On #TrumpTapes, power, and liberal hypocrisy

Image: Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Image: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The much-deserved backlash against Trump’s remarks from the recently published 2005 recordings is a particularly interesting one, as it has received wide condemnation from within his own party.

Republicans have essentially made their careers legislating women’s bodies. A prime example would be their efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, an essential organization in the U.S., that provides reproductive health care for women and support for victims of rape.

This alone indicates that the Republican establishment does not actually care about systemic violence against women. What they care about, rather, is that Trump’s horrific comments have besmirched the face of the GOP by openly and crudely expressing the misogynistic value systems they themselves embody regarding women.

Considering the numerous women who have accused Trump of rape, it is safe to say that if the GOP cared about violence against women, they would have never have helped Trump win the Republican nomination.

Beyond that, none of these men have illustrated a capacity to even imagine women as people who exist outside the parameters of men. Subtly possessive language about “our women,” “our daughters,” and “my wife” should clue us in as to how Republicans view women, whether or not it is “their” white women, they are talking about.

Speaking of which, now there is this ridiculous discourse being shared and promoted voraciously by both liberals and leftists, claiming that the GOP’s outrage at Trump’s misogynistic comments has to do with the fact that it was at the expense of a white woman. But Jill Harth and Ivana Trump are pretty white the last time I checked.

No, the problem for the Republican establishment is not and never was Trump’s misogyny, even when directed at white women. The problem is that the recordings explicitly show Trump admitting to degrading, objectifying, and sexually assaulting women and there is no way to refute that. When women accuse men of rape, they are disregarded, dismissed, or subjected to ridicule because we live in a patriarchal world where men perceive women’s voices as inherently cunning, manipulative, “shrill,” or untrustworthy. Ignoring women’s claims is one thing, but the GOP can’t ignore things that come from Trump’s own mouth.

But there is something far more insidious revealed by the Trump tapes: his overt admission to utilizing the power that comes with fame.

Trump: I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

Bush: Whatever you want.

Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

One of the central aspects of critiquing oppressive systems of power is, quite literally, critiquing power. But the response from liberals show they are not bothered by the oppressive presence of capitalist patriarchal power, just Trump’s “abuse of power.”

This is the quintessential problem with liberalism. Of course abusing power is not okay, but there is no desire among liberals to actually challenge power, nor will they address the way this same power has been weaponized by the Democratic Party to bash the Left.

Power is not neutral — it is politically charged to uphold the values of white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy.

Likewise, liberal feminism would have women achieve the status of honorary men and share the power enjoyed and abused by men under patriarchy rather than challenge the existence of male power in the first place. If Trump had not abused this power, Democrats and Republicans alike would remain perfectly content with the existence of power by itself.

In other words, liberalism serves to preserve power, not challenge or question it.

Liberal feminism is quite satisfied in spouting social justice rhetoric against capitalist patriarchy but refuses to mobilize against its material roots, as they theorize that such aggressive direct action would be “just as bad” as the violent state. As such, they are not only maintaining the status quo by dismissing any resistance from the Left, but they fundamentally do not understood what “power” is and how it operates within oppressive systems.

Liberal feminism protects the use and abuse of power, even if it means abusing other women.

Sure, they may not say so in such explicit terms, but that is essentially what it comes down to: searching for opportunities to freely join and use white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy to their advantage. This is glaringly transparent by the sheer joy and excitement of neoliberal feminists championing a Hillary Clinton presidency.

When the Left labels Hillary Clinton as the “most powerful woman in the world,” it is not a compliment.

If we are actually committed to defeating white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy, here’s a few pointers:

1) Stop legitimizing and promoting the idea that people only suddenly care about sexual assault because the target, in this case, was a white woman. To say something so awful about victims of sexual assault in order to signal your supposedly better politics is astoundingly insulting, and quite frankly, anti-feminist. In a world where women are subject to mockery and shame and rarely receive justice when raped, regardless of political affiliation, race, or class, all women deserve our support. That’s feminism, baby.

2) Trump is not an anomaly. He conforms to everyday hegemonic toxic masculinity that is symptomatic of white capitalist patriarchy. His words and style of speech are openly masculine in their linearity and hold threats of violence against women and people of colour. However, Trump’s personality is so cartoonishly villainous that, while it is sensible to abhor him, he is far too convenient — too easy — for liberals to hate. His rhetoric of violent dominance erases the more subtle manner that male violence against women manifests under patriarchy. Similarly, it obstructs any harsh and nuanced criticism of Bill Clinton’s past with women and the Clinton campaign itself because liberals are (rightly) fearful of a Trump win. It is necessary to analyze all interactions with men within the context of capitalist patriarchy, even the “good men,” in order to liberate women as a class.

