Donald Trump and the Validity Prism

[Content Note: Privilege.]

I just finished watching the latest of the rambling monologues that Donald Trump calls speeches. (Hey, somebody has to do it.) He was off-Teleprompter, so it was the usual impenetrable amalgam of insults, garbage words, and waving his arms around like he's a windmill fashioned from gummi worms.

There was nothing new to report, really—unless you believe that his saying one thing ("I'm all for free trade!") and then immediately saying the diametrical opposite ("Our trade policies are killing us!") is newsworthy. Which I guess it might be if you haven't been paying attention at all for the last year.

As I was listening to the same word salad as usual, I noted once again how often he spins yarns about the many, many people who have told him many, many different things about how tremendous his campaign is; how impressive his crowds are; how he's the most popular, the best, the greatest, the smartest, the only one who is saying this thing and the only one who has the intelligence or strength or bravery to do that thing.

It is well-observed that his superlative-laden tales are evidence of a man who is, in truth, deeply insecure. Not widely noted, however, is that fact that his being allowed to get away with this self-serving and unsubstantiable arglebargle in his every turn at the podium is a function of his male privilege.

He is held to a completely different standard from that to which women are held. I don't just mean Hillary Clinton; I mean all women.

Reports of our lived experiences are treated as something on which any man can be an arbiter; upon hearing the details of our lives, men are invited by their privilege to scrutinize those details through the prism of their own experiences. If it fails to perfectly align with their perception of the world, then we are denied our claim.

Trump, on the other hand, gets to say whatever he wants—about the world, and the news, and the media who produce the news—and, as long as he couches it in "people have told me" or "many people say," he gets away with it. Even with the entire world watching.

And, at this point, we're so inured to his vainglorious braggadocio framed as the observations of unidentified strangers, no one even bothers to call it out. He isn't called a liar, or a serial exaggerator, or a candidate with a dubious relationship to the truth. Not regarding his recitations of compliments, anyway. Sure, he's called a braggart, but he's not called dishonest.

No one ever makes a serious attempt to hold him accountable for these fairy tales. No one ever asks: "Who said that, exactly? Can you give us one name of the many, many people who told you that thing?"

The self-aggrandizing anecdotes with which he peppers his speeches are manifestly absurd on their face, and most of them are completely unverifiable. The standard of evidence is nil.

If, however, I tweet something about my own lived experiences as a woman, it is immediately subjected to rigorous evaluation by people whose identities give them no possible insight into my personal experiences of the world. I am denied the right to be an authority on my own life. I am asked to provide evidence of my own perception. I am asked for scientific studies that verify my claims.

This dynamic is so routine that when I coined a term for it—validity prism—most women (and other marginalized people) who saw it reflexively understood precisely what I meant. After all, we've all spent our lives being audited by people whose privilege we don't share, who find our perceptions of the world wanting.

But Trump. Well. Trump gets to say whatever he pleases about his perception of the world—and his place in it—without his integrity being questioned. If he proclaims that many people have told him that he's the most popular Republican presidential candidate ever, there is no clamoring demand for proof of these "many people."

To the contrary, if someone happens to have the temerity to suggest that maybe he's just making up a bunch of self-flattering crap and attributing it to other people, the reflexive pushback is: Well, someone probably told him that.

His outrageous claims are never in question. He is always given the benefit of the doubt.

This is invisible gender bias. He benefits from this good will, despite having done absolutely nothing to deserve it, in a way that no woman—including and perhaps especially Hillary Clinton—ever would.

It's dismissed as "Trump just being Trump," but it's more than that. It's Trump being the beneficiary of a privilege that is denied to half the population, who is instead asked to provide scientific evidence to justify our own observations about our own lives.

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