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?

Sunday Star-Times - - WORLD - Danielle McLaugh­lin

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.


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