Trump may be helping to widen gender gap in American politics
The president makes Kanye West feel like Superman. But is their overt show of masculinity ostracising our super women?
Kanye West’s visit to the Oval Office, under the auspices of criminal justice reform and gun violence in his home town of Chicago, did not appear to achieve anything substantive.
But a rambling press conference, in which a MAGA-hatted West offered a nine-minute monologue featuring talk of hydrogen airplanes and the problem of illegal guns in his home town, and professed his love for Donald Trump, presented a window into the gender gap in US politics. A gap that is widening, and that may have significant consequences for the balance of power in the US after the midterm elections on November 6.
West explained to the president that ‘‘There’s times where, you know, it’s something about, you know, I love Hillary. I love everyone, right? But the campaign ‘I’m with her’ just didn’t make me feel as a guy, that didn’t get to see my Dad all the time, like a guy that could play catch with his son. It was something about when I put this hat on, it made me feel like Superman. You made a Superman. That’s my favourite super hero. And you made a Superman cape for me’’.
Did the Trump campaign have an overtly masculine appeal? Are the president’s values and behaviour driving a gender gap in politics? Probably.
The president’s ‘‘toughness’’ (real or imagined) underpinned his rise to reality TV stardom, his campaign and his presidency.
He is the ruthless billionaire who told failed apprentices they were fired. He is the candidate who told police assembled in Long Island to rough up arrestees, and who has led jubilant rally attendees in ‘‘Lock her up!’’ chants. He is the president who told us that the world is laughing at America and decided to get tough on the southern border, with our allies, and with a nuclear North Korea.
Notably, one year into the #MeToo movement, he has taken the side of the accused, telling a crowd in Pennsylvania this week that political correctness meant he couldn’t speak his mind, and that it is ‘‘a very scary time for young men in America’’.
West told Trump in the Oval Office that the president was on his ‘‘hero’s journey’’. He may have offered more insight than than he imagined.
Men, specifically white men, carried Trump into office – he garnered an incredible 72 per cent of the non-university-educated white male vote, and 54 per cent of the university-educated white male vote.
That said, the midterms are a referendum on the president. And women are fleeing the Republican Party. Since the election, the proportion of women who identify as Republican has fallen and the proportion of women who identify as Democratic has risen.
Importantly, university-educated white women, 45 per cent of whom voted for Trump in 2016, now favour Democrats for Congress by 53 per cent to 31 per cent, according to an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll.
The broader view is even worse. Polling by CNN this week revealed that 63 per cent of women would be voting for Democratic candidates, compared to 33 per cent who would be voting for Republicans.
Clearly, the president still enjoys support from some women, and women are not a monolithic voter bloc.
The Kavanaugh hearings, which energised survivors of sexual assault, also energised the mothers of sons who feared that Kavanaugh had been falsely accused.
Women do not have a universal reaction to the #MeToo movement or even to feminism. Studies have shown that those who believe that women are still not equal to men lean towards the Democratic Party. Those who believe that women are equal, or prefer traditional gender roles, lean Republican.
One year after Alyssa Milano sent her fateful #MeToo tweet, the polls indicate that Trump’s disavowal of the movement, his projection of male victimhood, and his promise of a return to old power structures are turning many women away. This is considered a provocation to many. And it may, in the end, be women who break up the Republicans’ grasp on Congress.
Danielle McLaughlin is the Sunday Star-Times’ US correspondent. She is a lawyer, author, and political and legal commentator, appearing frequently on US and New Zealand TV and radio. She is also an ambassador for #Champion Women, aimed at encouraging respectful, diverse, and thoughtful conversations.
US President Donald Trump meets with rapper Kanye West in the Oval Office this week. West’s rambling monologue praising the president reflected the masculine appeal of Trump’s election campaign and leadership style.
Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings for the US Supreme Court energised the mothers of sons who feared that he had been falsely accused of sexual misconduct.