Trumped-up Moral Outrage about Misogyny

10/09/2016 05:03 pm ET Updated Oct 09, 2016

The question everyone is asking is, why was this the decisive blow? He's said and done things at least as morally bad, throughout the course of his campaign. And, even if we restrict the domain of iniquity to misogynist offenses — seeing as many a white supremacist loves their mothers, whereas Muslims and Mexicans remain perpetually othered — we've known Trump was a misogynist for the duration as well. His remarks about Megyn Kelly, Rosie O'Donnell, Carly Fiorina, Alicia Machado, and let's not forget Hillary Clinton, whose use of the restroom during a debate commercial break in December was "too disgusting to talk about" (though Trump raised the subject), have all been forgiven or conveniently forgotten. In truth, such misogyny has been a selling point with many of Trump's fans, in evincing his total shamelessness. For Americans tired of so-called political correctness, especially men caught between silence and shame when it comes to gendered derogations and their thoughts about women's bodies, watching Trump vent his vile spleen without so much as the risk of subsequent embarrassment, must have been a cathartic if not emboldening sight.

So, why not this time? What made the difference to people's reactions?

Part of the answer is that sexual assault matters even to many of the men who have the least enlightened views of women imaginable. If you see women as men's property, you don't want to have them tarnished, besmirched, potentially ruined, by the touch of another. Historically, rape has been a property crime, with the raped woman's husband or father understood as the real victim. He is the dispossessed one; she is merely damaged.

Another part of it, as many have pointed out, is that it was finally impossible to deny the sexual assaults Trump has committed -- as well as, plausibly, outright rape in several cases -- by denying or ignoring what women actually say. There being no reliance on women's testimony here was a tremendous advantage -- or disadvantage, I suppose, depending on how you look at it.

But another aspect of it, I believe, which Adam Gopnik here comes the closest to putting his finger on of any commentator I've read so far, is the sheer strangeness of Trump's remarks, their disgusting, creepy, awkward, skin-crawling, quality. "Visceral" is the word that more than one author has used; "sickening," said Paul Ryan. And this not so much because of the acts described -- which one will know are an everyday occurrence if one is attuned to and prepared to believe women's word about their experiences -- but, rather, because of the language Trump used, for which he subsequently apologized. “"I moved on her like a bitch!” Is that even an idiom?" Gopnik wonders. I had a similar question regarding the already infamous "pussy" remark. (As in, "Grab them by the p----.") Gopnik thinks the former makes Trump sound like a non-native English speaker. I found myself with a ludicrous image of the latter words being scripted for an alien sexual (or, as the case may be, asexual) being in a movie where it had to pose as a red-blooded American man. Men talk about grabbing breasts, tits, and cocks too, as applicable. But pussies? I'm doubtful, and so were my informants.

Men do sexually assault women in this way, to be sure. But do they conceive of themselves as doing so? (Often, sexual assault involves not just overriding the victim’s will, but mentally rewriting it. “You like that, don’t you.” Not a question.) And even if the assailants do inwardly admit it, do they boast of it in quite so brazen a manner with others? Do they pause to think about popping tic tacs prior to kissing their victims non-consensually the moment beforehand? How considerate for one so rapey.

Then there are the echoes of other phrases audible in this one. ("I punched him right in the face" and "I fucked her right in the pussy," lately popular among pro hecklers of female journalists and sportscasters.) All told, and at the risk of giving a close reading of some of the least literate remarks in history, the effect is inauthentic. It doesn't quite add up, somehow. Trump sounded off, gross, creepy.

Forget why that might be. (Impressing another man, as Gopnik conjectures? Overcompensating for who knows what felt inadequacy of appetite or ability with regards to follow-through? Forget the evidence with respect to the latter hypothesis — as well as other oddly performative sexual behaviors on Trump’s part.) Let's focus on what that means regarding the public outcry.

Nothing good, I'm afraid, insofar as it raises the following question: are Republicans finally rejecting Trump for his misogyny as such, or rather for being kind of disgusting, in a way which just so happened to be misogyny? The misogyny has of course been instrumentally useful for Republicans to harp on, since it gives them an easy out via moralistic outrage and the usual veneer of paternalism. (What about the women?) But I suspect it was the peculiar phraseology, creepy boastfulness, and all-around social awkwardness that probably bothered them more than anything — certainly more than what Trump actually does to women, which they had ample evidence of already. They still don’t give a flying proverbial about women as people, each one an individual with a mind, will, and body that belongs to her and no-one else. So Trump may be ousted as a misogynist in name only. And if Pence does succeed him, our prospects are no better.

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