My students are so interested in this campaign. They have been following it — and the many ups and downs — more closely than I’ve seen in years. The third #BlogBlog of the semester comes from University of Delaware Criminal Justice and Political Science Junior Phoebe Lucas, who also is minoring in political communication. Here, she examines the importance of words regarding gender and sexual assault in the 2016 election.
What feels like ages ago, Trump was considered a joke. Yet now, on election day, nobody is laughing. Most people aren’t even batting an eye at his unprecedented, crass behavior anymore. When it becomes commonplace and even expected, why bother getting worked up at each occurrence?
Perhaps it’s because this is not a reality TV competition; we are choosing who gets access to a big red button and the national helm for four years. The game becomes about much more than the two players, and the stakes are much higher.
Samantha Bee described Trump’s language in the leaked Access Hollywood tape as “rape culture banter,” and I do not think there is a more apt way to define it. it is certainly not locker room talk. Prominent GOP leaders such as Paul Ryan, John McCain, and Mitch McConnell have chastised Trump for his words, and the RNC halted some of their efforts on the Victory campaign in response. Yet, while leadership reels, Trump’s base is brought even closer. It’s not as if gender equality or sexual assault have ever been anywhere near the GOP’s agenda, anyhow.
It is incredible how behavior that is described by psychologists as akin to that of a sexual predator is now brushed to the side as merely “lewd.” When a man running for president characterizes boasting about sexual assault as “locker room talk” and gets away with it, there is cause for concern. Yet the problem lies far outside the scope of one tape being leaked...far beyond one man’s lifetime of indiscretions. America has a rape culture that is endemic to the entire nation, not just impacting a few. Whether we are conscious of it or not, every time Donald Trump makes a sexist or bawdy comment, it only adds to that pervasive culture.
Of course, rape culture is nothing new to this election cycle. What is novel here is that a presidential candidate who possesses such influence has been caught promoting it. His base may not be paying it any mind, but undecided voters are. And so are our kids. One possible positive outcome of this vulgar, misogynistic episode is that it is confronting difficult and important topics in our schools. In a Politico piece talking to teachers about the “Trump Effect,” we see that this election has created its own lesson plan where civics, morality, and sex-ed are all on the agenda. His actions have become “teachable moments,” to say the least. While this dialogue is important to start young, it is discouraging to think of children’s political socialization as based on an election where Trump has labeled taking advantage of women as something all men can do in the privacy of a locker room. It is not difficult to understand that the seeds of rape culture are planted early.
Sure, you might think “he is just one man” or “those are just words,” as Trump has been quick to say in his defense of the tape. Yet we have seen through discussions in class and our readings that it is the candidate’s job to stay on message and promote their image. Campaigning is all about the message. There is a reason that President Obama chose his theme to be “Hope”; that Secretary Clinton chose “Stronger Together”; and even that Trump chose “Make America Great Again.” These campaign themes carry weight, and anything a candidate says or does impacts public perception and their brand as a leader. So for the GOP Presidential candidate to try and decrease the value of words he said at a youthful age of 59, and other discriminatory and inflammatory language he has said since, strikes me as paradoxical and naïve.
The constant barrage of Trump’s off-the-cuff, crude commentary has blinded us to the larger issue to which he contributes. But what is more disturbing here: Trump’s trivialization of degrading, profane language? Or how desensitized and even accepting Americans are of it? I am honestly having a tough time discerning.
Written by Phoebe Lucas, University of Delaware
Blog voted as best by her peers in Dr. Hoffman’s class