Donald Trump is bad at running casinos, sucks at governing, and decorates like King Midas having an episode. But there’s one thing that he’s adept at: painting women as liars. For a guy who can probably count on one undersize hand the number of times he’s cracked open the Good Book, his ability to demonize women is impressively biblical.
Trump’s latest targets are Myeshia Johnson, the pregnant Gold Star widow of Sgt. La David Johnson; Cowanda Jones-Johnson, the deceased veteran’s aunt; and Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, a friend of the family. Last week, Wilson told reporters that when Trump called the grieving Mrs. Johnson after her husband was killed in Niger, he told her that her husband “knew what he’d signed up for.”
The family didn’t find comfort in those words. I’ll spare you another blow-by-blow recap of the president making an ass of himself and everyone who defends him; suffice to say, Trump’s latest battle, with two grieving black women and their congresswoman, has seemed like a new low, even for the moral basement where the president spends much of his time when he’s not golfing.
These three women are just the latest in a series of foils that might seem random to an unfrozen caveman horrified to find himself thawed in the Trump era. Some of his targets have made an infantile kind of sense: People like Little Marco and Low Energy Jeb Bush were running against him for political office. But Puerto Rican hurricane victims? Megyn Kelly? ESPN’s Jemele Hill? Saturday Night Live? Mexicans? Trans servicemembers? Maxine Waters? Morning Joe? The NFL? April Ryan? Refugees? The media? The pope? Muslims? Elizabeth Warren? A former Miss Universe? Kristen Stewart? Women in the military? The judicial system? Meryl Streep? The Golden State Warriors? Women he allegedly sexually assaulted or harassed? Why would anybody attack those people?
Much like its leader, Trumpism has proven itself a hollow ideology beneath its veneer of fear and spite. The president can’t govern, but he can attack. And because Donald Trump doesn’t do anything unless it evokes adoration in his immediate audience, one has to conclude that his audience—his base and the knuckle-dragging bully sidekicks that egg him on in the Oval Office—to some extent enjoys seeing all of the above groups being yelled at by Donald Trump. Because there are so many women and brown people on that list, it stands to reason that Donald Trump targets these people because he knows his base wants to see those people yelled at by a person in power.
In Trumpism, everybody should be put in their place, their 1950s place, that place from the Great Again to which Trump has promised to take them back. For white guys who look and act like Donald Trump, that place is a position of authority, the head of the household, to whom every other member is deferential. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly fabricated a speech by Rep. Frederica Wilson in order to smear her as a grandstander. Video evidence proved that he lied, and the White House is still trying to spin it as though his status as a four-star general—like we’re in that episode of Black Mirror where everybody has a cumulative star rating that dictates their social status—meant his word was not to be questioned. “Not to be questioned” was a phrase used by Stephen Miller, who slithered from his subterranean lair several months back to deliver an adenoidal comic villain monologue on the Sunday political talk shows. Trump’s powers “will not be questioned,” Miller said.
Those who question something that the president says or wants are attacked. And the further away that questioner is from Trump’s cartoon concept of white male masculinity (or the sort of Fox News femininity that model demands), the more fervent the attack. It doesn’t matter if his target is a war widow or a sports commentator or a South American beauty queen.
As the number of women who accused Donald Trump of sexual assault climbed last fall, a political cartoon quipped that it was now a matter of “he said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said,” etc. But Trump won the presidency anyway, because enough people either didn’t believe all of those women or thought that whatever happened to those women wasn’t that big a deal. Hillary Clinton, for all of her flaws, suffered more severe blowback for little lies than Trump did for big ones. Trump skated into the presidency in part because of the pervasive belief that women’s words aren’t worth as much as men’s. Trump has been banking on it for his entire political career, and it’s paid off enough to put him in the White House.
In the last few weeks, women have been coming forward from gymnastics to the restaurant industry to Hollywood to Fox News to level accusations of sexual misconduct against powerful men. This time, it seems like it’s sticking. It’s hard not to think about the changing weight of women’s words as Trump claims he has proof he was nice on the phone to war widow Myeshia Johnson and then doesn’t produce the proof, or when John Kelly expects people to believe him over video evidence just because he’s a stern-faced four-star general-cum-soulless flack. Will Trump continue to rile up his base by yelling at women who don’t fall in line? Or is the sun about to set on the oldest trick in Trump’s book?