After five days of hand-wringing and soul-searching, the results are in. Smug urban liberals in their coastal bubbles never bothered to understand the suffering of America’s rural working class.
The people whom globalisation left behind, who have seen their livelihoods and economic security decimated by trade deals and what they see as uncontrolled immigration had had enough of the Washington elite telling them what to think. Hillary Clinton was the candidate of the establishment; Donald Trump the candidate of change. This was how he won.
Undoubtedly there is some truth to that analysis, more than the shell-shocked Democratic Party licking its wounds in DC would care to admit. But it is also delusional for any election post-mortem to fail to recognise the inherent and deeply troubling sexism of the 2016 presidential race.
Donald Trump gives first interview post US election win Play! 01:12
In September, Clinton was demonised for calling half of Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables”. A poor choice of words, to be sure, and hardly a winning strategy for uniting America. But look at some of those attending Trump rallies and it is hard to argue with her.
I’m not talking about people from disenfranchised rust-belt communities who were desperate enough to take a risk on anyone offering easy solutions. I’m talking about those that chanted “Lock her up” and “Hang that bitch”, who, just to be clear, advocated for the illegal imprisonment and actual execution of a woman they didn’t like. I’m talking about the people wearing shirts that read “Trump That Bitch”, “Hillary Sucks But Not Like Monica”, and “Life’s A Bitch So Don’t Vote For One”. How do you take the sexism out of that? How do you claim Clinton’s gender had nothing to do with the visceral hatred she provoked in the wearers of those shirts?
How do you claim Clinton’s gender had nothing to do with the visceral hatred she provoked in the wearers of ‘Trump That Bitch’ shirts?
It has been argued that the fact 53 percent of white women voted for Trump is proof there was nothing sexist about his victory; in fact the opposite is true. This is a man who bragged on camera about “grabbing by the pussy” women without their consent, and who had laughed about going into the dressing rooms of his beauty pageants to watch the female contestants getting naked. The number of women who have accused him of assault or harassment hit double digits two weeks before the election. That he is sexist, and quite probably a sexual predator, is not up for debate.
And yet 53 percent of white women didn’t think that was important. That tells us that this kind of misogyny has been normalised in America to such an extent that some women barely notice it. Their fathers speak like Trump, their husbands act like Trump, men on the street grab them and harass them and to them, it is normal. So when a presidential candidate reduces them to a number based on the attractiveness of their bodies, they don’t see outrageous sexism, they see business as usual. And that’s a huge problem.
Watch: Hillary Clinton’s concession speech in full Play! 13:27
Another refrain I have heard repeatedly is that Hillary Clinton was a weak candidate. Weak in what way? She was expertly up to speed on every aspect of domestic and international policy imaginable. Her campaign’s ground-game was impeccable. She produced adverts that never went negative about her opponent, but that inspired hope and engagement. Her debate performances were expertly calculated to let Trump show off his ignorances and bigotry, and they succeeded. She was harassed relentlessly about her history and her personal life, and not once did she snap or falter. What was it exactly that made her so “weak”?
Expertly up to speed on every aspect of domestic and international policy and with a ground-game which was impeccable, what was it exactly that made Hillary Clinton so “weak” a candidate?
The answer, it seems, is her “baggage”. This boils down to two main points of contention: her personal history, and her ties to the establishment. On the former, there is something deeply disturbing about Hillary Clinton’s marriage to an adulterer being conflated with Donald Trump’s multiple public infidelities and aforementioned disposition to sexual assault.
On the latter, her critics have a valid point: millions of Americans wanted change, and no one with any history in politics was going to be good enough for them. If that makes Clinton a weak candidate, every other Senator, Representative or Governor would fare equally poorly; yet she is seen as uniquely blemished.
Trump’s own baggage, meanwhile, was extensive: vengeful lawsuits, tax fraud, contempt of court, discrimination, cronyism, illegal housing and building practices, sexual harassment. He got away with all of it.
‘I don’t want her brand of feminism’: Trump voter on Clinton Play! 01:22
When it came to coverage of the campaign, every effort was made to equate the two candidates, to give Trump a free pass and to magnify Clinton’s flaws. Both Trump and Clinton were seen as equally divisive, although her campaign slogan was “Stronger Together” while he branded Mexicans rapists and proposed a ban on Muslims.
Murky connections between contributions to the Clinton Foundation and her work as Secretary of State were put under a microscope, but it took until September for anyone to figure out that Trump hadn’t paid into his own foundation for a decade, and had been using other people’s donations for his own benefit for years.
The mishandling of her e-mails was in the press every day for a year, while the several pending lawsuits against Trump never came up in interviews or debates. The self-proclaimed billionaire refused to release his tax returns, yet he was a man of the people while she was portrayed as being in Wall Street’s pocket.
None of this means that a man with Clinton’s experience and expertise would have won, not in the face of such anger and division. But the fact that Clinton was – and still is – seen as flawed, while that word is used comparatively rarely about the new president-elect is the greatest double standard of them all.
A woman must be utterly flawless to be considered for leadership. A man can be volatile, ignorant, incompetent, tempestuous, chauvinistic, rude, racist, petty and a proven liar, and still win.
And there’s a word for that. Sexism.