Yesterday morning, like most mornings in 2017, a substantial portion of Americans woke up and wondered, “Oh no, what did he tweet now?”
This time, it was worse than usual.
Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2017
The editorial board at USA Today did not mince words in blasting the tweet: “A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush.”
The thing is, while Trump’s bluntness and innuendo here retain the shock factor he thrives on, his aggression toward women is depressingly familiar by now. We’re talking about the “check out sex tape” presidential candidate, a man with a lifetime of rampant misogyny to rival even the most devout men’s rights activist. Some thought the presidency would change him, but then some people also still think the world is flat. Rather than curb his sexist worldview, being president seems to have codified it, validated it, and provided him with a bigger platform through which to spread it. If nothing else, 2017 has shown us nobody respects women less than Donald Trump.
Here are all the ways his presidency has amounted to a war on women.
An Emphasis on Patriarchal Values
Which era is Trump referring to when he says Make America Great Again, a thing he still says constantly? Often, it seems like he means the 1950s or perhaps earlier. His longing for a return to old-school patriarchal values is abundantly evident in his views toward women. According to a widely disseminated Axios newsletter, Trump prefers female staff in his White House “dress like a woman,” whatever exactly that’s supposed to mean. The day the story came out, women pushed back on social media, posting images of themselves dressed in their military garb or whichever non-gender specific outfits their jobs demand.
Despite giving his own daughter a high-level government position, Trump doesn’t demonstrate a worldview in which women deserve to command the same jobs and salaries as men. There could be any number of reasons why he seemingly refused to shake German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hand back in March–her cordial working relationship with President Obama, or some random germ fear–but considering his prolific love of shaking hands with world leaders, perhaps he just does not take seriously the one who happens to be a woman. He seems to feel that way about reporters as well, asking CNN’s April Ryan during a February press conference whether she would set up a meeting for him with the Congressional Black Congress. Never mind the problematic assumption that Ryan, a woman of color, would automatically have a relationship with the CBC, but asking her to set up a meeting casts her in the role of a secretary.
Intentional Testosterone-Heavy Optics
Donald Trump is the first president to come from reality TV (will the first YouTuber president be next?) and this background frequently comes into play in his obsession with optics. He knew that now-famous photo of himself dining with Mitt Romney at a fancy French restaurant just after the election would humiliate Romney, who had spoken out against him during the campaign. Trump is hyperaware of how everything about his presidency looks, so it can’t be an accident that the beginning of his presidency was decorated with endless images of white men making consequential decisions. The trend only cooled down after May’s infamous Rose Garden celebration photo, in which Trump is surrounded by a milky forest of white guys. After all, the photo was commemorating how a collection of white men had just drafted and passed a bill that would shape women’s healthcare. Everybody noticed what was missing from the photo. From what Nancy Pelosi has said, sometimes working with this administration can feel like women are absent, even when they’re there.
Being Inappropriate, Picking Fights, and Never Apologizing
Of course, while Trump’s assault on women sometimes manifests in leaving them out of the picture, literally, he’s often much more direct than that. He can be mildly cheeky, telling a reporter she has a nice smile, or completely inappropriate, telling the French First Lady she’s in “such good shape.” When he’s not flirting with women in a professional setting, however, he’s fighting with them. Trump has a history of butting heads with women. Just try scrolling through his war of words with Rosie O’Donnell on Twitter, for instance, there’s a shocking amount of material. Being in office hasn’t slowed him down in the slightest either
He’s consistently sparred with Elizabeth Warren, always referring to her by the flagrantly juvenile nickname “Pocahontas,” most recently right to the faces of a group of Navajo veterans. He claimed that he would not allow Morning Joe cohost Mika Brzezinski into his Mar-a-Lago resort because she was bleeding from a facelift. Whether she actually had just had a facelift is irrelevant; Trump’s trotting out this claim to humiliate her for the supposed sin of female vanity belongs on a high school bathroom wall. (As does his nickname for her, “low I.Q. Crazy Mika.”)
Trump attacked the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, when she spoke out against the government’s lackluster response to the Puerto Rico relief effort following Hurricane Maria. (At the time, much of the territory was without water and electricity, and there was a pronounced difference with how FEMA had responded to recent hurricanes in Florida and Texas.)
The following month, for an encore, Trump feuded with a Florida congresswoman and a war widow. That fight began with the death of Sergeant LaDavid Johnson and three other soldiers during a still-unexplained mission in Niger. In calling to comfort the widow Johnson, Trump reportedly said that her husband “knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurts.” You know, like what presidents say? Rep. Frederica Wilson had been in the car with Johnson at the time of the call, listening to it with her. The fight began when Wilson criticized the president for his astounding lack of tact. Trump responded by dubbing Wilson “Wacky” in a string of tweets, and denying both hers and Johnson’s accounts of the event. He has never apologized.
Finally, Trump’s most significant attack on women since he’s been in office may come in the form of an attack on a man: Al Franken. When Leeann Tweeden accused Franken, who has since resigned his Senate seat, of forcibly kissing her, the claim was supported by a photo of him pretending to grope her. Donald Trump immediately seized on it.
The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps? …..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 17, 2017
Never mind the always-juvenile nicknaming tendency, casually tossed in while commenting on sexual harassment, and never mind the gutter flavor of imagining this picture as the first in a series, and never even mind the fact that Trump would go on to throw vigorous support behind alleged pedophile Roy Moore—but why does Trump think he has any kind of moral high ground here? He absolutely doesn’t. Shedding crocodile giggles over a politician incurring sexual harassment allegations suggests an effort to erase 19 credible allegations of his own from history, or to pretend they don’t matter. For millions of women appalled that the voice on the Access Hollywood tape belongs to the president, they matter a lot.
It also matters that the way Trump conducts himself as president matches up closely with how we imagine the person on that tape might.