From now until at least the midterm elections in November, we’ll be featuring essays from powerful cultural voices alongside one simple thing, chosen by the author, that you can do to take action against the paralyzing apoplexy of the daily news. Maybe it’ll be an organization that deserves your donation; maybe it’ll be an issue that deserves greater awareness. Whatever it is, our aim is to remind you, and ourselves, of the big and small things we can do to work toward justice and change.
A Certain Grasping Quality
by Nalini Jones
I commit to take action because Donald Trump’s contempt for women makes him singularly unfit for the presidency.
No one can pretend to be surprised by Mr. Trump’s misogyny. In one of many scandals that should have ended his candidacy, we all heard him describe his approach to women: “Grab ’em by the pussy.” This boast — in the imperative, and in language both vulgar and assaultive — derives from a wholesale refusal to recognize women’s autonomy.
And we have seen the ways this personal disdain is shaping his administration’s policies. Mr. Trump has sought to end coverage for contraception, a pillar of family planning but also of women’s health. He has reinstated the global gag rule, cutting off funds to international organizations that offer abortion-related services, and thereby siphoning away billions of dollars intended to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and the Zika virus. He has called for “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions. His administration’s attacks on reproductive freedom are so broad, so frenzied, that the collateral loss of other life-saving services to women, such as cancer screenings and prenatal care, have been reduced to a kind of policy roadkill.
Women will die unnecessarily because Mr. Trump is in office. Some of their children will die, too. This is both tragic and entirely predictable, because Mr. Trump’s toxic attitude toward women took on profound, pathological implications when it became a centerpiece of his White House agenda.
Mr. Trump’s callous disregard for more than half his constituency (and arguably for the rule of law) reveals other fault lines in his capacity to lead.
“I don’t even wait,” Mr. Trump explained of his strategy for kissing women who express no interest in him. This penetrating self-analysis might also be applied to his presidential demeanor. The man who does not acknowledge the legal or moral imperative for consent has no use for our system of checks and balances, or for a considered approach with input from advisors. We are subject instead to an impulse-presidency of tweetstorms, abrupt policy shifts, and personal attacks. Among the domestic subjects of his Twitter bullying are a large swath of the Republican Congressional delegation, several reputable media outlets, the FBI and U.S. intelligence community, the Attorney General, the national security advisor, former presidents, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Golden State Warriors, “Alex” Baldwin, the widow of a fallen service member who died in action in Niger, and the Mayor of San Juan. His international discourse has ranged from the absurd to the catastrophic.
These attacks are not in the slightest presidential. They have no official context, they reflect no thoughtful policy interest, and they demonstrate no diplomatic capacity. They certainly don’t recognize the moral imperative of his office to safeguard the country, comply with legally required investigations, protect crucial freedoms of our democracy, build coalitions, or even nominally better the lives of U.S. citizens. What they resemble most closely are his longtime attacks on women: Rosie O’Donnell, Angelina Jolie, Megyn Kelly, Elizabeth Warren, Arianna Huffington, Ivana Trump, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the twenty women (so far) from whom he faces plausible allegations of sexual misconduct.
That Mr. Trump feels entitled to grab women presaged a certain grasping quality to his demeanor in office. And we have seen this president’s unlawful overreach elsewhere, most perniciously in his travel ban targeting majority-Muslim countries.
The Access Hollywood recording on which Mr. Trump made his lewd remarks about assault also augured his aspirations for limitless power. Clearly he intends to do just as he likes with no reference to other people’s rights. We have seen this authoritarian trend in his leadership. As he would treat women, so he has treated the framework of our democracy, lashing out at members of the judiciary, Congress, and his own cabinet if they dare to challenge him.
Nor does Mr. Trump feel bound by the bare minimum of what his office requires — reading policy papers, for example, to understand the complex issues facing our country. The man who rates women on a scale of one to ten (according to his pedestrian ideas of beauty), the man who decries pregnant women for weight gain or new mothers for breastfeeding, the man who gauges women’s abilities by their appearance, is a man incapable of judicious leadership. We have seen that he prefers Fox News to presidential briefings because he embraces the superficial over the substantive. We have seen, in his bizarre inability to move past campaign insults, that he is woefully one-note.
And we have heard his defense of Rob Porter, a former aide facing multiple credible allegations of domestic abuse. “We hope he has a wonderful career,” was the president’s response. “We absolutely wish him well.” A week after Mr. Porter’s resignation, Mr. Trump managed to summon the political will to announce his opposition to domestic violence. But we have seen — in the willingness of his White House to grant Mr. Porter high-level security clearance for over a year — that wife-beating does not raise red flags for this administration. We have seen Mr. Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the growing evidence of links between a history of violence against women and the evolution of mass shooters. Nor has he made any move to apply that evidence toward reasonable restrictions on the purchase of guns.
It takes blindness and cruelty to demean women routinely, but that blindness and that cruelty are seldom confined to women. We have seen further evidence of this president’s cruelty in his support of white supremacists, his remarks about “shithole countries,” his discrimination against the LGBT community, his hesitation to condemn neo-Nazis, and his immigration policies.
This is all to be expected. The man who does not respect women is a man who cannot respect much. He required crib notes to meet with victims of a school shooting because acknowledging “I hear you” was a foreign notion. He disparages people of color, or, to simplify matters, writes off whole countries. He mocks disabled people as a prelude to driving them off Medicaid. His respect musculature is so feeble that he is unable to prop up even his own promises. We can only imagine him left to slump over in a rancorous, tweeting heap.
Stormy days are coming for Mr. Trump. What he did not expect, beyond the presidency itself, are the inadvertent effects of his misogyny. Men of decency are appalled. Women are mobilizing in powerful numbers: marching, protesting, running for office.
My daughter plans to be among them. Recently she wrote a speech announcing her candidacy for President of the United States, which begins: “I have waited a long time to say this.” She’s in third grade, so it’s tempting to smile. But she is quite serious. “I am a girl. I am smart. I am persistent.” For one of her eight years, a twelfth of her life, she has been governed by a president who discounts those qualities, who discounts her. She knows that’s far too long.
Take action today:
Nalini Jones is the author of the story collection What You Call Winter.