ePaper

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

How sex Trumped race

  • Print

Suppose that you were asked to assess the state of American society under Donald Trump, the essence of our problems and divisions, without any access to the president's own words or the media coverage thereof. Suppose, instead, that you had to cobble together your assessment based only on the way the electorate and the culture has responded to his ascent and presidency - by looking at the changes wrought in our partisan landscape, the new sociological and political fissures that have opened, and the protests and mass movements, social trends and cultural expressions have defined his strange first year in office.

I suspect this exercise might lead to the conclusion that both race and class, the two tangled areas that so many commentators - myself included - have written about endlessly for the last two years, are less important to our moment than the scale of the media attention paid to them suggests, and that divisions and anxieties around sex and gender are where the essential cultural action of the Trump era really lies.

This possibility seems like a deliberate provocation in a week when Trump's outburst about countries that resemble outhouses has made the president's racism a headline topic for the umpteenth time. And I'm not denying the reality of that racism, which has been apparent since Trump embraced birtherism and which plainly informs his views on immigration more than the commitment to merit-based migration policy that his minders and managers have been trying to advance.

But the same week that reminded us of Trump's bigotry also brought a striking analysis of how Americans are reacting to his presidency, generated by a large and deep survey conducted by Survey Monkey and written up for The Atlantic by Ron Brownstein. To some extent the survey shows what smaller polls have also shown: Trump's coalition depends on working-class whites, evangelicals and older white men; he's opposed by minorities and women and the young; and he has lost ground just about everywhere since his election last November.

But the way he's lost ground is interesting. The press coverage often makes it seem as if Trump is using racial provocations to hold his white blue-collar base while assuming the minorities will never vote for him, and indeed I suspect that - to the extent his provocations have any cunning behind them - he may think about them in those terms. Yet racial polarization in the electorate hasn't actually increased over the last year: Relative to where he stood last November, Trump has lost white support, including working-class-white support, while either holding his own or actually gaining ground with blacks and Hispanics.

His lost support has been heavily concentrated among the female of the species: "From February through December," writes Brownstein, "Trump's approval rating fell more with middle-aged blue-collar white women than any other group." Meanwhile among minorities he's made gains or held his own by appealing primarily to men, while remaining extraordinarily unpopular with black and Hispanic women. "In every age group," Brownstein notes, "and at every level of education, about twice as many African-American men as women gave Trump positive marks," and "among Hispanic men older than 50, Trump's approval - strikingly - exceeded 40 percent."

Relative to where American politics stood before his rise, Trump's campaign polarized America more by class and gender than it did by race. And then, by jettisoning much of the populist economic agenda he campaigned on, Trump's actual presidency has made class less important and gender more essential to understanding how Americans divide.

This doesn't mean that race isn't enduringly important to these divisions; the fact that a minority of minority men seem more blasé about his bigotry than you might expect does not mean that Trump is actually building a pan-racial coalition. But if you're looking at what Trump has directly changed, who seems distinctively offended and energized by his provocations, white-brown-black differences aren't where the action is; instead, it's with the large female backlash that may be poised to swamp the male backlash that helped make him president

The last year has offered ample confirmation of this point. The heart of the anti-Trump resistance movement is middle-aged white women, while the Black Lives Matter movement has receded despite Trump's own attempts to elevate it via his campaign against Colin Kaepernick. In terms of the numbers involved, the white nationalist-antifa collisions have been sideshows compared with the Women's March and its various imitators. And in the culture, the clearest Trump-driven convulsion has been the #MeToo movement, which intersects with race and class but is fundamentally about the relations between the sexes.

There are various conclusions one could draw from this reality. Someone focused on building anti-Trump solidarity might argue that one defining effect of Trump's rise has been to make more white women feel the sense of marginalization and disempowerment that minorities already feel - which is why the female reaction is so much more notable than the reaction among groups more inured to prejudice.

Alternatively, someone focused on the primacy of race might complain that white women have effectively hijacked anti-Trumpism, using their positions of influence in the media and elsewhere to turn what should be a "Get Out!" moment into a "Handmaid's Tale" moment, depriving Black Lives Matter, immigrants' rights groups and other like-minded movements of media oxygen in order to focus on their own more intimate sufferings at the hands of Trump-like elite men.

My own suggestion would be that the surprising gender-over-race dynamic might also reflect some underappreciated social shifts that could modestly depolarize racial issues even as the war over the sexes gets a little worse.

