Alexandra Petri was dead-on when she called the first presidential debate “the mansplaining Olympics.” We watched as Donald Trump continuously interrupted and patronized Hillary Clinton, embodying the very essence of what it means to mansplain. He was that awful uncle everyone tries to stay away from at Thanksgiving dinner.
And it got me thinking about some other mansplaining that I’ve noticed recently.
As the country descends further and further into Trump-related madness, I’ve noticed a pattern emerge on cable news shows, whereby men on the left have decided that when it comes to female Trump supporters, mansplaining is the only way to get through to them. I’ve watched as they have interrupted, condescended to, and outright laughed in these women’s faces—and the truth is I haven’t cared. Actually, until recently, I haven’t even really noticed.
Because Donald Trump. Because misogyny and xenophobia and small hands and orange skin. Because to me, supporting this man is just so egregiously and epically wrong, that everyone who does so is more than just wrong—they’re bad people. I don’t owe these women the same support and indignation on their behalf that I owe other, more like-minded women. Trump is the devil and anyone who supports him must be at least verging on devilish, and if these idiot female talking heads are going to represent Beelzebub himself, then they deserve everything they get. And so I’ve given these men passes.
And it’s not just the men who are doing the mansplaining. I’ve seen women condescend to Trump supporters with particular vitriol, and sometimes the targets are male. (I’m often in the background cheering them on.)
But I can’t deny that I’ve noticed the Trump women on TV get excoriated and ridiculed in a special kind of way, particularly by middle-aged men who feel like, because it involves Trump, they can talk to these women—many of whom happen to be fairly attractive blondes, a subset of women that people find especially easy to dismiss—as if addressing children. Idiot children. You should be ashamed of yourself for believing what you believe. You’re not entitled to your own point of view.
And I’ve been a hypocrite—I’ve sat back and sneered, and I’ve given these men all kinds of passes that I would never give if they were talking to women supporting any other presidential candidate. I’d be enraged and completely self-righteously indignant if I saw liberal women being treated the way I’ve seen these women treated. But with Trump-supporters, I’ve barely even noticed.
We seem to have entered a world in which Trump-shaming is now acceptable—only now, instead of, “Well, what was she wearing?” we ask, “Well which candidate was she supporting?”
And the truth is, it’s about more than just the talking heads on T.V. There’s something that’s been unleashed by this election cycle—a nastiness and a hysteria that’s new, even for this country. Personally, the hatred I have for Trump makes it really hard for me to see straight. I’ve had nasty thoughts about all of the people who support him. Hillbillies. Racists. Morons. Misogynists. Every last one of them.
I don’t actually personally know a single Trump supporter.
For someone who claims to be against reducing whole swaths of people to a few simple stereotypes, that’s beginning to seem problematic to me.
Especially when I see a black veteran in Florida interviewed, who thinks the military will be stronger under Trump, and truly believes that a stronger military will mean a safer America.
Or I read about a young man in West Virginia who’s watched his state get ravaged by the opiate epidemic, and thinks that Trump’s wall will stem the tide of drugs into the country.
Misguided as I might believe those notions to be, it cannot be ignored that the reasoning behind them is more nuanced than all of those catch phrases we love to use: bigotry and xenophobia and misogyny.
I’m not suggesting that we ignore reality, which is that data shows that as compared to the other primary Republican presidential candidates, a Trump supporter is more likely to be racist. Trump has a constituency of real-life actual white nationalists, and it’s no coincidence that David Duke is making robo-calls on his behalf. I’m not suggesting we show tolerance for racism or even the candidate himself for that matter, who has proven himself to be unfit for the presidency.
What I am suggesting is that trying to pretend that this is all a simple racist/non-racist thing is overly simplistic and more importantly, not at all productive. It’s so easy—comforting really—to make this a black and white issue. When we’re scared, the last thing we want to do is appreciate nuance. It’s why we love going to the movies—the lines between good guys and bad guys are very clearly drawn, and there’s usually no confusion about who to root for.
If millions of Americans are latching on to what this megalomanic boor has to say, I’d rather put all those people in a box—or, let’s say, I don’t know, a basket—and be done with it.
If you vote for him, you’re either a racist or a moron. Unfriend me if you support Trump. It’s easier to understand that way. Cleaner. But to do that is to miss the point.
And the point is this: we all missed this one. “Oh Trump won’t last long—flash in the pan, he’ll get some good publicity but will never make it anywhere near the convention, let alone the nomination.” We all missed this one. And by dismissing Trump’s constituency as simpleton-racists, we are continuing to miss it. Because the politicians would love nothing more than for us to continue to vilify each other—then they get to keep their power without much hassle from anyone because instead of thinking for ourselves, we’re all busy writing pithy memes and calling each other names. It’s you. It’s them. It’s Other.
I’m just wondering if there might be an alternative. If, instead of engaging in unrepentant Trump-shaming, is it possible for us to consider that there’s more going on here? Is it possible that Donald Trump’s appeal can’t be adequately summed up in a few highly charged catch phrases?
Is it possible that we might try to use the ascension of Donald Trump as an opportunity to try and actually listen to each other?