At the end of the Second Wave of feminism—in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s—those who held power within the Republican Party began to consciously construct a political infrastructure built on patriarchal ideals. The ideals are supposed to represent the best—and the only real–America: the white nuclear family headed by a Christian male breadwinner as the cornerstone of a just and moral society, poverty as the result of a moral failing and general lack of self-made manliness (much of it connected to race), and female sexual freedom as the downfall of man and country.
At the same time that politicians, religious leaders, and businessmen were constructing this narrative of patriarchy-as-morality, a newly deregulated media was giving the narrative an outlet, helping politicians craft their stage presence and providing endless opportunities to tell stories that uphold patriarchal beliefs—mostly in the form of sexist, racist, and homophobic stereotypes. The first politician anointed by the patriarchy-plus- technology-equals-power machine was Ronald Regan. In the years since his presidency, the narrative of backlash has become increasingly exaggerated, transparent, and vitriolic. Donald Trump—mogul, reality TV star, misogynist, racist, and outrageous attention-seeker—is the natural product of this most unnatural process.
The meme below—which falsely attributes a quote calling Republicans stupid to Trump—has been circulating on Facebook. It isn’t surprising that the quote has been widely believed to be true—Trump seems to disrespect everyone. And if he were caught disrespecting his own voters, progressives would see it as a point on our political scoreboard. But we don’t need to catch Trump calling his voters names to see a reason for progressive causes in Trump: we need only understand the machine that created him, and why.
In an article for Snopes.com, Kim LaCapria debunks the Trump Facebook meme and quote—he did not say Republicans were stupid in a People magazine interview in 1998. LaCapria’s article explores Trump’s political statements at the time: he was pursued by both Democrats and Republicans, and claimed to be both pro-choice and “liberal” on health care, but defined himself as a “pretty conservative guy.” In the 18 years since then, Trump has become a reality TV star—and the perfect spokesman for the in-your-face articulations of patriarchy that have become the norm.
Trump’s supporters aren’t stupid—they’re angry. And their anger has been consciously funneled toward “others”—women of all races and men of color. The outlets that express and funnel this anger are many, and while their faces are predominately male and white there are—and have always been—women who proudly step up to the patriarchal microphone. But only a rich white man can truly unleash all of it—truly tap into the vein of anger that runs through white working-class America and aim it, not at the rich and powerful who shape both political and corporate policy, but at other working Americans.
That’s how a patriarchy keeps itself running—and how people who hold power and don’t want to share it keep the populace distracted. Trump shows us where patriarchal beliefs—ones that we might usually keep quiet, or think of as just “the way things are,” or even hold unconsciously while consciously disavowing them—lead, when taken to their full political conclusion. And it isn’t pretty.
A recent case in point is his treatment of Megyn Kelly, and the online misogyny his treatment has encouraged and validated. In an article for the Huffington Post, Emma Gray describes the online abuse Ms. Kelly has received (Trump himself has called her a bimbo): “A Vocativ analysis of 80,000 tweets directed at Kelly’s Twitter handle over 24 hours found that the insults thrown her way were completely gendered. She was called a ‘bitch,’ a ‘dumb blonde,’ a ‘whore,’ a ‘bimbo,’ a ‘skank,’ a ‘hooker’ and a ‘cunt.’”
As Gray points out, this online treatment is fairly standard for women in the public eye, particularly those who speak out on feminist issues—Kelly’s conservative views don’t make her immune to it. That’s because she is a woman—and as Gray also points out, Trump’s campaign is built on misogyny. He is heir to Howard Stern’s rhetoric, and Rush Limbaugh’s. He’s just another exaggerated personality, speaking the patriarchal slurs that his audience have been taught are the Gospel truth, American-style. Trump’s in-your-face racism and misogyny are both a full-throated expression of patriarchal belief—the apotheosis, or pinnacle, of where the Republican narrative of backlash has been headed for the last thirty years—and a caricature of it.
Why a caricature?
Because we know where this road leads. Internment camps, if you’re Muslim. And rape, if you’re a woman. If you happen to be both—well, Trump has some really choice words for you. As your president, and your national clown. It is the extremity of his rhetoric that will be his downfall. In this period of backlash that has spanned my adult life, Americans have wanted their patriarchal beliefs served up soft, with a side of rationalization. Trump makes rationalization impossible—he’d probably dismiss it as wimpy—and in doing so, he asks us to find the root of our beliefs.
In this, perhaps he is doing us a favor: for when you get to the root of a problem, you can uproot it and fling it away. You can till the earth, and prepare it for new growth.