Ten days until this miserable presidential election season is over — we can all hope it will be over by midnight on November 8 — and I find myself thinking about how we will pick up all of the pieces — pieces of democracy, self-respect, political and journalistic ethics, truth, justice, concern for issues that have received short-shrift in all the mud-slinging such as poverty and the chronic effects of racism that diminish the hope of equal opportunity for all Americans.
As an educator devoted to ensuring women’s educational opportunity and advancement into leadership positions in our society, I find myself particularly focused these days on the toxic treatment of women in this campaign. Two dominant themes have emerged: women as sex objects and victims of crude male misconduct; and women as demons who must be destroyed. Both threads have the same result, which is to demean women as a tool to limit their self-efficacy, and to diminish the potential of women to wield autonomous power. Both of these threads are an affront to American values of justice and equality.
What’s so appalling is not so much that Donald Trump treats women as toys for his own crude enjoyment, but rather, that a fairly large swatch of American voters do not see such behavior as absolutely disqualifying, and some actually applaud his disgusting displays of misogyny as apparently part of making America “great” again, returning to times when women were property and had no independent rights. There’s even a movement to repeal the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote!
This same primal instinct to demean and assault women in order to assert male dominance is the fuel driving so much of the shrill and often irrational rhetoric about Hillary Clinton. The fear of a powerful woman acting as an autonomous, independent agent seems to stir primordial instincts among some people, resulting in outlandish efforts to demonize the woman as a set-up to destroying her. In this environment, there’s no such thing as a fair and reasonable debate about issues, policies and principles about government; there is only raw emotion in the frenzy of hatred and destructive lashing out. (For a more cogent read on this point, see Susan Faludi, How HIllary Clinton Met Satan, in the New York Times Sunday Review, October 29, 2016)
In a less apocalyptic sense, we are witnessing the Hazing of Hillary, a concerted effort by the opposition to tear her down, break her spirit, make her run away crying from the hailstorm of body blows and vituperative claims against her. Isn’t this just politics-as-usual? No. While the rough-and-tumble of presidential politics can be quite fierce and ugly at times — and elections since this nation’s earliest contests bear this out — there is a level of personal hatred directed against Hillary Clinton in this campaign that is stunning, often irrational, and truly destructive in ways that are harmful for our system of government.
What does Hazing Hillary look like? Let’s start with Trump’s relentless use of the phrase “Crooked Hillary” throughout the campaign. We can say “sticks and stones” to overlook this childish name-calling, but in fact, the fundamental refusal to respect his opponent as fundamentally worthy underscores the tactics of diminishing women from the start. True, Trump also used demeaning diminutives against male opponents in the primaries, but those were personal insults like “little Marco.” The use of the word “crooked” against Hillary is an effort to criminalize her, which is a not-so-subtle effort to disqualify her from serious consideration as a candidate.
In one of the more embarrassing displays of venom in this campaign — embarrassing for the United States, frankly, as the world watches — at the Republican convention and during his rallies, Trump allows his crowds to keep chanting “Lock her up” with the fervor of the citizens of Salem anticipating the witch trials and hangings. His supporters at rallies wear T-shirts with the most unprintable of comments about Hillary, and some have even made homicidal statements without any restraint (See Trump Rally Speaker Fantasizes about Death of Hillary Clinton in Politico). That’s the overwhelming theme in Hillary Hazing these days — whatever the issue, she is a criminal, a witch, a demon who must be destroyed.
We can agree or disagree about Clinton’s stance on issues, about her choices in public policy, about her obviously ill-considered practice regarding the private email server. Rational disagreement is one thing. Repeatedly accusing her of criminal behavior, as Trump does at every rally, is wrong. Claiming that Congress will start impeachment proceedings against her the minute she takes office, as some Republicans have now claimed, is irrational demagoguery that not only diminishes Hillary’s accomplishment, if she is elected, but also demeans and negates the will of the majority of the electorate, making a mockery of democracy.
On Friday, FBI Director James B. Comey took Hillary Hazing one step beyond reason when he prematurely and with no apparent concrete evidence released a statement to Congress about finding more emails in an “unrelated case” that “appear to be pertinent” to the Clinton email case. Rather than respecting the election process and policies of the Justice Department about not acting in ways to interfere with the election, Comey proceeded with this statement in a way that seemed deliberately determined to blow up the election less than two weeks away.
Hillary clearly made a stupid but not criminal choice about the private email server. But her opponent has sexually harassed women, failed to pay taxes, stiffed contractors, run a fraudulent university, made racist and other appallingly degrading statements about other people. But Hillary is pilloried while her opponent is excused. After all, “It’s just locker room talk,” right?
I find myself wondering how this relentless exercise of Hazing Hillary is playing out among young women who are the future leaders of our nation. I am concerned that some women, especially those who are just starting out, will find all of this so distasteful that they will disengage from politics rather than engaging even more vigorously.
I’m interested in how Trinity students, faculty and staff view the issue of gender in this campaign, and to collect those opinions, here’s a link to a short survey to get your feedback: survey on gender in the 2016 campaign
Whatever your opinion, whomever you support, the most important thing you can do right now is VOTE!
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