If Your Election Postmortem Ignores Racism and Misogyny, It's Probably Wrong

[Content note: this post contains descriptions of violence, as well as specific examples of racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism. Linked material may contain triggering images.]

Dear white male pundits:

I’ve been reading some of your post-election analyses, which are, uh, interesting. If I’m understanding you correctly, the Democrats are horrible elitists who ran an “establishment” candidate in a year when “the people” wanted change. And also, Democrats don’t understand the poor or people in rural areas. And also, we are mean, very mean, to poor Trump supporters, who, after all, are the ones who are going to suffer the most under Donald Trump’s presidency.

Gentlemen, I have three words for you. They are What, The, and Fuck.

In a world where the KKK newspaper endorsed Donald Trump how the do you shut your eyes to the racism undergirding his win?

In a world where “Trump That Bitch” became the favored slogan of the winning candidate’s rallies, how do you shut your eyes to the misogyny undergirding Clinton’s loss?

And don’t “yes yes sexism… BUT” me. Don’t even start. If intertwining misogyny and racism are not a key part of your analysis, then you are quite simply wrong. And we can’t afford to be wrong about this election.

Let’s start with this: Barack Obama’s election enraged America’s racists. Hate groups have proliferated since 2008.The so-called “alt” right has become ubiquitous online and in social media. They harass and attack people of color in person and in every form of social media, in vicious and terrible ways. They have been loud Trump supporters. Acting as if that has no political effect, or as if they are an irrelevant part of 2016’s political calculus, is dangerously naïve.

And those are only the most visible of the racists supporting Trump. Even if they weren’t burning crosses and wearing sheets, his voters roared in approval at his plans to break up immigrant families, oppress Muslims, and “do something about” the alleged hellholes that are black neighborhoods. Do you know what it really means when he promises to end welfare and promote gun rights? Of course you do. And so do they.

Spare me the fantasy that Bernie Sanders would have magically reached these people. Trump ran an openly anti-Semitic campaign equally full of capitalist fantasy and fervid anti-Jewish conspiracies. The only way you can imagine that an elderly Jewish socialist was going to win over Trump’s voters is if you ignore who his voters really are and what they were voting for. Having listened to Fox News for years, having bought into the bigoted fake “news” Breitbart, do you really think they were ripe for reasoned economic arguments about democratic socialism? Do you imagine for one minute that Bernie Sanders would not have been vilified in the ugliest terms as the Jew who is coming for your guns, who’s going to “give” your hard-earned money to “those people”? I won’t tread any further down the road of the awful cartoon he would have become, the horrific treatment and physical threats he would have endured, but take a look at what Trump supporters did to Jewish journalists before dismissing anti-Semitism as a key factor in Trump's campaign.

Spare me, too, the blame you’re placing on people of color for not voting enough. Really? Racist voter ID laws almost certainly played a major role in the Wisconsin results. We lost North Carolina, where Republicans bragged about keeping black people from voting. This is our first election since the 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Instead of bemoaning some alleged lack of enthusiasm from African-American citizens, how about denouncing the racism that denied so many of them the ballot?

Spare me as well the claim that Hillary Clinton was a “weak” candidate. Or rather, take a long look in the mirror and see the sexism embedded in your analysis. Hillary Clinton utterly decimated Donald Trump in three debates. She ran, overall, a smart and disciplined campaign, which produced some truly excellent videos and ads. She crisscrossed the country, campaigning hard, with a stamina and strength and vigor that many half her age would have trouble matching. She and the Democrats staged an overwhelmingly positive and uplifting party convention that showcased the diversity of the party and the country. Were there mis-steps and mistakes? To be sure. But not of the variety that doom a presidential campaign.

And yet, this lawyer-advocate, former academic, First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State was somehow less appealing than a buffoon of a man, whose only qualification—his alleged business success—is a lie and a sham. Every woman has seen this story, in our offices, in our organizations, in our lives: the eminently qualified woman passed over for a less qualified man, her every flaw nitpicked and magnified while he gets pass after pass. Don’t bother gaslighting us by saying that’s not going on here. We know.

She came with “baggage”? You mean like a foundation that does actual good in the actual world, which has been obsessed and nitpicked over, largely on the basis of right wing lies, while Trump’s joke of a charity received zero media attention? Why did major outlets only pick up on it in September? Why the obsessive coverage of her alleged crimes at State (which turned out not to be crimes) and her possible-maybe-gonna-happen kinda-pending indictment (which didn’t happen), and not of the actual fraud trial facing our president-elect over his fake university? She's "establishment"? More so than a New York (alleged) billionaire who embodies just about every kind of privilege I can think of? Who waltzed into a political party spewing nonsensical hateful garbage and walked out with its nomination, while his opponent has worked for years to build and support and sustain the Democratic Party--and still had to fight like hell for the nomination? If the double standards at work are not baked into your analysis, then you have lost the plot.

