During the summer, most of us enjoy a reprieve from our campus obligations. Unfortunately, that break often includes whatever level of political activism we might have engaged in during the academic year. Now, however, is not the time to take the summer off. In light of the continuously heinous misogyny of President Donald Trump, Princeton students and faculty — many of whom boast of a record of advocacy against gender-based violence and marginalization — have an obligation to speak up.
On July 5, during a campaign rally in Montana, Trump suggested Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Native-American heritage should be tested via a DNA “kit.” But he added a caveat: “We will take that little kit […] but we have to do it gently, because we’re in the #MeToo generation, so [we] have to be very gentle.”
Trump’s DNA kit rhetoric — combined with his outright trivialization of the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct — is, presumably, a subtle reference to a rape kit, a mechanism for collecting the DNA of assailants from the bodies of rape and sexual-assault survivors. By making this reference, Trump provided refuge to men who feel endangered by the prospect of being held accountable for mistreating women.
As if mocking and humiliating rape victims wasn’t enough presidential misogyny for a twenty-four hour period, earlier that same day Trump announced Bill Shine, a former Fox News executive, as deputy chief of staff of communications. Shine allegedly covered up the sexual predation of Roger Ailes, the former Fox News chairman, and Bill O’Reilly, a former network host.
Also on the same day, Trump defended Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, who allegedly ignored an epidemic of sexual abuse while he served as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University (Jordan denies any wrongdoing). In a statement that sums up the president’s attitude toward sexual-assault victims, Trump wholly delegitimized the congressmen’s accusers: “I don’t believe them at all. I believe him. I believe him 100 percent. No question in my mind.”
Many Americans are far too desensitized to the president’s hatred of women. It’s so easy to normalize Trump’s dehumanization of women because, well, he does it so often. But those who consider themselves feminists — or really anyone who simply believes in basic human decency — must not tire of confronting and condemning this degradation.
Trump is an alleged sexual predator himself. Although the story was woefully underreported by the mainstream media, Trump has been accused of raping a 13-year-old girl in 1994, though the lawsuit containing the claim has been dropped. The president has also been accused of sexually assaulting, harassing, or otherwise abusing at least 19 other women throughout his life (Trump denies all charges of sexual misconduct).
In a 2005 Access Hollywood tape publicized by The Washington Post in October 2016, Trump bragged — in characteristically grotesque, predatory language — about groping women without their consent. He boasted: “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [...] 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 […] Grab them by the p***y. You can do anything.” Those are the words of a man who is now the president of the United States.
Given Trump’s history of misogyny and alleged sexual violence, it is no wonder that his debasement of women has been a hallmark of his political career. Likewise, it is no coincidence that Trump — a man so unbecoming of the supposed ideals of the American presidency — defeated Hillary Clinton — a woman who was one of the most qualified presidential candidates in American history. By continuously painting Clinton as “a nasty woman,” Trump reinforced how easy it is for hypermasculine misogyny — especially when partnered with xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, a pathological distortion of truth, and the help of the Russian government — can delegitimize and degrade women in the eyes of the American electorate.
Therefore, it is fitting that the demographic that provided Trump with the most proportional electoral support was white men; an overwhelming 62 percent of white males supported Trump in the 2016 presidential election. For comparison’s sake, a mere 4 percent of black women voted for Trump, which reinforces the gendered and racialized white-supremacist orientation of Trump’s victory.
When Trump boasted about sexually assaulting women, he communicated a violent sexual entitlement that appealed to a group of American men who feel frustrated by the contemporary notion that women are human beings and no longer reducible to sexual objects. When Trump, as president, shamelessly endorsed Alabama senatorial candidate Ray Moore, who allegedly assaulted a 14-year-old girl and initiated sexual relationships with minors in his thirties (Moore denied the allegations), he further reinforced his commitment to the empowerment of conservative white men, no matter how despicable they may be in their private lives.
Nonetheless, what’s even more painful to conceptualize than our president’s pathological misogyny is how such misogyny implicates all Americans who empowered and continue to support Trump. The fact that a man like Trump — a fundamentally unrespectable, indecent human being — could be elected as the president of the United States in the 21st century is appalling. And it’s appalling not in a vague, fatalistic sense that exonerates American voters from culpability. Americans had a choice to make in 2016, and nearly half of us chose to elect a man who has been accused of rape, assault, and harassment, admitted to grabbing women “by the p***y” without their consent, labeled certain women pigs, slobs, and dogs, named a former Latina Miss Universe winner “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping,” called a woman pumping breast milk “disgusting,” continuously sexualized and degraded his own daughter Ivanka, and demonstrated a general contempt for the well-being, dignity, and equality of women — and people of color and immigrants and LGBTQ+ people and Muslims and Jews and the disabled and so many more human beings.
Donald Trump’s conduct is abhorrent, but by electing him as the leader of our country, we proved our complicity in — and our approval of — such abhorrence. Worse, by continuing to support the president in substantial numbers, we have allowed him to disgrace American life even more.
Samuel Aftel is a junior from East Northport, N.Y. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.