On Tuesday morning, Donald Trump took a victory lap on Twitter after the defamation suit filed by Stormy Daniels, an adult film actor who says she had an affair with him, was thrown out by a federal judge. “Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer in the Great State of Texas,” Trump tweeted, adding that she was a “con.”
Michael Avenatti, the aforementioned “3rd rate lawyer,” responded in kind, saying “You are a disgusting misogynist and an embarrassment to the United States.” Daniels bit back with a tweet of her own, throwing in a mention of his allegedly unimpressive penis for good measure.
The usual outrage cycle followed: Trump says a sexist thing, Twitter users with high follow counts angrily quote retweet, racking up thousands of likes. The cable news talking heads yapped about it and we blogged about it, perpetuating a ritual that can feel cathartic and necessary, but often numbing as well. It was maybe Soledad O’Brien’s exasperated response to the pearl-clutching over Trump’s latest foray into shameless sexism that tracked most closely with my own: “My prediction: No one will care.”
Trump’s disdain toward women is well documented; it’s a meticulous catalog organized by target, temperament, and scales of fuckability. It’s his bread and butter. It’s his joie de vivre. It’s giving far too many men exactly what they want to hear. It’s safe to say that most Americans will go about their day blissfully unaware that Trump mocked Daniels’s appearance. But elsewhere, the attentive members of his base will revel in the degradation.
The Trump brand lives on retrograde sexism, whether it’s calling women ugly (Daniels), fat (multiple examples), portraying them as bumbling ditzes (Christine Blasey Ford), or vengeful liars (any woman who has accused him or his friends of sexual misconduct).
In a Slate piece about the sexual assault allegations against now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Lili Loofbourow wrote that Kavanaugh and his crew of friends practice “a toxic homosociality—that involves males wooing other males over the comedy of being cruel to women.” Trump does the same thing for the men in his base because they share a sense of resentment toward a society that is increasingly trying to take, at a minimum, women’s basic existence into account.
So Trump yuks it up, performing for them. The older set can reminisce to some bygone era when women’s comfort and agency were of less consequence, the younger set can comfort themselves in a safe space where those things, in 2018, somehow matter even less; “political correctness” is a cardinal sin and nobody cares how problematic you are. There’s room for select women too: The “mothers of sons” who see #MeToo as an attack on their precious man spawn, or the women who cheered when Trump mocked Ford at a rally earlier this month. But when it comes to the primary audience of the sexist humiliation Trump peddles, it’s mostly a man’s world.
Trump energized a base of dormant misogynists who needed validation, and they aren’t going to go away, but his cult of personality merely exacerbates a problem that is far bigger than him. A so-called blue wave in November isn’t going to change the fact that far too many men feel like they’re losing a world that they were promised, and casual cruelty toward women is a quick and easy pick-me-up. Electing a Democrat won’t get rid of the men who have risen to influence by playing on base misogyny radicalizing a new generation of budding misogynists (see, for example, the New York Times’s almost flattering write-up of Proud Boy founder Gavin McInnes). I don’t have a solution to this crisis, but I know that we need to think beyond Trump if we want to slow it down.
Misogyny has been legitimized by the most powerful man in the world, but ridding our political moment of Trump will be akin to putting a soggy band-aid on a gaping, putrid wound; laughably ineffective.