In particular, on two of the issues that drove racial polarization in the late Obama years - the justice system's seeming racial bias, which spurred so much minority activism, and elite support for ever-increasing immigration, which spurred populist backlash on the right - the underlying numbers have actually been moving in the direction desired by both sides' activists.

Mass incarceration isn't just in retreat (with prison populations falling 13 percent from their 2007-08 peak), it's retreated in a very race-specific way: Imprisonment rates for black men plunged by 24 percent in 2000s even as the white imprisonment rate slightly rose. Meanwhile, the immigration rate, legal and illegal, has also fallen quite dramatically since 2005. Neither issue is about to disappear, but it's still notable that trends feeding black disillusionment and white-identity politics were improving in the years leading up to Trump …

… even as trends related to sex, marriage and family continued to show a growing social divide between the sexes, with fewer marriages, fewer children and less sex all around. If "less sex" just means "less for Harvey Weinstein," of course, that's good news for everyone else. But what's being exposed in the Trump era is more than just a few pigs and their crimes. Something is badly out of joint with male-female relations, our ability to woo and be wooed, our capacity to successfully and happily pair off.

It may be too much to hope that recent racial polarization has been driven by trends that are destined to improve. (We don't know, for instance, what's happening with the crime rate after the late-Obama-era spike.) But at the very least our race problems might not, the presidency's bigotry notwithstanding, be necessarily getting worse. Even Trump's recent "what, me, racist?" tweet noting an all-time-low in the black unemployment rate was not wrong: These are the best economic times for African-Americans in a decade.

But there is strong evidence that our problems with sex and gender and male-female relations are worsening - which is why it's understandable that they're at the heart of how the country has reacted to the Trump presidency, and fitting that this year of public protests and intimate revelations have thrown them into sharp relief.


The writer is a New York Times Op-Ed columnist, writes about politics, religion, moral values and higher education

More News For this Category

Female athletes always gendered even before they perform

| By and Zarin Rafiuddin
You hear certain stories that attempt to feign some form of concern only to know that it bound in some sexist ideal. Girls shouldn't bike for so and
Female athletes always gendered even before they perform

Meghan Markle and how the British Monarchy became a Matriarchy

| By
Helen CastorSix hundred and fifty-nine years ago this month, a younger brother of the heir to the throne of England got married. The happy couple was
Meghan Markle and how the British Monarchy became a Matriarchy

'Vim presents Cookups Night Bazaar' featured

| By Feature Desk
'Vim Presents Cookups Night Bazaar' was organized with vibe and vibrancy on Friday at the capital's MIDAS Centre. The biggest utensil cleaner brand by Unilever- Vim and the
'Vim presents Cookups Night Bazaar' featured

How harassment is downplayed to keep women silent

| By and Zarin Rafiuddin
The book Not that Bad (2018), edited by the well-known feminist, Roxane Gay, starts with the chapter "Fragments' by Aubrey Hirsc h. She talks about being a 22 year
How harassment is downplayed to keep women silent

Two projects helping female artists in Africa find their voices

| By
In many African countries, where career paths for women can still be limited to practical fields like nursing and teaching, the decision to attempt a career in art is
Two projects helping female artists in Africa find their voices

Mary Shelley understanding the male ego and its ties with science

| By and Zarin Rafiuddin
Mary Shelley published Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus in 1818. At the tender age of 18 she first began writing this novel, which is one of the first science
Mary Shelley understanding the male ego and its ties with science

Why men quit and women don't

| By
This year's Boston Marathon, with its horizontal rain and freezing temperatures, wasn't just an ordeal unfolding amid some of the worst weather in decades.It was also an example of
Why men quit and women don't

A fusion of learning and attachment

| By and Ashim Kumar Paul
That evening I was surfing internet from my laptop. Wandering, I went to the website of National Academy for Educational Management (NAEM) and there I found a circular in
A fusion of learning and attachment

The Bengal Tigers and the Lion Hearts in Monica Ali's Brick Lane

| By and Md. Abu Yusuf
For more than a few weeks in the summer of 2001, British Asian Muslim youths took to the streets of the northern English towns of Bradford, Burnley and Oldham
The Bengal Tigers and the Lion Hearts in Monica Ali's Brick Lane

And its importance in online spaces

| By and Zarin Rafiuddin
There have been many pieces and articles talking about the #MeToo movement. I think the movement's credibility and exposure are good platforms for discussions to take place. One of
And its importance in online spaces

© 2018 The Asian Age