Per­mis­sion to dis­sent

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Kath­leen Parker Colum­nist Kath­leen Parker’s email ad­dress is kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com.

Only in the strangest-ever pres­i­den­tial elec­tion could a former beauty queen’s weight be con­sid­ered a deal-break­ing is­sue of, if I may, gar­gan­tuan pro­por­tions.

Pre­tend it’s two weeks ago: Who is Ali­cia Machado?

Now: How happy is Ali­cia Machado?

If I weren’t paid by the word, I’d be speech­less.

The former Miss Uni­verse of 1996 has risen from the ashes of former fame to be­come the nom du jour thanks to some de­light-in­duc­ing op­po­si­tion re­search by the Clin­ton cam­paign. As ev­ery­one now knows, Don­ald Trump was once nasty to Machado, whose coro­na­tion as the most beau­ti­ful fig­ure in the world ap­par­ently co­in­cided with the ar­rival of her ap­petite.

Ac­cord­ing to Machado, who has ap­peared on nu­mer­ous talk shows, Trump called her “Miss Piggy,” “eat­ing ma­chine,” and “Miss House­keeper,” by which we are to in­fer that he was cruel, lack­ing in com­pas­sion — though he says he in­ter­ceded when pageant of­fi­cials wanted to fire her — and a clas­sist, racist, misog­y­nist ogre. I’m sorry. Who didn’t know? More baf­fling than the fact of the po­lit­i­cal twist we’ll nat­u­rally call “weight gate” is the breath­less, hand-over-mouth re­ac­tion, pri­mar­ily, it must be said, among the me­dia and the Clin­ton cam­paign — not that Trump hasn’t par­tic­i­pated in giv­ing this story rather good legs.

News flash: Don­ald Trump was mean to a beauty queen, who, con­tra her con­tract, ac­cord­ing to him, gained too much weight. Par­don, but have The Deeply Of­fended been cir­cling the moon the past 20 years? Trump didn’t sud­denly be­come a jack­ass; he didn’t sud­denly be­gin treat­ing women as chat­tel; he didn’t sud­denly show his nasty at­ti­tude to­ward those he con­sid­ers be­neath him.

If his long-ago com­ments to Machado, res­ur­rected by a very clever Hil­lary Clin­ton dur­ing the first pres­i­den­tial de­bate, have pro­vided en­light­en­ment to any­one over the age of, say, 10, well, then, just awe­some sauce. For the rest of the polity, this is hardly rev­e­la­tion.

It’s just ol’ Don­ald be­ing ol’ Don­ald — then, still and al­ways.

What makes this dusty of­fense res­onate now?

Os­ten­si­bly, it’s be­cause our daugh­ters, our grand­daugh­ters, wives, sis­ters and selves have body-im­age is­sues. Thus it has al­ways been, though lately (mean­ing the late 20th cen­tury to the present), we’ve be­come more at­tuned to how girls and women feel about their bod­ies — and, of course, what the pres­i­dent of the United States can do about it.

This isn’t to make light of eat­ing dis­or­ders, which are se­ri­ous health con­cerns. But this episode in po­lit­i­cal un-re­al­ity de­mands per­spec­tive. Plainly, Clin­ton tossed in the Machado tid­bit know­ing that Trump would seize the bait and get tan­gled in the nets. He can’t help him­self, as any wit­ness to re­cent his­tory knows.

Clin­ton’s ex­pec­ta­tion, which is some­what sex­ist in it­self, was to cap­ture the women’s vote by ex­pos­ing Trump’s bul­ly­ing of Machado. This ex­pose would be es­pe­cially ef­fec­tive, pre­sum­ably, be­cause ev­ery wo­man in Amer­ica has ut­tered the words: “Does this make me look fat?”

I once asked my fa­ther this ques­tion when, three months af­ter giv­ing birth and still wear­ing 30 ex­tra pounds, I donned a cash­mere pon­cho with Western­ish mark­ings to greet friends I hadn’t seen in years. He sized me up and replied: “No, you look like three In­di­ans in a teepee.” We died laugh­ing. The old man raised us to sur­vive a harsh world but not so much with sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing.

Clin­ton also hoped to gain the sup­port of mil­len­ni­als, who, we’re told, are more re­cent to the body-im­age strug­gle — just pos­si­bly ex­ag­ger­ated by con­stant self-doc­u­men­ta­tion? — and are also more sen­si­tive to older gen­er­a­tions’ at­tach­ment to stereo­types and -isms.

Whether vot­ing-age women will clamor to vote Clin­ton be­cause of re­marks Trump made nearly 20 years ago will keep the com­men­tariat chew­ing the fat for a bit. The meat of the mat­ter, mean­while, is what Trump’s re­marks then and now tell us what is cru­cial in a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion: The man can’t con­trol him­self.

This should be enough.

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