Donald Trump, a man who once owned beauty pageant without a talent or interview portion, has been elected President. He has surrounded himself with people who will enable and reinforce his worldview, because that’s what he’s always done. When the behavior that was acceptable within his self-constructed and insular world—pussy-grabbing, victim-insulting, daughter-caressing—went public, we first reacted with revulsion. Donald Trump is a strange person, who behaves strangely and does strange things. But after awhile, we got used to it. Everything weird about him will soon be normal and, by extension, the way it’s manifested in his cabinet will be. How did this happen so fast?
A year ago, the all-star team of creepy uncles Donald Trump rubs elbows with would have caused an uproar. Women would have taken to the streets to protest their nominations. Men who cared about women would have joined them. Congressional switchboards and email inboxes would have been flooded with constituents voicing their disgust.
But now, it seems like we’re pretending that this is normal, and it’s always been normal. It isn’t, and it hasn’t.
In a normal year, somebody like Stephen Bannon, who in 1996 was accused of abusing and threatening his wife, would have been disqualified before his name was even publicly bandied about as a possible senior White House adviser. Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder, before he ran a chain of fast food restaurants best known for their ads featuring women clad in bikinis stuffing their mouths full of greasy beef, was accused of abusing his wife in the 1980’s. Twice, the police were called to the couple’s home.
And then there’s Trump himself. If his dozen or so accusers (and Trump’s own words) are to be believed, he’s America’s porcine answer to Pepe LePew. He degrades, he grabs, he intimidates, he insults, he bullies, he dehumanizes. His ex-wife and the mother of his pride and joy Ivanka once accused him of rape. Trump has claimed that nobody has more respect for women than he does, that women are smarter than men, and yet his inner circle is so disproportionately male that it’s like the 1960’s never ended.
If you look beyond Trump, Bannon, and Puzder, you’ll find other ways the ascendant cabinet has shown its collective disdain for women. Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson presided over Exxon Mobil in 2015, when the company fought calls from shareholders to disclose information on gendered pay disparities among the company’s employees. Furthermore, Tillerson’s ExxonMobil wouldn’t release information on what percentage of its top earners were women. The company’s 13-member board contains only three women.
Of course, it’s easy to miss these little details in the resume of a candidate who is famously cozy with Vladimir Putin and runs a company that many who care about the earth find synonymous with cartoon villainy. But pay disparity and workplace sexism, to the women and families suffering from it, is hardly a little detail.
That’s why Secretary of Labor Puzder’s record as CEO of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., beyond the abuse allegations (I cannot believe I’m writing this in 2016) is especially troubling. He opposes minimum wage increases and paid sick leave for workers. Women disproportionately work low-wage jobs like the kind available at Puzder’s restaurants, and are more likely to be the sole caretaker for children. Minimum wage and labor issues might not sell a lot of Dove soap or copies of Vogue, but economic justice is as important a feminist concern as reproductive health. In a normal year, we’d be talking about this.
And speaking of reproductive health, Trump’s Health and Human Services pick Tom Price has never in 11 years as a congressman cast a single pro-choice vote.
Ben Carson, Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, this fall demanded a female MSNBC guest’s microphone be cut off so he could continue making a point about why it didn’t matter whether or not Donald Trump sexually assaulted women. In the same post-crisis press swing, he told a CNN anchor that she needed to hear more locker room talk, so the type Trump used wasn’t so shocking to her. He’s also blamed police shootings on feminism.
Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for Attorney General, wasn’t sure if grabbing somebody’s private parts without their consent constituted sexual assault as recently as October. He has also opposed reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. So did probable future HHS Secretary Tom Price, and Trump’s proposed CIA head Mike Pompeo.
When Bannon was first brought up as a possible senior adviser, opponents voiced their concerns. There was some pushback to the nomination of Sessions, albeit for his racism and not for the inherent sexism in his legislative record. But the fight’s died down. Roger Ailes, frequent sexual harassment lawsuit subject, continues to hang around Trump, subject of rumor after debunked rumor. Yesterday, former football great Jim Brown enjoyed an audience with the president-elect in Trump Tower. Brown has been accused of beating women half a dozen times. Imagine the outrage if Barack Obama had a nice friendly sit-down with Ray Rice. Picture Hillary Clinton having a friendly meeting of minds with Greg Hardy.
Now, America is either shrugging in apathy or sighing in resignation.
Maybe it’s all too much. One Bannon, or one Sessions, or one Tillerson at a time would be a manageable thing to oppose with any hope of affecting change. But now our opposition is scattered, unfocused. Maybe we’re paralyzed as a blitz of boorishness rains down all around us.
There are so many objectionable things happening all at once that it’s impossible to know which one to bat down first. It’s as though liberals returned home from a quick trip to the store only to find burglars stealing the television, a rat orgy in the bathtub, all of the pipes burst, and an army of cockroaches pouring through a brand new hole in the roof. Oh, and also, the house is on fire. It’s just: on fire. Decades of progress on issues of vital concern to women are in danger of being undone by a cabal of pink old men with archaic views. Antiquated sexism is back, baby! And we’ve decided to stand in the living room and critique the wallpaper while chuckling smugly about Kanye West.