Remember when 2016 was going to be the year of the woman? The thousands of cracks in the glass ceiling? The first real shot at a female in the White House? A national agenda that might finally include things like family leave and pay equity?
Never mind the year of the woman now. Now it’s the year of the Weiner. Everywhere you turn, the nation’s future and Hillary Clinton’s campaign are being hijacked by insecure men and their compensatory behavior.
Donald Trump and his little hands and his boasts of crotch grabbing. Bill Clinton’s past, and the now-aged women with whom he once philandered.
Corey Lewandowski bruising that female Breitbart reporter on tape and then claiming it didn’t happen. Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, being shown the door – and going on to advise Trump – amid claims he had sexually harassed female employees.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich , who cheated on at least two wives, snarling that Fox News’ Megyn Kelly was “obsessed with sex” for asking whether sexual assault claims might damage Trump’s presidential prospects.
And now, days before the election, this show of force by the G-men at the Federal Bureau of Investigation who apparently really, really, really don’t want to work for a woman: emails that show – well, we’re not sure what they show and FBI boss James Comey isn’t sure, either.
But they belong to Clinton aide Huma Abedin, who is married to the disgraced yet aptly named ex-congressman Anthony Weiner, who allegedly sexted a teenager and shared Abedin’s computer, so they must be incriminating. Plus: “FBI,” “Clinton” and “Weiner,” all in the same breath! That’ll show ’er who wears the pants suits. Or something.
Is it really this traumatic to let girls into the clubhouse, guys?
This election and the bizarre acting out that has gone with it have been parsed from many angles: It’s about left-behind white workers. It’s about political polarization. It’s about a nut case taking over the Republican Party, late-stage capitalism, global terrorism, trade, trust, Twitter, reality TV.
But here at the end of a campaign that has made “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” look like a rom-com, at least one election year dynamic has been stripped to its raw essentials. If only men voted, polls consistently show, Trump would glide to the White House. I’d blame sexism, partly or even mostly, but I think it goes even deeper. It’s more like this campaign is a case study in insecurity.
First, it was Hillary Clinton’s insecurity, that tiny shard of self-doubt that so often makes otherwise strong women reflexively put their guards up, and that, in Clinton, came off as defensive and inauthentic.
Then it was the insecurity behind Trump’s narcissistic behavior – the thin skin, the bullying, the put-downs, the textbook vanity, the lies and hyperbole, the comb-over.
Then came the insecurity of the Republican Party, as Trump degraded and debased one formerly dignified primary candidate after another. And that fed the already festering insecurity of the nation’s talk radio and Fox News and alt-right junkies.
And that loop built on itself. A study in June by University of Michigan researchers Carly Wayne, Nicholas Valentino and Marzia Oceno found that the more sexist a voter’s attitudes were, the more likely they were to support Trump, especially if the voter felt that emotion that so often follows insecurity – anger.
Never mind the year of the woman. It’s the year of the Weiner.
Now, insecurity runs rampant, all because America’s next commander in chief might be a woman. Never mind that nations all over the world, from India to Great Britain, have been successfully led by females. This week, a tweet sent from the account of Texas’ agriculture commissioner and then retracted used the c-word (and I’m not talking about her surname) to refer to Clinton. The subject? A routine poll from the Pennsylvania Auto Alliance.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which has carefully followed this year’s public discourse, told me that the overt misogyny in this campaign is like nothing before it.
“The vulgarity at Trump rallies, the ‘Lock the Bitch Up’ T-shirts, the extreme language, suggesting a candidate should be put in a gas chamber – things that would have been extremely inappropriate even in 2008 don’t seem out of bounds now,” she said. “It has migrated into mainstream discourse and it is worse than it has ever been.”
My conservative friends will say this has nothing to do with sexism and anxiety about emasculation, that this is all about Hillary Clinton being a terrible person. I have yet to see any evidence beyond smoke and smear tactics, but OK. Say you don’t like her or her policies.
Ask yourself: Are tax hikes on billionaires, or more Medicaid, or paternity leave, or background checks for gun owners – are those marginal differences in the law really so heinous that we need to throw everything from the FBI to Anthony Weiner’s, er, laptop at them? Or is something stupider and more primitive happening?
Here’s a bulletin: Mars and Venus aside, grown-up women and men aren’t so different in job performance. If you were a space alien seeing Earth for the first time, you might not at a glance even be able to tell one gender from the other.
The White House won’t spontaneously combust if Clinton ends up punching the clock for the next four years at the Oval Office. Women make up 19.4 percent of Congress and 24.4 percent of state legislatures and statewide elected officials, and so far, their constituents haven’t reported their worlds ending.
What might be good, though, would be if a few more good women ran and were elected – or put in charge of campaigns or media companies or corporations or federal law enforcement organizations. Among other things, it might cut down on the sexual harassment that, as The New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported on Wednesday, remains an ongoing issue in the male-dominated realm of statehouse politics and Congress.
It shouldn’t be such a thing, sharing power. And this year of middle-aged guys going wild about that has just been exhausting. Maybe when this long, national nervous breakdown is over, their recovery can shed light on that eternal question: What do men want, anyway?