Over the weekend, Donald Trump was rightfully excoriated for misogynistic comments he made in 2005, causing him — rather uncharacteristically — to apologize.
I find it curious that this development might well prove the straw that breaks The Donald’s back, as if these particular comments were the lone stain on an otherwise sufferable candidacy. Yet I suspect it is because the tape strips us of our ability to ignore what many of us have long suspected: Donald Trump’s deplorable character is not incidental to his campaign — it is elemental to it.
In the coming days, the media will talk ceaselessly about the scandal. They will talk about the words Trump said in the tape, which ones are most vulgar, how long ago he said them, how he phrased his “apology.” And then, in the likely event that Trump loses the election, the media will move on.
What most of the country will not talk about, however, is that a huge portion of the electorate will still vote for a man who has no respect for at least 51 percent of the population, or that, even in the eyes of some “liberal” men, Trump’s bluster makes him admirable, while Clinton’s lack of cuddliness makes her “unlikable.” That perhaps Trump is not a cause of widespread bigotry, but in fact the very logical result.
Let me offer you some choice sound bites:
“I tell my girlfriend when we’re having sex that I want to rape her.”
“We need to use some imperialism with these girls!”
“I can’t watch a TV show if the main character is a chick.”
These are not Donald Trump quotes; they are snippets of conversation I have at one time or another overheard occurring between Yale students. My point in relating them here is not to call out a few individual misogynists on campus, but to prove, as a man, that the brand of sexism we heard this weekend is by no means unique to Trump.
The notion that bias might be the rule rather than the exception has largely eluded the national conversation. We talk, instead, of one-liners, pejoratives, who said which slurs when. In other words, we talk about political correctness, which translates to a myopic attention to the use of particular words (”p—y,” to name one). More often than not, however, this tendency to focus on terminology comes at the expense of the understanding that words and actions almost never float free from one another.
For example: in the early 1980s, when a reporter asked Press Secretary Larry Speakes about how the Reagan Administration planned to respond to the AIDS crisis, Speakes joked that the reporter’s “abiding interest” in the issue must have proceeded from the fact that he was a “fairy.” His language was harmful, but in large part because it evinced a fundamental disregard for gay men’s lives. By 1987, the year President Reagan first mentioned AIDS in a speech, 25,000 Americans had died of the disease. Similarly, Trump’s remarks are pernicious not only because they are viscerally offensive, but also because they manifest sexism so entrenched in our culture that even the prospective president believes himself entitled to women’s bodies.
Words necessarily stem from thought, and thought gives rise to action. This simple truth appears to be absent from the widespread conception of political correctness. As a result, we’ve lost sight of the project: a prescription not for what we shouldn’t say, but for what we shouldn’t think or do in the first place.
When we talk about political correctness, we are really talking about equality, which is why Trump is so deeply averse to the concept, his defiance of it so appealing to his white male supporters. The fact is that our country is operating on two different conceptions of reality, and in recent memory there has been, to my eye, no more explicit illustration of the divide between those who believe our current moment miraculously exempt from the centuries of history that preceded it, and those who know that inequality and bigotry are as American as apple pie.
For now, while Trump is still running for president, what he says matters. But I worry that, once the dust has settled, there still won’t be room for other, more constructive words, ones that might make our country a better place. This election season, I’ve been thinking a lot of Audre Lorde’s:
“I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside [ourselves] and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears.”
Spencer Bokat-Lindell is a senior in Morse College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .