Trump’s Culture War: A Last Stand?

Trump’s Culture War: A Last Stand?

With last week’s announcement of a ban on transgender soldiers in the US army, Trump slid to a new low that shocked even Sauron himself.

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“I was shocked!”- Sauron

Of course, nothing is yet certain with this latest betrayal but even the proposal of such an amendment sheds light on the growing sense of desperation that characterizes this administration. And now at this fatal hour, when his cabinet is falling apart, North Korea is testing missiles, and the Republicans can’t pass a repeal on Obamacare, he must play what could perhaps be his last card; the culture wars.

Republicans have been playing this one for years. It’s what they do when the heat gets a little too intense in an election debate or when Modern Family introduces another minority character. It helps to convey the other side for what they really are; family-ruining, drug-addicted hippies who would have every American speaking Lithuanian, or some other strange language, if they could. And the thing is, it works. 

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The dog is also gender neutral.

In the 1980s, as the New Right became more powerful and assertive, they began to push back against some of the radical shifts in society brought about by the Left in the 1960s and 1970s, such as abortion. Although this issue had effectively been put to rest in 1973 with the Roe v. Wade case, the opposition never quite dissipated; in fact, they became more vocal and encroaching in everyday life, leading to the rise of Republicans like George W. Bush, who would, himself (yes), appoint two eyebrow-raising justices to the Supreme Court in 2005-6. Meanwhile however, leftist activists broadened their range of issues from anti-war activism and feminism, taking on the proliferation of nuclear weapons and power plants, energy sources, and globalism in the 1980s and 1990s. When the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, for instance, was turned down four years later, the cultural schism became apparent in the ongoing debates on environmentalist priority. The media, in their ever cunning way, capitalized on such tensions by targeting their audiences appropriately with ideological news channels like CNN, MSNBC, and Fox.

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Former Fox giant Bill O’ Reilly, in one of his old pieces, ranting about how a single mother took his parking spot.

Today, Americans live in a zany, amplified version of this reality however. Many liberals see conservatives as backwards-thinking, science-abating morons with their heads stuck in the sand, yearning for a time long gone. The right, on the other hand, resent how soft and regulated America has become under the likes of Obama. They believe the right to bear arms is tantamount to their right to freedom, under the US constitution. And… Gwyneth Paltrow!!! It’s not all clear cut but a range of issues divide these collective groups, including: political correctness, church & state,  LGBT rights, women’s rights, immigration, recreational drug use, censorship, and state rights.

Are there two Americas then? or is this all better understood as a modern-day struggle to define the spirit of what America is? Of course, no society is ever wholly united on every issue but in general, there’s usually a strong consensus on at least several of the ones mentioned above. Judging by the course of other nations and the prevailing tide of social history, it seems rational to guess the left will prevail on most of these, though at times, it must be admitted that even their tactics can be deemed a tad excessive (especially with political correctness).

Trump is no ideologue but he is a master at shit-stirring. He may yet be able to rally his supporters up, if he’s able to cast his liberal opposition in the same framework Bush did to Kerry in 2004. It’s not a surefire strategy but with the 2018 mid-terms becoming a more prominent talking-point, it may be the one by which he hangs on. It certainly helped in 2016. As Rich Lowry wrote for The Guardian in January, ‘ [he] is an unlikely cultural warrior, but if he can harness a sense of national solidarity and speak persuasively for ordinary American workers… he may prove a powerful one.’ The battle’s on liberals- your base will undoubtedly garner the support of the transgender community but leave your Facebook commentators at home. They’re just terrible.

Is Hillary Still A Woman?

Is Hillary Still A Woman?

Is Hillary still a woman? No, I don’t mean in the old hick “look out, she’s going into the wrong bathroom” kind of way, but rather in the context of this entertaining election. As the primaries draw to a close and Donald Trump begins to scour Facebook for any trace of a scandal linked to the Clinton camp, it can’t helped but be wondered whether the question of gender politics is playing the pivotal role it once did in America. At first, I simply thought “no.” Whereas in 2008, the prospect of a first Black or first Female president was so alluring, today it seems like more of a tangent to a larger debate. Upon inspection and analysis of this race, the political commentary and debate however, the question opened up a great deal. So whilst this main point will be addressed further, it’s certainly worth exploring the recent history of women in politics before the related question of why people dislike this woman/politician so much.

Thatchers in America

It’s still difficult to be anything but stern and tough if you want to be a respected female politician in many countries. In the 1980s, many figured this philosophy with the draconian measures of Ms. Thatcher (depending on your viewpoint) and while there’s been progress since then, the gameplay isn’t exactly equivocal between men and women. This might, in some respects, justify the pompous, disingenuous image Clinton has cultivated over the years – a means to survival. It may also just be a theory. In the debate on gender politics and feminism, there can be a lot of conjecture on hand.

Women, of course, have not been fairly represented in US political history. They were only given the vote in 1920. They only saw their first elected Senate representative in 1932 with Hattie Caraway and since then there have only been a further 45 women anointed to that chamber of Congress (and through staggered junctions). In fact, even as recently as 1992, the ‘year of the woman’ (because a staggering five female senators got the job-and all from one party), that divide was evident.

