The US presidential campaign continues to sink lower and lower. Personal insults – “Lock her up” – and revelations about sexual misconduct – both about Donald Trump and references to Bill Clinton – have hampered any serious discussion about major issues. What to do in Syria? How to overcome income inequality and racial tensions? While neither candidate has stayed completely on the high road, there is no question that Donald Trump has been in the forefront of the personal attacks.
But, ironically, maybe we should thank Donald Trump. The 2005 video showing him bragging about trying to have sex with a married woman and being able to grope women has caused a national, if not international, outcry. Women have come forward to recount how they were victims of his sexual assault. Stories of harassment or demeaning behavior in the work place have become public, even in the Swiss parliament. (See Florent Quiquerez “Sexisme sous la Coupole?” TdG Oct. 17)
The most emotional speech of the campaign was in reaction to the Trump video. Michelle Obama said that Trump’s words had “shaken me to my core that I couldn’t have predicted.” Speaking to a crowd in New Hampshire last week, the First Lady said: “We thought all of that was ancient history, didn’t we? And so many have worked for so many years to end this kind of violence and abuse and disrespect, but here we are in 2016 and we’re hearing these exact same things every day on the campaign trail…Now is the time for all of us to stand up and say enough is enough. This has got to stop right now.”
That declaration has had enormous traction. Not, however, from Hillary Clinton, who is in the awkward position of trying to attack Trump’s sexism while not becoming enmeshed in stories about her husband’s philandering.
Mrs. Clinton has been a staunch defender of women’s rights. “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights once and for all,” First Lady Clinton said at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on September 5, 1995. On the issue of the Trump video, she has been extremely circumspect.
It may turn out to be that Michelle Obama’s declaration that “enough is enough” will be an Archimedean Point, much like Rosa Park’s refusing to allow a white passenger to take her seat in a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in December 1995 led to a massive boycott of public buses and was instrumental in starting nationwide efforts to end segregation of public facilities. When the bus driver demanded, "Why don't you stand up?" Parks replied, "I don't think I should have to stand up."
Will Michelle Obama’s “enough is enough” have the same effect? Although there have been outcries on college campuses in the United States against sexual assault, Michelle Obama’s emotional speech goes beyond campuses to the attitude of an entire society. Trump, as with most of his campaign, is firmly rooted in the 1950’s. His vision of male domination, to say the least, reflects a locker room mentality of a bygone era. (In a letter recently published in the Huffington Post, members of the Amherst College men’s soccer team wrote: “…we cannot imagine one of our 30 guys ever making or condoning, in our private locker room, comments similar to Donald Trump’s disgusting statements about assaulting women. We do not know what locker room Donald Trump uses.”) The Donald, as with so much of his campaign, is clearly out of touch with current reality.
So, ironically, we should thank Donald Trump for showing how his nostalgic campaign has caused a groundswell of backlash. Maybe, just maybe, this embarrassing moment in American history will have a positive consequence in forwarding human rights and dignity for a majority of the population.