PoliticsThe Trump Campaign Is Fueled by the Fear of a Female President
The Hillary hate has nothing to do with emails or America's greatness. It goes much deeper.
All summer long, through the non-stop tantrums and insults, through the seething Republican Convention (and, hey, let’s stop calling what happened in Cleveland the Republican Convention, because that is a slur to both good-hearted Republicans and anyone who actually convenes. That was a certified shitshow, and we should be calling it by its proper name, Tragicomic-Con), I kept wondering why Donald J. Trump was so orange with rage. He’s had a nice life! He should spend more time on boats. Get into luxury crabbing. Maybe buy a bay. That’ll chill you out.
More to the point, I wondered, why were his followers so drawn to that hot temper and fulminating rage? Everyone says Hillary Clinton has an “authenticity problem” and that Trump “tells it like it is,” but I’ve never believed either. Hillary’s just stiff; that’s her authentic self. I would argue that Trump’s anger is fake, but his pique is real. That we mistake his natural peevishness and easily injured pride for something endangered and fragile in us, and that he helps us to mistake it. He’s not really mad at Mexicans any more than he cares about coal miners or the future of babies—Mexico is just a dim place on the map with no Trump hotels to brag about (sad!), whose mythic size approximates his self-worth and so justifies its cartoon-rank as enemy. But, to his fans, watching him denigrate one-third of a continent has always felt so very personal. He really cares about me!
This is the trick that every great politician does, and, people, when will we stop saying that Donald Trump isn’t a politician? He’s every bit as craven a politician as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Insert Your Favorite Demagogue. A politician is someone who wants your vote. Trump’s actually a more natural politician than Hillary Clinton is.
Worse, he’s no less cynical than the “career politicians” Americans say they abhor, a man who simply grew bored with the size of his sandbox, real-estatin’ and reality-TV-makin’, and so went looking for larger conflict somewhere else. I still believe that he doesn’t really want to be president. He’s much more interested in defeating anyone who might wish for the Big Job. This is what gets him up in the morning. Defeating is everything. No wonder, according to veteran reporter Robert Draper, Trump floated a weird super-VP slot to John Kasich that would have allowed the veep to be in charge of “domestic and foreign policy.” (Also known as: the world.) The president would presumably sit back and Trumpificate.
So you’ve got a pretend non-politician who pretend-rages for the benefit of people he doesn’t care about. That’s a guaranteed recipe for success. But still, why is that blindingly attractive to so many Americans? A lot’s been said about the lily-white appeal and racial Unterton of Trump’s campaign, and that’s there. But I think something else is in the air. Something, if the country would simply lie down on a couch in front of me, I could explain in a kind and Freudian way. Straight up: fear of a gynarchy. Rule by women. It’s no coincidence that in a year when the first female president loomed as historical reality, Republicans would gravitate toward the most swaggering, insecure alpha male ever to run for higher office.
It will all be okay, I want to say. Hillary will become president, she will be capable and wise, and exert sound and prudent judgment.
Whether you love, hate, or wish to federally prosecute Hillary Clinton, your ears register it—at Trump rallies, in negative ads, in the subtext of Chris Christie’s venom, and surely soon at the debates—a strange male whine that is disproportionate to any threat. It’s the threat that comes from the imagination, the psychic kind. In that regard, the GOP convention hit a new high in lows. The withering attacks on Hillary—she was name-checked compulsively and vilified more than any candidate in modern history—were cast as dire, last-ditch attempts to regain our “security.” But the securities at new risk were all-male.
For the hardest-core Hillary haters and knee-jerkiest Trumpers, this election is not about sovereignty or national security but about something more threatening: submission. Just as many aggrieved white males couldn’t bear to submit to a black leader under Obama, causing strange, finger-pointy, That man is from Kenya! anxieties, many now can’t imagine submitting to a powerful woman, and so must conjure a she-devil worthy of their hysteria. Lock her up!, the convention crowd roared, like some chant from a witch trial.
It will all be okay, I want to say. Hillary will become president, she will be capable and wise, and exert sound and prudent judgment, all qualities Donald Trump couldn’t milk out of a vice president if you paid him. She’ll be part of our growing up, our maturing as a political culture, once we accept her. But we must submit to wisdom.