One of the T-shirts that popped up from time to time at Trump rallies this past year was blue; in big, goofy white font, it read, “I wish Hillary had married OJ.” It was a cheeky way of saying the wearer wished that, instead of running for president, Clinton had been stabbed four times in the neck and bashed in the head with a blunt object before her throat was slashed so deeply it nearly qualified as a decapitation.
Jokes like that abounded these last 17 months. Usually, they came straight from the mouths of elected Republicans and party functionaries. Hillary Clinton ought to be shot. She should be hung. Her head should be cut off. She needs to die in a spectacular, fiery car crash. Her face shouldn’t grace a magazine cover unless there’s a bulls eye trained on it.
Republicans – including the president-elect – publicly fantasized about the Democrat’s death in at least a dozen different ways this year.
By the time she mounted her second bid for the presidency, Clinton was almost inured to that kind of talk. As Louis C.K., a Clinton supporter, explained to Conan O’Brien a week before the election, “Hillary Clinton can take abuse. She’s been takin’ it, and takin’ it, and takin’ it. This is what’s been going on: We’ve been hazing her. We’ve been holding her down, and spittin’ in her mouth, and yellin’ at her, and she just gets up and goes, ‘Well, I just think that if children have proper health care and an education – ‘ She just keeps working!” the comic marveled.
His larger point was that Donald Trump was too thin-skinned to be president, but his positive argument for Clinton was nauseatingly appropriate in an election that became, above all else, a referendum on America’s tolerance for violence against women.
We’re used to the idea that the things politicians say matter – but this year, Donald Trump proved that idea wrong. Nothing he said had any impact on his poll numbers, up to and including his belief that he “could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
The only thing Trump said that did manage to drive his poll numbers down, he actually said in 2005. The reaction from fellow Republicans to the Access Hollywood tape on which Trump bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy” was, by this year’s standards, swift. As husbands and fathers, they were “sickened” by Trump’s “repugnant and unacceptable” comments, they said. Some even went so far as to withdraw their Trump endorsements… at least temporarily.
Republicans were scared enough to repudiate Trump because they recognized that his comments endangered a reliable Republican voting block: suburban white women. (They probably also appreciated the opportunity to reinforce a favorite power dynamic: men as the protectors and champions of the weaker sex.)
Confronted about his remarks at the next debate, Trump shrugged it off. “It’s just words, folks,” he said. Over the following weeks, though, a parade of women came forward to allege it was much more than that.
“He was like an octopus… His hands were everywhere,” Jessica Leeds said. “It was an assault.”
“I turned around, and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat,” said Natasha Stoynoff.
Kristin Anderson said Trump, a stranger she had never met, slid his hand up her skirt and touched her vagina through her underwear at nightclub.
More than a dozen other (white) women shared similar stories about the Republican nominee before Election Day. And yet, almost every one of the Republicans who denounced Trump after the Access Hollywood tape leaked ultimately came back to him. And so did white women voters – 53 percent of whom chose Trump over Clinton on Tuesday.
This election was a referendum on America’s tolerance for violence against women: the violence Republican men imagined visiting against Hillary, and the violence Trump laughed about visiting against any woman he wanted, because of his fame. And a large enough share of Americans decided they were fine with it.
The share of the country that isn’t should gird themselves for the next four years, because if the men Trump surrounded himself with throughout this campaign are any indication of the kind of people who will make up his cabinet, things are going to get a lot worse for women over the next four years.
Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was briefly charged with battery after wrenching a female reporter’s arm, and flinging her out of Trump’s way as she attempted to ask a question. That reporter’s boss, Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon, refused to back up her claim, despite video evidence. A few months later, Bannon – who was accused of abusing his ex-wife and sued by ex-employees for sexual harassment – replaced Lewandowski at the top of Trump’s campaign. Former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, fired after more than 20 women accused him of sexual harassment and misconduct this summer, also advised Trump throughout the campaign.
As a running mate, Trump chose a man who sought to limit the scope of the word “rape” to only include forcible kinds in a bid to restrict Planned Parenthood funding. Pence’s legislation failed, but it lives on in infamy on the Internet where you can watch former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin arguing, while discussing that legislation, that rape victims don’t need access to abortion because, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”
Akin’s spokesperson at that time? None other than Kellyanne Conway, the lone woman granted entree to Trump’s inner circle this year. It’s no surprise she fit right in: Conway has posited that if women “were physiologically as strong as men, rape would not exist.”
The casual misogyny embedded in these comments and jokes and “locker room talk” will impact President Trump’s policy decisions. We don’t know exactly how, yet, but we can made some guesses: He’s said he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which provides health services – including birth control without copays and domestic violence counselling – for 47 million women. He’s said he wants to see a nationwide ban on abortion reinstated. He’s said women who seek the procedure should be punished. And victims’ advocates worry (with good reason) that he’ll roll back Title IX protections against campus sexual assault too.
Trump told a lot of lies during his campaign. But the biggest had to be his frequent refrain that “no one has more respect for women” than him. He’s made it abundantly clear that he has no respect for women at all. And, apparently, the 42 percent of women who voted for him don’t either.