people by giving them more money (tax cuts), while trying to provide incentives to poor people by taking money away from them (social program cuts).

We know the beloved community will have won the day when African Americans populate the criminal justice system in numbers proportional to their demographic presence, and young black men are free to walk the streets without fear that their skin color is an invitation to suspicion and violence.

We know we will be the people we long in the deepest parts of ourselves to be -- generous and kind -- when immigrants and refugees think first of our hospitality, rather than our intolerance and fear.

We know that the peaceable kingdom will be evident when whom one loves or where one pees is no longer a platform for publicly religious outrage, but a simple matter of everyday life.

And despite the vestigial remnant of knuckle-draggers among us, we know that the world will be a better place when 8-year-olds know instinctively that women are just as likely as their male opponents to be the best candidate, because the men in their lives make it a point to tell them.

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  1. 1. Let me be clear: I love Bernie Sanders. His vision of the world much more closely resembles my own than any other candidate running. I just happen to think that given the political realities of the world we presently inhabit, his chances of realizing the revolution he and I both think is necessary are negligible. Again, don’t email me.  ↩