No, Hillary Clinton is not perfect. She’s said and done some unwise and even hurtful, harmful things. The very fact I have to keep saying that, more than I ever have for any male candidate, should tell you something. Hillary Clinton has “baggage” mostly because the right has been demonizing her for decades, largely because she burst onto the national scene as a woman who was unapologetic for having a career—indeed, for being her family’s main breadwinner—and for working for progressive causes all her life. Every action, every word, every dollar earned, has been scrutinized through a lens fabricated on the assumption that she is a liar and a crook. Yet her opponent, whose relationship with the truth is distant at best, and who (again) has multiple lawsuits pending over his shady business deals, was for months portrayed as amusing, maybe even lovable, in the press. Meanwhile, his followers cried out for her death, and sold disgustingly misogynistic buttons, signs, and shirts, in some cases literally portraying her as meat. (And that’s not just at Trump rallies—it’s a meme seen again and again from Republicans, and even pre-dates Trump. This is the mainstream Republican party, folks.)

All that, and still there are white male pundits contorting themselves into every possible position to argue that sexism has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton’s alleged unlikeability. This is illogical. This is wrong. This is highly dangerous.

It is dangerous because denying that misogyny is deeply embedded in American culture is exactly why we have a self-confessed sexual abuser heading for the White House. The sexism that supposedly doesn’t exist is why a man who brags about being a peeping Tom is soon to be the ultimate executor of American law. The misogyny that you refuse to fully acknowledge is why young boys and girls will soon have as their ultimate role model a man who judges women numerically on the basis of how much he wants to fuck them—and considers this an excellent topic for public conversation.

I could go on, but really.

Ah, but a majority of white women voted for Trump so there is no sexism in his victory, and we can get back to talking about how this is all Hillary’s fault…!

Nope. No. Oh HELL no.

Instead, let’s think about the fact that a majority of white women apparently have brushed off Trump’s serial abuse of women. What kind of culture do we live in where that doesn’t alarm every single woman? What kind of internalized misogyny are American women living with? As well, what kind of racism is so embedded in white culture, that white women prioritized the building walls to keep out brown people allegedly to be rapists, rather than keeping a man being sued for the rape of a child out of the White House? And hey, it’s not just white women. An even larger majority of white men are apparently perfectly okay with sexual assault.

Again: A sizeable majority of white male voters approve and affirm that Trump’s behavior is normal and acceptable.

And this is not all: I could talk about related prejudices against people’s bodies and genders that are embedded deeply in this framework. A majority of white voters in this country are also fine with mocking those with disabilities and attacking them. A majority of white voters in this country give a thumbs-up to keeping mostly nonwhite immigrants out via religious bans. A majority of white voters voted in approval of somehow undoing same sex marriage and denying trans folk the very basics of bodily safety. Let’s face it: a majority of white voters voted for hating the Other in this election.

Let it sink in. Let it all sink in.

And that brings us back to where I began: Trump voters. If you’re talking about their economic anxieties and religious beliefs, without contextualizing those things, then you don’t actually understand them. At all. You simply cannot wrench away their hatred for NAFTA from their racist claims that undocumented immigrants are taking away their rightful jobs. You cannot take their anti-abortion obsession away from the misogynistic version of Christianity that fuels it. The voters who voted against Hillary Clinton because she “kills babies” are more concerned with controlling women than in addressing the reasons that women seek out abortions. That’s misogyny. That’s the context.

Don’t tell me I don’t know them, that I’m a feminist coastal snob who just doesn’t get Trump’s America. I was born in a rural state and I live in a rural state, in a rural area. I’ve spent the vast majority of my life living in small towns and the countryside, not in cities or suburban developments. Trump voters are my students, my family, my neighbors, and yes, my genuine friends. They can be kind and generous. I truly, personally, love some of the people who voted for Trump. But my eyes are not shut to the flaws of those people, to the hateful frameworks of belief that pushed them to support him, that triumphed over their better angels. I can’t afford to ignore this, because the people who will be harmed by Trump are also my friends, families, neighbors and students. The queer folk, the immigrants, the people of color, the sexual assault survivors, the people falling into so many hated categories.

Real people. Real harm.

Trump was elected in a wave of backlash against progress of many sorts, against the reality that white able-bodied straight male Christian privilege is no longer a guarantee of power and preference in the United States. This is not incidental; it is fundamental. Those who analyze this election as if it existed outside of patriarchal white supremacy, that it all comes down to deracinated economics or ungendered media coverage, or whatever, are a danger. They are enabling the very things they ignore.

To fix a problem we must first understand it.

Listen to us. Learn from us. And then, let’s attack the hate together.

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