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1992: Year of the Woman- the same year Bill Clinton was elected to office.

 

In terms of the presidency then, one can imagine there’s been far less representation. As of 2016, seventeen women have managed recognisable attempts for the coveted position (going by popular vote accounts) and two of them are Hillary Clinton for 2008 and this year (the rest would be relatively unknown to most.)

There are now 20 women in the Senate and Hillary is the likely frontrunner for the Democratic Party. In the 1950s, less than half the US population would have voted for a female presidential candidate. Today, over eighty percent would. Whether this politically correct culture has had an affect on how people present their views is also worth considering but for the most part, through all the folds and exceptions, there has been progress.

Haters Gonna Hate, Hate, Hate…

Taylor Swift has a knack for melody but it’s not enough to just say “haters are going to hate.” That’s moronic. People do strongly dislike Hillary though and some of their reasons may be unjustified. For example, in March, the Ms. Magazine blog posted an article on three ways “to tell if your distaste for Hillary Clinton is sexist.” These included a) taking umbrage with the problems of the Clinton years but liking old Slick Willy, b) deciding you hate her first then collecting substantive reasons, and c) holding things against her for which you have forgiven others. Aversive sexism is undoubtedly an issue in modern society and a genuine concern could be that people will preach one thing and act on another (reverting to conservative instincts in the polling booth) by giving Trump the thumbs up. Likewise however, the Guardian also found that many women consider Trump just “creepy.” That said, he has referred to menstruation as being the cause for Megyn Kelly’s “outrageous” questions so it’s hardly balanced.

One of the most useful platforms for finding the unedited, unreasoned thoughts of the public is of course the YouTube comments’ section. I took to this to see if there was some element of truth to the idea of averse hate (even if not sexist). Among misspelled links to bands’ channels and escalating arguments, I found a lot of this, e.g. “I hate that smirk she has every time she finishes a sentence.” Compared to many Fox hosts’ smirks, Clinton’s is far from the worse though I found the majority of discouragement of her to be associated with policy and general dislike, rather than sexism. Granted, most of the commenters appeared to be young men but a lot of anonymous people speak in ways they never would in person.

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That smirk from an ABC interview- granted she will have to do something about her laugh.

 

Many people recognise the fear of being labelled sexist too. Just as these YouTube commenters resolve to knock down Clinton, many of her supporters in return react with unqualified claims of bigotry- the PC police.  Articles such as the Huffington Post’s “I Despise Hillary Clinton, And It Has Nothing To Do With Her Gender” convey this level of heightened social awareness. Other articles have attempted in the meantime to contextualise and separate this issue altogether. For example, a New York Magazine opinion piece earlier this year stated; “[there} is no Big Feminism anymore, and no agreed upon figureheads – at least no one to rival Steinem’s fame and iconic status. Today feminism is more about personal identity.” That’s not unreasonable. Many liberals despise Clinton for only her stances, as evidenced by their love of Senator Elizabeth Warren.

So what are these stances? What are her flaws? This hardly needs to be touched upon in detail, considering the feed of commenters out there but for the most part, Clinton’s detractors find her politically motivated and malleable to trends. Her once against-now for stance on Gay Marriage, comes to mind, as one instance of this. Her own compromised marriage too, is drawn upon by many as an exemplification of the calculated moves she has taken this far. Then, there’s the series of scandals that have dogged her career from Whitewater to her Iraq vote, Benghazi, the e-mail scandal and whatever’s next. Against Sanders, these shortcomings have been especially  magnified which lends credence to the argument that Clinton’s detractors have just cause for their outrage.

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For us, it’s just another manic Monday. For Hillary, another Benghazi.

 

As It Is – This Election

Leaving aside the historical context of female political leadership and Clinton’s own facets however, how has the gender card been played out in this election specifically? Naturally, Trump has fudged up his alliance with any suffragette movement by acting the classic 80s’ masochist douche, leaving Clinton with a hefty advantage in that vote. While younger women (18 to 29) have generally preferred Sanders, this margin has played  out in her favour for the most part with 70% women’s support in the Mississippi primary, 63% in Alabama’s and 42% in Texas’. Sanders too, that beacon of dignity, even came under fire from her camp when in response to asserting that “shouting” wouldn’t do anything about America’s gun problem, Clinton replied that it’s never “shouting” when it’s a man. Ouch. Was there justification for this or could it be argued that Clinton was playing the gender card herself? “If [she] were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5% of the vote” opined Trump in April for the Washington Post. Well, that is Trump but many might yet agree.

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As it is, the poll data is showing that there is no state where women don’t make up 54% of Democratic voters. The gender card, in this sense, is a crucial one which can’t be ignored, even if its utility is immoral. When it comes to the general election then, assuming Clinton’s candidacy (based on today’s results), it is likely that Trump will need a different strategy (given the percentage of population he’s alienating). That said, one of Clinton’s greatest flaws (regardless of any gender politics) has been in her underestimation of the electorate. Sanders already proved her victory was not secure when one year ago her success was inevitable. Female voters too,  though faced with the alternative of Trump, will not vote for Hillary just because she is a woman. Years ago, many would have assailed against the notion of a female president. Today though, they also assail against Hillary Clinton.

Andrew Carolan