Trump Didn't Win In Spite Of The Access Hollywood Tape. He Won Because Of It.
This week marks the two year anniversary of the Access Hollywood tape, in which Donald Trump bragged about how he can walk up to women and just grab them by the pussy. At the time, a lot of people thought this was going to hurt him -- and, to be sure, lots and lots of people, including many Republicans, immediately denounced him, pulled their support, and publicly admonished him for the tape.
My reaction was different. It was at that moment that I said to myself, "He just won the election." It is not a thing I am happy to have been right about. Even after he won, his supporters were given the benefit of the doubt that they had voted for him in spite of him saying that -- that his appeal was so great to them otherwise that they were willing to overlook this transgression. But they didn't overlook it. They heard it and they liked it. They liked the idea of this rich white man being able to put women in their place. They voted for him because of this.
At the time, people thought I was being a pessimist, and even a tad ridiculous. But the reason I believed that was because I had spent the past few years writing about misogyny -- from PUAs to Elliot Rodger, from Gamergate to the men's rights movement -- and I saw the anger, I saw all that fury bubbling under the surface and I knew it was coming to a head. I knew it was far more widespread than anyone wanted to believe it was.
It was five words that sealed the deal. "And they just let you." That was key. If he had said that he grabbed women by the pussy and they told him to fuck off and then sued him for sexual harassment, it would have been something different altogether. He might not have won, and not because people sided with the women, but because he would have been perceived as weak. When he said, "And they just let you," it gave these people a glimmer of hope for a power they felt they once had and have since lost. That's what "putting someone in their place" means. It means that you have the power "and they just let you."
Trumpists like to blame Obama for the social strife in this country. In their collective imaginations, everything was fine before he was elected, everyone got along and life was a 1990s Sunny D commercial. They never heard about racism, they never heard about sexual assault, they never heard about police brutality, they never heard about trans rights, they never heard about half of the problems in this country -- and it's not that those issues didn't exist, it's just that they never really had to hear about them. For as much as the Left is accused of living in a bubble, these people had been in a bubble for much longer. Their bubbles popped -- and, in truth, that had less to do with Obama than it did with social media.
Prior to social media exploding, many conservatives were largely sheltered from what people on the Left actually thought -- of them and in general. Many of them lived in small towns or in rural areas where, should they encounter someone too different from them, they mostly had the ability to torment them until they either conformed or moved away. While their media complained about us, while Rush Limbaugh screamed about "feminazis," while they said all manner of racist and homophobic things, it never really touched their lives. They had control and, they felt, they had social power.
Then, quite suddenly, because of social media, millions of people were privy to concepts and conversations that had been going on for years that they had never been exposed to. I think the first time I heard the term "white privilege" was in the '90s, but to many of these people, they believed they were being smacked in the face all of a sudden with new terms and new social norms that they didn't understand. It was a kind of future shock. But worst of all was that these new social norms were being dictated by the very people who were supposed to "just let them."
Let me tell you a story. When I was in sixth grade, this girl who spent an absurd amount of her time trying to bully me pulled me aside in the girl's room and, practically pleading with me, said, "You're pretty. Your parents are rich. We would leave you alone, you could be popular, if you just stopped dressing like that and stopped acting weird." Of course, being as obstinate then as I am now, I continued to do as I pleased because I genuinely did not give a flying fuck what she thought of me. And even then, I understood that this was what she was mad about and that this is what had made me a target. Not that my clothes were "weird" or that I was otherwise "different," but that I didn't care and it seemed stupid to me that anyone would care. This tendency was interpreted by not only my classmates, but by teachers and administrators, as me thinking I was "better" than everyone else, and it positively enraged them.
More importantly, however, is that when I left that school, I left with yearbook pages full of people telling me that me being myself made them feel like it was OK to be themselves. This is what they fear most of all -- the domino effect. The slippery slope. If one person defects and the discovers the world doesn't end, they lose control of everyone. They lose their power. This is why they fight us every step of the way, on everything, no matter how silly a thing it is to fight.
The Right values social hierarchy in a way that I suspect the majority of the Left does not truly comprehend. We understand it cognitively, but we don't understand it emotionally, because it seems stupid to us. In their minds, they go along with it when it negatively affects them, so if someone else doesn't go along with it, it's like that person thinks they're "better" than everyone else -- and to them, that is insulting and rude. This is why there were Women for Kavanaugh rallying in Washington this weekend, why those women were carrying "Frat Lives Matter" signs and worrying about how holding men accountable for sexual assault might hurt their sons, and not really caring about how things might affect their daughters. If they've put up with it, they figure, then what makes other women -- even their own daughters -- think that they shouldn't have to? What, do they think they're better than us? Those women enjoy seeing other women put in their place just as much as their male counterparts do.
I think a lot about how very angry so many men were a few years ago when women started loudly criticizing the practice of catcalling. Because once upon a time, if you were a man yelling "Hey, nice ass!" at a woman as she walked down the street, you could reasonably count on being shielded from her reaction to that. She might not tell you to fuck off, because she feared for her safety. She feared that you might call her a lesbian or a feminist or worse. There is power in that. There is power in telling women, "Hey, well if you don't want to be catcalled, don't wear a short skirt in public!" -- in putting the onus for change on us, and treating male behavior as a given, as an inevitability. Their anger wasn't just about being denied the fabulous time they had calling us "sweet tits" or whatever, it was about power. It was always about power.
There is so much power in the "And they just let you." Because if you're in a situation where you "just let" someone violate you or make you feel like shit or make you feel small or discriminate against you, it's not because you're OK with it -- it's because the alternative is worse. Because that person can make life bad for you, because you're afraid everyone will side with the person who hurt you. There is power in being that person. There is power in people being afraid to tell you that you are being a creep or an asshole. There is power in being able to be shitty to someone and have the crowd cheer you on.
The things the Right truly wants cannot be achieved legislatively. This is why they are still so angry -- because Donald Trump was supposed to bring about social change, he was supposed to give them cultural capital, he was supposed to give them their social power back. They were supposed to be "tired of winning." He was supposed to change the narrative around to make them the heroes instead of the villains. He was supposed to make it so that we cared what they thought of us and then adjusted our behavior accordingly. They will not stop being angry until they finally feel as if we don't think we are better than they are. They will not stop being angry until they can figuratively (and perhaps literally) go around grabbing anyone they imagine ought to be beneath them on the social totem pole by the pussy, and have those people "just let them."
This is your OPEN THREAD.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse