Eight years ago, I was the Washington correspondent for The Canadian Press when Barack Obama won his historic election.
That night in Washington, DC, it truly felt as though a new era of postracial harmony was dawning in a country with a sorrowed history of slavery, segregation, systemic racism and violence. A joyous celebration erupted in the capital as crowds of different races, ages and economic backgrounds came together.
Eight years later, the Obama legacy seems tainted and his triumphs rendered meaningless as the United States careens backward.
American voters have just elected a man who has boasted about being able to sexually assault women due to his wealth. Donald Trump has called women pigs and dogs.
He has said he’d date his own daughter if she was not related; he had no problem with radio host Howard Stern’s insistence that she was a « piece of ass.” He has denigrated women’s appearances for years, despite his own orange meringue hairdo, rotund physique and tangerine-hued fake tan.
He once called a breastfeeding mother “disgusting.” He told a “Celebrity Apprentice” participant that he bet she looked good on her knees.
Trump has suggested Mexicans are rapists and criminals and insists he’s going to build a wall to keep out illegal immigrants. He has called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
He spent years attempting to delegitimize the first African-American president by insisting he wasn’t born on US soil; Obama once correctly referred to him as a “carnival barker.”
In terms of policy on women’s issues, Trump has called for a ban on abortion and has said he’ll nominate antichoice justices to the Supreme Court.
He has pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which has allowed millions of Americans to get health insurance, including coverage for birth control at no additional cost and prenatal care.
He has said he would have preferred to shut down the federal government rather than fund Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides low-cost family planning services and cancer screenings to women. Trump once called Planned Parenthood an “abortion factory.”
And yet, women also voted for Trump. New York Magazine interviewed several of them recently; their shrugs regarding his blatant sexism were profoundly depressing. Exit polls suggested more than 40 percent of female voters cast their ballots for Trump on Tuesday night; women did not turn out for Hillary Clinton in the numbers countless polls suggested they would.
Misogyny, in men and women alike, is a hell of a drug. There’s no doubt Clinton was a flawed candidate, but she was not a fraction as flawed as her opponent. She’s devoted her life to public service, she’s highly accomplished, whip-smart, disciplined, and hard-working.
Yet, she must have been among the most thoroughly hazed candidates in US history — accused of being crooked, a criminal, too old, too tired, secretly ill, and at one point, during a televised debate, threatened with imprisonment by her bloviating opponent, should he win the election. Clinton has been charged with nothing, but cries of « lock her up! » were a common refrain at Trump rallies. That he didn’t call her a slut or a pig surprised me; we women know his type.
There is certainly an element of Brexit, American-style, in Trump’s astonishing win. It appears that white, blue-collar Americans have staged an uprising against their urban and ethnic counterparts, which is startlingly similar to the vote in the UK earlier this year to leave the European Union.
Trump won big in the blue-collar areas of key battleground states, just as the « Leave » forces in the UK handily took the regions outside of the cosmopolitan areas.
But a multimillionaire living in a gilded Fifth Avenue penthouse, convincing the majority of American voters that he is an agent for change and will promote the interests of the downtrodden? It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.
Clearly the distrust and resentment felt towards urban America, and arguably toward an ambitious woman, were bigger factors for US voters than any concerns about what a Trump White House might mean to 50 percent of the American population.
For feminist women — for our daughters and nieces and sisters — it is a devastating outcome, and it shows that the glass ceiling is still bullet-proof. It is difficult to believe that we matter, that we are not just objects frequently rated on a scale of 1 to 10 by the president-elect of the most powerful nation on Earth.
But I am an optimist at heart, a glass-half-full person. The silver lining here? We live in Canada, in a place where our Prime Minister, and prime ministers before him, value women. What hurts is that we still need men to let us in; that, too often, we do not naturally and organically have a seat at the tables of power.
We are still in a world where men fail up, whereas women are punished severely when they refuse to play the game as men dictate we should.
Here’s hoping Trump’s stunning triumph will remind all women, in North America and beyond, that complacency is poison, and now, more than ever, is the time to push hard for what we deserve.
Photo: IBL/REX/Shutterstock/Canadian Press
This article is part of The US Presidential Election special feature.
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