CLEVELAND HEIGHTS — Throughout the election season, I’ve enjoyed watching Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report, who appeared throughout PBS-TV coverage of the presidential debates and at least once a week on the PBS Newshour to provide background on the campaign. She’s articulate, frank, and good-humored. As so often happens, though, I never wrote her a fan letter. Instead, I’m moved to write because of a particular, profound disagreement with her and other pundits.
As the presidential election results between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton came in, Walter asserted, with the unassailable confidence of a person with numbers at her finger tips, that this election was about “populism” and not about racism and sexism.
The exit polls, she said, were showing that Clinton “underperformed” Barack Obama with minorities and with women, who, though they supported Clinton in large numbers, did not “come out for her” as expected.
Some African-Americans and Latinos even voted for Trump.
Therefore, according to Walter (and David Brooks as well), the race was about economic and social issues, not race or gender.
Numbers really can lie.
Consider these facts: At Trump rallies people shouted, “Trump That Bitch.” They screamed the “n” word and “Sieg Heil!” They yelled “Kill her!” They actually yelled, “Kill her!” and no one interrupted them or left the rally in protest.
They all stayed and listened as Trump disparaged Clinton’s looks and her “stamina,” as he insulted other women and egged the crowd on.
But these recent phenomena are only part of the story. For three decades, people have criticized Hillary Clinton, sometimes with good reason, but often for ridiculous and sexist ones: She wears a headband. She wears glasses. She’s old and wrinkled. She looks like she’s had a face lift. She dyes her hair. She’s shrill. She yells too much. She’s a lesbian and a shrew. She’s pushy. She’s elitist. She’s weak and also brazenly ambitious. She dresses funny. She killed Vince Foster.
Much of the current dislike of Clinton is founded on longstanding sexist arguments and attitudes.
To assert now that none of this relentless vitriol has had any effect on the electorate is foolish.
People voted for a man who literally made his political career by asserting the Big Lie that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. He courted racists by undermining the legitimacy of America’s first African-American president. The Klan has praised Donald Trump, and David Duke is rejoicing today.
I would never vote for a person who has groped women, called them “bitches” or worse, and made fun of their looks, or for a candidate who has disparaged Mexicans, Arab-Americans, African-Americans, and other groups.
I would not vote for a candidate who advocated the execution of young black men accused of rape in New York City and recently again insisted on their guilt long after they were exonerated. I would always deliberately distance myself from such a candidate.
That so many other Americans made a different choice means that they feel different about gender and race issues than I do. They either embrace racist and sexist language and ideas, or they’re subliminally accepting of them. Calling names and hurling accusations are not helpful, but neither is avoiding painful truths. Racism and sexism underlie Donald Trump’s life and candidacy, and Americans elected him president.
Kathy Ewing, author of “Missing: Coming to Terms with a Borderline Mother,” teaches Latin at Cleveland State University.