Siri Hustvedt

“Trump will make America white and male dominated again”
Nov 2016


“Trump will make America white and male dominated again”

There is an old phrase often credited to the American demagogue Huey Long but that I once tracked to an obscure professor: "When fascism comes to America, they will call it Americanism." I worry that it has come, and it has come via the votes of half the population of the United States. We know now that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the electoral college. We also know that Donald Trump was elected overwhelmingly by white people, although a surprising number of Hispanics also voted for him. What does it mean that a bigot, a racist, and a misogynist, a man who bragged on tape that he routinely assaults women, a man with no political experience, a man of fraudulent business practices, a man who made fun of a handicapped reporter, a man who is rumored never to have read a book has been catapulted into the presidency of the United States?
    I am convinced that we are witnessing the politics of humiliation. Trump will be president because he successfully manipulated the rage millions of my fellow citizens have directed against "a system" they perceive as "rigged" against them. Trump supporters are people who rightly and wrongly feel they have been robbed of what they once had. Yes, among them are blue collar workers who lost manufacturing jobs that will never return, people who have been wounded by trade deals and globalization, but their numbers are not great enough to elect a president. Yes, he is beloved by the Ku Klux Klan, by white supremacist and militia groups, people who sincerely believe white people are in danger of annihilation by brown barbarians invading our borders, but there are many others who are not poor or displaced by the recession or a changing economy or extreme in their views who joined the ranks because they found in the swaggering, barking, cruel persona of Donald Trump the embodiment of their own roiling resentments and feelings of shame and humiliation. Trump is the incarnation of a fantasy: the return to a golden age when white men ruled and women, blacks, and various others knew their place. Make America great again is code for make America white and manly again. The resemblance to fascist movements in Europe in the twentieth century is obvious.
    The United States is changing. We have growing populations of Hispanics and Asians, a larger black middle class, and many more women in positions of influence.
President Barack Obama, a highly educated, supremely elegant, moderate, and well spoken black man who has been our president for eight years fed the racist fear of the Other. From this point of view, electing a woman would add insult to injury. The role misogyny played in this election should not be underestimated. Trump's hatred of women was undisguised. He called us pigs and dogs, rated us by numbers, sneered about menstruation, and hurled insults at the twelve women who stepped forward to accuse him of doing exactly what he had boasted he had done. Hillary Clinton became she-devil number one. The abuse directed against her during the campaign was nothing short of astounding. One thing is certain: many millions of people, including significant numbers of women, not only didn't mind these attacks on the entire female sex, they reveled in them.
    Post election, the blame game is on. The pundits have identified the problem. Hillary Clinton stupidly ignored those angry white people in middle America. She lost because she was a bad candidate. It is true that Clinton lives squarely in the world of realpolitik. She loves the pragmatic solution to difficult problems and relishes the nitty-gritty of actual politics. Could she have won over the Trump voters if she had tried? Could she have convinced those men and women that she was the one to take their woes to Washington? I doubt it. Sane, sober, articulate, and calm under fire, Clinton learned the hard way that women are damned if they do and damned if they don't. If she showed emotion she was shrill and weak. If she didn't show emotion, she was cold and superior. When she was well prepared and knowledgeable during debates, her performance was not deemed "superb" by commentators but "over-rehearsed." Did Clinton's campaign misread the mood of the country? Absolutely. So did I. I believed the pollsters--at least a good part of the time. But what has been largely missed in the story of this election is that ambition in a man is attractive; in a woman, it is ugly. Hillary Clinton was a popular senator and a popular Secretary of State, but when she was running for office, her likability plummeted, and likability is far more important for a woman than a man. I don't think many Trumpites actually "like" the man.
    The people who voted for Donald Trump did so in a state of vicarious narcissism. Trump's grandiosity, his sense of entitlement with impunity, his constant declarations of his potency and wealth were adopted by his followers as a quick fix for their own sense of inferiority. Policy did not matter. Reality did not matter. He made humiliated, emasculated white men (and the women who identify with them) feel better about themselves, at least for a while. He provided them with convenient scapegoats: Mexicans and blacks and Muslims and Jews and immigrants. Now we, all of us, will pay dearly for a collective fantasy that belonged to only half of us.