A feminism that rationalizes the power of white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy as long as marginalized groups get a fair shot at utilizing it is not feminism. Anyone who would cynically use a story about a member of the opposing party sexually assaulting women in order to prop themselves up as having superior politics is a hypocrite, not a feminist.

This kind of commentary is an affront to social justice. It is neoliberal feminism. It is corporate feminism. And it is doing an excellent job in selling us out to the jaws of our oppression.

San Sudharshan is a radical feminist who is completing her undergraduate degree in Gender Studies and an ardent lover of bell hooks and tea. She lives in Sydney, Australia. Follow her @sansdn.

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  • Cindi Gold

    This was a great,true powerful article! Donald Trump made degrading and woman-hating comments about women on woman-hater Howard Stern’s show through the years including both Howard and Donald referring to Donald’s own daughter Ivanka as a piece of a*s!


  • Cindi Gold

    Feminist anti-violence activist Valerie Smith was harassed by Howard Stern fans in 2006.


  • Cassandra

    “But there is something far more insidious revealed by the Trump tapes: his overt admission to utilizing the power that comes with fame.”

    Bingo! (I’d add “money” and “power over” to that, but it’s pretty much all the same.)

    Out of all the repulsive things Trump said, “you can do anything” was the worst. It jumped out at me immediately. It’s the apex of male entitlement. This is the step beyond “locker room” talk that’s been pretty much disregarded in mainstream commentary.

    A former boss of mine had an on-going affair with an employee, even though it was against corporate policy—you know, in that manual they sometimes make you sign—the one with his name on the front cover as one of the partners? Everybody knew it. We all talked about it. She got promotions. It created a toxic, unethical environment. He was always saying sexist stuff to me and other women there, and on and on.

    But you know what? Nobody was going to say anything because had he fallen, the whole place would have fallen. Not that that particular corporation would’ve done anything anyway. He was too big to fail, and that’s the point; he knew he could “do anything.”

    Isn’t that the reward of being a successful male, after all? Aren’t access to and power over women just part and parcel? Never mind the training workshops and corporate slogans about “diversity” and “equality.” Lies, hypocrisy and more lies and hypocrisy when I could have been doing something constructive with my time like writing teal deers on feminist blogs.

    And you are absolutely correct; none of this will ever change without looking at the nature of power itself, because “abuse of power” is just business as usual.

    And, oh, the “white woman” is indeed a red herring and a stinky exercise in virtue signaling.

    Excellent analysis, Ms. Sudharshan. I hope this piece is widely shared. We must continue to point out the elephants in the room.

    P.S. Mr. 47 percent-caught-on-tape Mitt Romney’s contribution is just priceless.

  • shy virago

    The worst for me is this: tuning in to a community radio station and hearing the ‘progressive’ man on the mike barely able to swallow and say in a low, quiet voice that Trump is…..well….misogynist.

    How men protect each other – all men!!

    As if liberal, hippy men weren’t women haters. And leftist men who may be good writers and speakers, often called ‘brilliant’. If you look closely, or wait five minutes or five days, even this kind of man will show his misogyny.

    The men who deserve to call themselves feminist allies need to be actively working on their own internalized misogyny.

  • Off-topic. I need help with the California proposition 60 about requiring condoms in porn. All I can find (besides the RightWingNutJobs) is sex pozzies bemoaning the standing it gives any citizen to sue the pornographers.

    Frankly, it’s fine with me if it does shut the industry down. But I don’t want to be part of something which hurts only the actors, and knowing how things go probably only the women in that particular slave trade, and lets the pimps at the top go free or get richer.

    So does anytbody here know what the actual pros and cons of this Prop 60 are?

  • Cassandra

    Take a look at the pole dancing article comments. They’re all totes well on their way to achieving honorary male status! 🙂

  • Wren

    Totally. This is why I don’t say I want “equality.” I don’t want to be a piece of shit, too.

  • Cassandra

    This is an interesting observation.

  • Independent Radical

    Trump acts blatantly misogynist because he knows it will appeal to a certain segment of Republican voters (and some Democratic voters too probably). He’s betting on there being more of those than there are Republicans who care about women in a condescending “we need to protect our wives and children” kind of way and he’s probably right.

