By Alexandra Rosati ’18
Gender has played a central role in the 2016 election. In addition to the widely discussed possibility of electing the first female president, Republican nominee Donald Trump has been widely criticized for a string of sexist statements. The primary season began with a question from Fox News’s Megyn Kelly about Trump’s treatment of women which prompted one of the Trump campaign’s first public feuds. He went on make sexist attacks on women such as Megyn Kelly, female politicians including Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina, as well as Heidi Cruz, wife of Trump’s then-rival Ted Cruz. While Trump has attracted some criticism from fellow Republicans regarding his many controversial statements, after he secured the nomination many top Republicans pledged their support to Trump despite consistently having to disavow his comments.
All of this played in to the common characterization among Democrats that the GOP is anti-woman. Hillary Clinton has created attack ads featuring Trump’s comments about women, and compared conservative views on women’s health to those of ISIS. Here at St. Olaf, I have been repeatedly told by classmates that “only Hillary Clinton” or “only Bernie Sanders” can promote my interests as a woman. I have never been a fan of this argument. To assume that all women vote based exclusively on issues such as abortion and Planned Parenthood is to reduce our political identity to our reproductive system, which in itself is a sexist characterization. A woman may have many reasons to vote Republican: she might be a business owner who would benefit from reduced regulations, she might support low taxes and free trade, she might support gun rights, or believe in limited government. Women’s health is just one issue of many in the political calculations we all make, and for any politician (Democrat or Republican) to assume that women vote exclusively based on so-called “women’s issues” is frankly insulting. As a woman who agrees with the Republican Party on some issues and the Democratic Party on others, it frustrates me to be told that only some of my opinions are valid. It irritates me to be dismissed as a silly girl who doesn’t understand her own interests no matter how I vote. All issues are women’s issues and both parties need to do better in engaging women on all issues, not just those immediately or obviously related to women.
I don’t believe in making blanket statements telling any group for whom they should vote. But the release by the Washington Post of a tape in which Donald Trump discusses forcibly kissing and grabbing women by their genitals has me wondering whether there is some legitimacy to critiques that the Republican Party doesn’t care about women. On the tape, Donald Trump, a man who once characterized all Mexicans as rapists, describes sexually assaulting women and getting away with it due to his fame. Trump dismissed the comments as “locker room banter.” But these sorts of comments are inappropriate in any context, regardless of whether the speaker thought they would reach women’s ears. Arguably the most chilling part of the tape is the meeting between Trump and Arianne Zucker, an actress Trump had told Billy Bush he might “start kissing” moments before. After making introductions, Bush asked Zucker to hug Trump, an inside joke between the men at her expense. Is this something that men have done to me or to my friends? Is making sexist comments behind our backs any less disgusting than making them to our faces? There is no excuse for the comments even if he never intended them to be heard.
Republican leaders such as Paul Ryan, Reince Priebus, and others have condemned the comments made by Trump on the tape, but have not revoked their endorsements. In fact, Reince Priebus has continued working on debate prep with Donald Trump in an effort to make him look more electable on Sunday night. To be clear: Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Reince Priebus, and any other Republican continuing to support Donald Trump is supporting a man who condones sexual assault. Republican leaders can no longer dismiss Donald Trump’s comments as media misinterpretation or jokes gone wrong. There is no “gray area,” there is no spin. The moment has come for the Republican Party to abandon their nominee. To continue supporting him now is to permanently damage the Republican Party. To support a man who brags about forcibly groping women is to eliminate any claim to being the party of family values. To support someone who repeatedly makes these comments as the nominee of your party is to accept his values as your own. For any Republican to continue supporting Donald Trump now is to concede to the attack Hillary Clinton and others have been leveling for years that the Republican Party does not care about women.
Republican leaders can still denounce Trump. They can urge support for protest candidate Evan McMullin, or they can follow the example of John Kasich in campaigning for down-ballot Republicans while refusing to support Donald Trump. His behavior has no place in the White House or in the Republican Party. I would like to see a strong Republican Party. Our Democracy is stronger when we have a strong contest of ideas and policy, not a contest of personality. Our leaders have an important choice to make over the next few days. I hope, for the sake of all women, of all Republicans, and of all Americans, that they make the right decision.