So, you’re shocked and outraged at the latest revelation that Donald Trump said something derogatory about women? And this, you think, will be the thing that sinks his presidential campaign? That’s the vibe I’m getting from my social media feed today, and I’m over here shaking my head in disbelief.
Really, we needed this slice of tape to know how The Donald really feels about women? And now all those people who appreciate his raw and unfiltered commentary on the biggest issues in the country – who has said he doesn’t want “the blacks” handling his money, that Mexicans are rapists and that he might date his daughter if only she wasn’t his daughter – will suddenly be appalled at his tasteless statements from 10 years and decide that they just can’t vote him.
Keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better. But you couldn’t be more wrong.
First, it should come as no surprise that Trump spoke so coarsely. It didn’t surprise me, and my guess is that it didn’t surprise or shock anyone. Not really. To the contrary, I suspect it only confirmed and cemented what people already knew.
Secondly, the people who like Trump, who think he’s the right guy to be president, like him precisely because he says these things. Maybe not these things, specifically, but they like the bravado. These are people who appreciate someone who is “honest” and doesn’t bow to political correctness. In other words, the “uncovering” of this film footage does little more than boost The Donald’s street cred among those who already liked his brash approach to politics and the world.
It’s like the real life version of the movie “Campaign” – where every ridiculous action means a bump in the polls.
But let’s talk about something bigger than Donald Trump and his demeaning attitude about women. Let’s talk about the reality of this country. Let’s talk about how conversations like this take place every single day across America. They take place in middle school classrooms, high school locker rooms, business board rooms, in bars and in cars. They happen in the movies and television shows we watch. They happen everywhere. We might wish they didn’t, but they do. We’re just not used to hearing it from people running for president.
What Donald Trump said is deplorable. Anyone who has a woman in their life that they love – a wife, mother, sister, cousin, daughter, friend – would never want someone talking about her in such a manner. If I caught someone talking about my daughter this way, I’d want to kick his ass. But in this country, we don’t just tolerate such brazenness and sexual machismo, we celebrate it. We build marketing campaigns around the underlying force behind Trump’s misogynistic words. We incorporate that attitude in our entertainment, and in our economic systems. So I suggest we drop the feigned outrage that Trump would say something so awful, and start looking at some of the reasons this attitude exists in the first place.
By and large, our heroes in this country are men who take what they want with little regard for how it affects others. We love CEO’s who do whatever it takes to make a company profitable for shareholders, without considering the turmoil that might have created for the employees or the effect on the community. We train athletes to believe they are gods – to use their strength to obtain victory by any means possible. If their natural ability isn’t enough, we’ll turn a blind eye while they use steroids. If they assault someone, abuse their spouse or girlfriend, or otherwise display undesirable actions, we get the obligatory apology, maybe a suspension, and maybe the NFL will roll out a meaningless PR campaign to make it appear they’re not a huge supporter of domestic violence. But the game still goes on because the talent that player brings to the team – and the money the team gets by extension – trumps our expectations that people will treat other people with decency and respect.
The narrative of this country isn’t always one of good-hearted men, or women, who demonstrated compassion and understanding to their neighbors and friends. It’s a narrative of rugged individualism, of people who brushed aside criticism and concerns from others to rise above their peers. Our narrative is one that loves the guy who throws a big middle finger in the air and does whatever he damn well pleases. And that is why this latest bit by Trump doesn’t really matter. He might suffer a setback with a political machine that doesn’t want to be associated with Trump, but I don’t expect it will hurt him much with his supporters – which, right now, is about half of the voting public.
Despite what the Bible says the meek inheriting the earth, meek people, compassionate people, aren’t widely venerated in our movies, marketing or television. It’s the rough and tumble guy who knows how to cut through all the bullshit to get what he wants. That’s who we celebrate. That’s who we appreciate. And it is everywhere. Don’t believe me? Go look at this list of the 200 top popular culture icons of all time. A few flashes of encouragement there, but mostly rot.
Spend some time watching someone play Grand Theft Auto and tell me I’m wrong. Pick a movie, or a commercial for just about any product, and tell me it doesn’t contain some hyper-sexualized component. And maybe in a different post I’ll talk about how things like that not only objectify women, they create the expectation that men should objectify women – and any man who doesn’t isn’t really a man. Even when it comes to discussion about how to manage this country, or how to approach social services, we dismiss the notion that we should care about anything but our own self interest. We talk about “freeloaders” and “moochers” and “takers” regarding those in need, while many people aspire to the sort of person who says what he thinks and takes what he wants. All the while there’s a feeling that if people aren’t successful, it’s because they either don’t deserve or they just haven’t worked hard enough for it. In The Donald’s words, they’re “losers.”
This plays out in real life, too.
I remember a line from Brene Brown – a well known social worker who has done a great deal of research and written books on whole heartedness, shame and vulnerability. She recalls this time she was signing books after a speech, and a guy came up to her. This is what he said to her, talking about his wife and daughters who were also in attendance.
“They’d rather me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out and be vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us. And don’t tell me it’s from the guys and the coaches and the dads. Because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else.”
Across the board, we generally like people like Donald Trump, because they resemble power. And we like powerful people. They resemble the ability to get things done, to accomplish and achieve – and in America few things equal success more than obscene wealth and a wanton disregard for anyone but yourself. That is true in business, in politics, in dating and life. Sensitive or emotional men are often viewed as weak, and they are not widely portrayed or viewed as viable mates. That’s the uncomfortable truth of it. Of course, there are exceptions – and we see less and less of this attitude as time goes on. But that view isn’t yet the majority and I don’t expect it will be for some time.
But I need to be clear about something – I don’t like this idea that we have to kick the manliness out of men to create a better world. We might want more sensitive and understanding men in the world, men who are more considerate and thoughtful, but the world also needs reckless men, men who are unafraid to experiment, to be dangerous, to be physical and, even rough at times. I don’t think it serves us to shame boys for acting out the genetic predispositions of a Y chromosome any more than it serves us to raise girls who come to believe they are objects. I didn’t raise my daughter to only be a girl and I didn’t raise my son to only be a boy. I raised them to be good people, and to be themselves. Or at least I tried. And they are their own people, and good. But one is still a girl and one is still a boy. There’s no getting around that. As such, they have different interests and approaches to their environment, blended with their own personal human view of the world. I wasn’t going to fight nature on this.
I think the answer is in some balance and in a truer definition of individualism – which, to me, means we allow our children to be themselves rather than what the world expects them to be as it’s defined by expectations of gender, social status or wealth. We can – and do – raise boys who have good, caring hearts who still enjoy being boys. And we can – and do – raise girls who ignore the stereotypes and objectification of women, yet still appreciate dressing, acting or feeling like a woman. We allow their natural talents and characteristics to flourish and develop as they grow, while teaching them to care for their families, friends and communities as well as themselves. And parents who impress on their children to not be jackasses and that they never, ever want to be someone like Donald Trump, no matter how rich or famous being an asshole might make them.
When we put more emphasis on the health and well being of a community of people – men and women – and create a culture that elevates the good that people do, we might start to see a change. When the wealth in someone’s heart is more valued than their net worth, we might make progress. When we cherish the story of love and compassion as much as we cherish the story of individualism and power, things might get better.
But so long as our cultural construction tells us that the world is ours to consume, to mold, and to take in whatever form we desire, from whomever we want, we should stop acting surprised when a man who brags about sexual assault is a viable contender for the highest job in the land – and when half the country thinks that’s just fine.