    I’m more scared of the men voting for Trump than I am of Trump himself. The power of politicians is limited by corporations and the dynamics of capitalism itself. They will not let him build a gigantic wall to stop Mexicans from coming in to the United States to rape white women (how ironic) if it costs the state too much and therefore takes money away from the capitalist economy, but the fact that people are buying this rhetoric and that millions of people are going to knowingly vote for a rapist to be president of the most powerful country in the world (that is a statement of fact, not a compliment) is terrifying. Politicians are figureheads for the most part, but it’s terrifying that the ruling class thinks this is the figurehead people want.

    “When the Left labels Hillary Clinton as the “most powerful woman in the world,” it is not a compliment.”

    Bingo! It is really revealing that liberals use “powerful” and “em-power-ed” (the word “power” is right there) as compliments. Power does not equal moral goodness, not to mention their frequent use of “it’s legal” with regard to whatever they want to defend. Furthermore there’s all that crap about “strong female characteristics” as opposed to “weak female characters” as if power and success determined whether a character is a positive role model and those attitudes bleed into real life with “weak women” (who don’t remain stoic or worse jump for joy while getting the shit beaten out of them) being despised by liberals.

    Liberals don’t even want to say the word “victim”. Even concerns about rape and sexual assault are being used to push sexual liberation with the term “slut-shaming” replacing “victim-blaming” and when liberals say “I should be able to go out wearing a mini-skirt and high heels, get drunk and have casual sex with as many men as possible without getting raped” I can’t help but feel that the “without getting raped” part is the least important part of the sentence. As for domestic violence, liberals don’t want to talk about it at all. It concerns monogamous women and can’t be used to push sexual empowerment. “Women should be free to seek love and not get the shit beaten out of them for it” doesn’t sound nearly as cool and edgy. Besides who wants to talk or care about women who aren’t “empowered”, right?

    Back to the article itself, you’re totally right about mainstream masculinity being the problem, but as much as I agree with this article, I think it occasionally suffers from what I call too-many-adjectives syndrome. Instead of “everyday hegemonic toxic masculinity” you can just say “everyday masculinity”. Throwing too many adjectives in there introduces the possibility that there is a non-hegemonic (there can’t be, because masculinity is the set of behaviours that society shoves down men’s throats, so a concept that doesn’t have social dominance, which I believe is what hegemonic basically means, but I’m no pretentious academic, so I’m not sure, isn’t a form of masculinity) or non-toxic (all forms of masculinity ever have been about seeking dominance, which is very toxic idea, so again, no there isn’t such thing) form of masculinity.

    I know saying the word “masculinity” on its own or “capitalism” on its own (once again capitalism implies imperialism, racism and male dominance) doesn’t sound as emotional or effective and liberals might accuse you of not caring about whatever other issues they feel you should’ve mentioned (because they can’t handle people not mentioning their specific issue, whenever feminism is discussed) but in fact simply sentence like “masculinity must be abolished” or “capitalism must be overthrown” provoke much stronger reactions when they don’t have piles of adjectives modifying that nouns (those being “masculinity” and “capitalism”). Don’t believe me, trying saying these things in public.

    Simple sentences like that ensure that there is no way out for liberals, no way for them to say “well what about healthy masculinity” (what, like the masculinity in pornography, where men make sure women sign forms being shoving penises down their throats or the masculinity of police who shoot innocent people, but get away with it because they’re employed by the state?) or “what if we reformed capitalism?” (like Salvador Allende and others tried to do before being brutally overthrown by reactionaries with the assistance of the United States government or like Hugo Chavez did do, without really abolishing capitalism, only to be called a tyrannt by supposedly progressive academics, for pissing off those with relative power and privilege). Of course then you have to substantiate the claims that masculinity and capitalism are irredeemable, but as radicals we should be able to do that.

  • Preptaurian

    Exactly. Mexicans are murderers and rapists, ban all Muslims, black people are lazy and I am going to deny their housing applications, this POW is a loser – none of that was enough for their rebuff. It wasn’t until the sensibilities of suburban, white women may have been ruffled that the GOP care.

  • rosearan

    ‘A woman’s place in the revolution is on her back.’
    – Anonymous 1960s radical

    ‘In the Clinton White House according to reports there were a number of female interns seeking Bill’s sexual attention. The scantily clad young women came to work sans underwear until Hillary put her foot down.’
    – Not so anonymous 2016 radical, Paul Craig Roberts, who is a major guru of the radical, anti-war left.