Friday 18 January 2019

Trump is a despicable bigot, a bully, a braggart, a sleazy, thin-skinned egoist - but he is a man

US President-elect Donald Trump addresses supporters during his election night rally in Manhattan, New York. Photo: Reuters/Mike Segar
US President-elect Donald Trump addresses supporters during his election night rally in Manhattan, New York. Photo: Reuters/Mike Segar
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

It was supposed to be a day in which history and justice aligned - where the US elected its first female president, not because she was a woman but because she was the most qualified for the job.

Instead, the 45th president of the United States will be a man. Not a noble or inspiring man, nor even a bland and mediocre man, but a despicable and venal man. A narcissist, an egoist, a bully, a braggart, a thin-skinned individual who revels in his own boorishness.

This is the kind of man the American people have chosen, eyes wide open, as the most powerful individual on the planet.

A man who openly insulted his Republican rival Carly Fiorina, wondering why voters would ever "vote for that face". A man who called Mexicans rapists and murderers and suggested banning Muslims from entering the country on the basis solely of their religion.

They heard his misogyny, they listened to his lies, they witnessed his bigotry and they voted for him anyway. Because he was better than the woman.

Hillary Clinton was not the perfect candidate. You may argue that another Democratic candidate could have had a better chance. Left-wing firebrands like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, perhaps. You may be right.

But she was better than the tawdry reality TV star whose first 100 days in office may well be occupied with a lawsuit he has promised to file against the more than 12 women who have recently accused him of sexual assault.

She was better than the preening windbag whose ego bruises so easily that he stayed up until 3am to tweet personal invective to a former beauty queen.

She was better than the political neophyte who knows so little about geopolitics that he insisted Vladimir Putin would never stray into Ukraine - even though the Russian leader had already seized Crimea.

She was better than the grasping hypocrite who argued that the working class shouldered an unfair burden in a deeply unequal society yet failed to pay his own taxes.

She. Was. Better. Than. Him.

She was more qualified, more capable, showed more grit and more stamina. She was more polished, more articulate, more adept and more prepared.

She wiped the floor with him at the debates, despite having been diagnosed with pneumonia. Other than physically knock him out, it's hard to know what else she could have done to demonstrate her dominance.

But, according to the pundits, despite being overly qualified for the job, she just wasn't likeable. People found her robotic and a bit wooden. They couldn't warm to her.

Are people looking for a president or a comfort blanket? When did likeability become the foremost qualification for the job as leader of the free world? What about experience, economic qualifications, political skill and proficiency?

Do we want the person to whom we hand the nuclear codes to be our friend, or do we want to trust them not to start Armageddon?

Do we accept that while the president may not be very cuddly, they may have other important qualities? Like, for instance, not being a maniacal demagogue whose surprise election threatens to plunge the entire planet into an existential crisis.

And how is a woman, who has spent her entire career in politics scaling razor-wire walls that have been erected by the patriarchy, supposed to communicate this sense of innate likeability without sacrificing her professionalism and competence?

While Mr Trump spent the entire campaign shrieking obscenities, racial abuse, religious slurs and personal insults, Mrs Clinton felt she had to maintain an even tone and impassive shell that betrayed no irritation or annoyance. And that is sometimes perceived as inhuman or a bit robotic.

But the focus groups tell female politicians that coming across as a bit wooden is better than having the temerity to raise your voice and being described as shrill, or hysterical or unhinged - a characterisation their careers are unlikely to survive.

So, you can't win. Even if your opponent is a loud-mouth bigot and you would love nothing more than to shout him down and shut him up. You have to remain measured and focused and then smile broadly for the cameras when you finish a sentence.

Now, before the usual suspects start wailing about 'feminazis' and 'misandry', Clinton didn't just lose because of her gender. Class issues, demographics, geography and education all come into the mix.

White voters, predominantly, secured Mr Trump the presidency, with black and Latino voters eschewing his gruesome blend of racism and sexism. Those are issues for another column.

But Mrs Clinton's long career in politics, and her undoubted membership of the establishment, doesn't explain why she lost so much ground to a man with absolutely no political experience who, opinion polls suggested, was even more reviled than her.

If the choice was between Mr Trump, described by Michael Moore as a "human Molotov cocktail", and Mrs Clinton, a bit insipid and dull, why did so many Americans opt for the experimental incendiary device?

Mr Trump, although obviously unstable and erratic, had the benefit of at least fitting the physical mould of every president that has come before him - namely, by being a man.

In contrast, there's never even been a female vice-president, much less president, in the United States' entire history.

Voters, who should have seen Mr Trump as alien and utterly unqualified for the position, instead found him the more familiar fit by virtue of his gender.

The fact that men have had a 240-year-old stranglehold on the presidency may not have been singularly determinative in the outcome of the election battle, but it certainly played a major role in Mrs Clinton's downfall.

The result is that yet another generation of young girls will have to wait even longer before seeing a woman finally smash her way through the ultimate glass ceiling.

Irish Independent

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