What Ailes Us All

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 11:  Roger Ailes, President of Fox News Channel attends the Hollywood Reporter celebration of 'The 35 Mo
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 11: Roger Ailes, President of Fox News Channel attends the Hollywood Reporter celebration of 'The 35 Most Powerful People in Media' at the Four Season Grill Room on April 11, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

The timing couldn't have been scripted more symbolically.

As Donald Trump was coronated in Cleveland, Roger Ailes, Emperor of Fox News, was getting dethroned. Fox, as plenty of people have observed, did more than any other operation to create the media environment which made Trumpismo possible. Usually authoritarians appoint a Minister of Propaganda after they seize power. In this case, the Fox noise-machine came first.

But before we throw a schadenfreude-fest, we should remind ourselves that Ailes was only successful at Fox because people tuned in to watch. Lots and lots of them. More than to any other news operation, and as a consequence those others started modeling themselves more and more on Fox. If the great American public had simply changed the channel the first time Bill O'Reilly showed up on Fox, Ailes would have become a footnote. We all enabled Roger Ailes.

Ailes was sacked because he is a serial sexual harasser. Years - decades? - of demeaning, insulting and doing who knows what else to women finally caught up with him. And then only because a few celebrity women with enough public clout finally said Enough!

We enabled that too. An easy, casual misogyny ran underneath everything else that defined the Fox News empire that Ailes built. It has been the background noise behind all the Foxian shrieking and hysteria. It became so familiar we hardly noticed it. Fox News put Roger Ailes's own attitude toward women on TV virtually every night. And the ratings just kept going up.

Ailes is gone now, and for his misogynist behavior will walk away with a pay-off of $40 million. Who says we don't take the degradation of women seriously?! But the misogyny that he did so much to normalize is probably not going anywhere, and certainly not for the next 3 months. The Triumph of Trump, whose rails Ailes did so much to grease, is a culmination of an anti-woman backlash that's been going on for a generation.

In 1972 Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification. By 1977 35 of the necessary 38 states had ratified it. Then it stalled, several states rescinded their ratifications and the ratification deadline for the amendment expired in 1982.

The campaign against the ERA foreshadowed the kind of political discourse that has been Fox's stock-in-trade. The simple statement in the amendment that "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex" was portrayed by its opponents as, among other outrageous untruths, making lesbianism mandatory.

By the time the ERA had died, Ronald Reagan was in the White House and the assault on women's reproductive health was in full swing. Many of the opponents of the ERA now wanted a so-called "right to life" amendment to the Constitution as a way of making abortion permanently illegal. It would also have created the bizarre legal situation where fetuses would enjoy full Constitutional protections but those born as women would not.

Some commentators have expressed shock that Trump, on his Sherman's March through the GOP, has been endorsed by a number of high-profile Christian fundamentalists. There shouldn't be any surprise at all unless you ignore the misogyny of so much religious belief. The Southern Baptists finally got around to apologizing to African Americans for the denomination's support of slavery - in 1995. Better late than never. Five years later, however, the nation's largest Protestant group reaffirmed its commitment that wives must remain subservient to their husbands. Donald Trump couldn't have said it better.

Which brings us to Cleveland. Ohio Governor John Kasich cannot stomach Trump and skipped the convention of his own party held in his own state. As governor, of course, Kasich has signed every piece of anti-choice legislation sent to him by a lunatic legislature and under his watch half the women's health centers in Ohio have been forced to close. His personal war on Ohio women has not kept pundits from calling him a "moderate" and a voice of reason in an unreasonable party.

Even as Roger Ailes was taking his $40 million fall, the crowd at the GOP convention was being whipped into a Hillary-hating frenzy. The bloodlust - the repeated chanting that she should be jailed, the casual comments about having her killed - is all out of proportion to anything Clinton has ever said or done. Violence against women usually takes place in private and behind closed doors. Trump has brought it out into the public, and Roger Ailes helped to make it acceptable.

Hillary Clinton's candidacy allows the GOP to project its misogyny onto a single woman. As the convention demonstrated it is the only thing that unites the party-cum-cult of personality. One can only hope that this woman-hating will have the reciprocal effect of uniting women on election day.

Steven Conn is the W. E. Smith Professor of History at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.