This election is all about gender.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most macho candidate in my memory is facing the first female candidate ever.
Trump is, in many ways, the epitome of a male stereotype. He talks and doesn’t listen. He married pretty woman after pretty woman. He might have had tremendous business success, or maybe it’s all bluster. He has no prior experience and yet he still thinks he should be hired for a very complicated job over an infinitely more qualified female candidate. He has authoritarian tendencies. He doesn’t sweat the details, and his title is basically “boss”. He spent most of his early years focused on making money. As a habit, he makes no effort to avoid offending people. One of his faults as a politician is that he speaks before he thinks. And he’s a Republican.
Clinton is, in many ways, the epitome of a female stereotype. She listens a lot, and isn’t good at public speaking. She’s sensitive to the needs of minorities (and others in general). Her haters use gendered dirty words like ‘b***h’ to describe her. She has trouble getting her voice actually heard. She succeeds partly by having lots of close, loyal friends. She’s loyal to her husband to a fault. She’s detail oriented to the point of boredom, and her title is “secretary”. She spent much of her early years focused on improving education while her husband had the more notable career. As a habit, she takes pains to avoid hurting peoples’ feelings with her words. One of her faults as a politician is her privacy/secrecy. And she’s a Democrat.
Over the past 8 years we’ve had a black president who spent years living abroad as a child and with family who live in other countries. Replacing him now as figurehead of the Democratic party is a woman. Is it purely coincidence that now, of all times, an angry white man running on an angry white man’s platform should seize control of the opposition party? I would argue no.
Straight white men have seen a precipitous loss of relative prestige and power. Easier divorce and birth control. Changing gender roles. Acceptance of homosexuals. Civil rights. Ghostbusters. Transgender folks redefining male-ness itself. Hardest hit are the poorly educated. It used to be that manual labor could get you a good paying job. It used to be that the nerdy kid they gave wedgies to stayed beneath them, rather than get high tech jobs that make quadruple their salary. Women are now more likely to attend college than men. No wonder they feel that America needs to be made great again, restored to a time when they had it all. Obama and Clinton are in many ways the epitome of what they see as un-American. Trump is their perfect messenger at the perfect time.
Against them is arrayed the ‘Obama coalition’ of the ascendant: women and minorities (and now, according to the polls, most of the well educated). To them, America is better than ever.
Now here’s the problem Trump and his kind have: they’re not in the majority, and they’re in denial over it.
First of all, even though the public discourse talks about ‘women’s issues” like it’s a special interest or something that appeals to a niche part of the population, women outnumber men in this country.
Secondly, the percentage of Americans who are white is shrinking. White men make up only 31% of the population. Most of the pundits haven’t seemed to realize this. If this election were being held with an 1880 electorate, Trump would win hands down, but in 2016, the other 69% of Americans can vote, too. But a lot of Trump’s supporters, poorly educated men, feel like they’re the majority because almost all the role models (including all past presidents)they’ve grown up with have been male and white. And most of their friends are male and white. And because Obama doesn’t look like a president is supposed to (to them), in their eyes that makes him un-American.
As I’ve said before, although Trump’s supporters are the loudest (and white poorly educated men who think they should be in charge again sure can be loud, whether at rallies or on the internet), they aren’t actually a majority of people. Let’s not forget that more people voted against Trump than for him in the primaries. And more votes were cast against him than any other Republican nominee ever.
Trump won the Republican primary because millions of Republicans who hadn’t generally voted in the primary before because no Republican had spoken directly to them before leapt at the chance to vote for someone who expressed what they were angry about. And a great part of what they were angry about was that a black president could be followed by a woman president, and all the loss of prestige and power that this implied. They overwhelmed the usual sorts of Republicans who turned out for primaries previously. It’s not a coincidence that this happened in the year of Clinton; it’s a reaction by the old upper caste.
And so we have Trump, in his convention speech describing America as suffering from “one international humiliation after another”, needing to be made “great again”, and not talking specifically about problems, because men don’t talk about their problems, they suck it up and work at it. Meanwhile, in Clinton’s convention, she had groups of speakers talk about addiction and her plans to deal with the opioid epidemic. Her party described America as being better than ever but still needing improvement. How can they have such different views of America? One speaks to an “America” composed of white folks (primarily men & married women) who are struggling in today’s complicated knowledge-based economy, while the other is speaking to an “America” which is much broader. The battleground voters in this election are a) well educated white men and b) poorly educated white women.
You can also see why Clinton is gaining ground. Soldiers and veterans should be part of Trump’s base, but between John Allen’s endorsement and the Khan kerfuffle, Clinton has shown that she knows how to play offense on Trump’s base, while Trump hasn’t shown that he knows how to appeal to hers. Detail oriented Clinton snipes at another subgroup of Trump’s base by speaking directly to them. Being a talker rather than a listener, Trump doesn’t even realize what play she called, and offends part of his own base.