The Donald Trump campaign for the US presidency represents one of the fastest ascents by an outsider to secure the nomination of either of the two dominant American political parties. His fall might be just as record-breaking. Trump has been known for years for his candid, off-the-cuff remarks about women that frequently bordered on misogyny: “Fat. Pig. Dog. Slob. Disgusting animal” were some of his milder descriptions of them. Most of the objectionable comments were based on his objectification of women.
But when a video of a conversation that was inadvertently recorded on an open mike had him describing – using the “f” word – how he wanted to have sex with a married woman and “grabbing (women) by the p—-“, it became too much for many of the leaders of the Republican Party. While the numbers are still rising, at this time at least two dozen Republican Congressmen, Senators, past presidential candidates, and Governors have denounced him and demanded he step down. Trump bluntly refused to do so after going on air to offer an apology.
With less than a month to the elections, the question on everyone’s lips is whether Trump has fatally wounded his chances of acceding to the presidency. This newspaper predicted even before the end of the nomination “primaries” that Trump would go all the way. It is, therefore, apropos to examine the bases of Trump’s popularity to discern whether his latest outburst would turn away his supporters as much as it did the top leadership of the Republicans. At this time, most in the media believe it would.
Trump’s attraction, we pointed out, came out of his articulating fears in a huge segment of the American populace based on two intertwined ideological strands – nativism and American exceptionalism. Would his extreme objectification of women alienate many of those supporters? While the jury is obviously out, it is quite likely that as has occurred so many times, the “pundits” in the American media might be wrong.
Neither the nativists blaming the ailments of their country on immigrants nor the demand of American exceptionalism for their leader to “get tough” with even America’s allies has been satisfied by Hillary Clinton. But there is a need to go beyond the politically correct denunciation of Trump’s attitude towards women and appreciate that it is part and parcel of how the ideal American “macho” image is defined, as part and parcel of American exceptionalism. No one has yet written off Trump for his statements on Mexicans or Muslims and on women, the envelope was just pushed a little further than before.
Very revealingly, while Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “I am sickened by what I heard today. Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified”, he did not retract his endorsement of Trump. The issue is whether women in America are actually “championed and revered” or simply given lip service. And to this end, Trump’s own words in the video explaining how he was able to get away with his lewd and crude behaviour over the years is stark: “when you’re a star, they let you do it”.
And while Trump said that while he was just a “reality show” star, history has shown that political power creates just as much a “star” quality with its presumed power as a sexual aphrodisiac. While he might have been much more discreet about his womanising, for instance John F Kennedy’s, who is seen as the model of the modern, suave and collected US president, indiscretions are now very well known, even though he was married with two children whom he trotted out regularly to prove what a “family man” he was. The crudity of his successor, Lyndon B Johnson is also well known, while not surprisingly, Trump has finally honed in on the indiscretions of Bill Clinton.
It is very likely that this is another storm that Trump will ride out.