The Donald Trump I knew is not the one I see in politics these days. The first time I saw Trump, he was the savvy passerby in Home Alone II who pointed Kevin McAllister toward the lobby of a four-star hotel. I was about Kevin’s age at the time, and I remember thinking, “Look at that. He treats Kevin like an adult. He doesn’t act surprised or condescending.” He struck me as supremely suave, a real refreshment from the adults in my life who would’ve interrogated me, asked about my parents, called security.
Almost a decade later, I saw Trump again on The Apprentice, a show I honestly didn’t watch that often. I was in college by then, and just happened to catch a few minutes while visiting my parents. Trump was listening to a real clown introduce himself on the show and brag about how he evicted tenants if they paid their rent even one day late. Trump remarked, “I might have to evict you at some point. Business is about heart.” I was impressed.
But lately most feminists either hate him, fear him, or find him hysterical. Yes, a few defend him. (I’ll get to that.) He’s made some serious gaffes over the past year, like suggesting that women should be punished for having abortions—something even most conservatives don’t support. After an outcry, of course, he reversed his stance. Meanwhile, he seems to support equal pay, even though he told a woman at a rally she’d be paid the same only “if you do as good a job” as a man. He blamed Megyn Kelly’s period for her hostility toward him during a primary debate. He’s been recorded saying he’d have kids as long as he didn’t have to raise them himself.
This isn’t the Trump I grew up with. The old Trump was arguably a feminist, or at least not a sexist. A year ago, The Washington Post published passages about women from Trump’s various books. I have to admit that sometimes he sounds reasonable. For example, in The Art of the Deal he says women are often “far more effective than the men around them,” and that “I’ve hired a lot of women for top jobs.” In Surviving at the Top, he says, “I’m just oblivious to a person’s gender when it comes to hiring people and handing out assignments.”
That sounds like someone I might vote for in a general election. Where the hell is this Donald Trump now, in 2016?
He seems to have lost his mind, and his transformation over the last decade is almost inexplicable. Once a Clinton supporter, and a relatively amusing Reality TV host, Trump’s biggest claim to fame now? He’s the embarrassment of the G.O.P, the man who tried to impeach Obama based on a completely fictional birth certificate crisis.
Trump’s family is trying hard to convince voters that today’s Trump supports feminism. Both his wife Melania and his daughter Ivanka have touted his allegedly feminist track record. At best, Trump is wildly inconsistent as a feminist. Earlier this year, She Knows published a lengthy history of his sexist remarks regarding sexual assault, abuse, abortion, misogyny, and machismo. His family completely ignores these remarks when they talk about his feminism.
Trump’s sexism runs deeper than words, according to The Boston Globe, which reported that Trump “has paid men on his campaign staff one-third more than women.”
We might say that Trump is superficially a feminist. He knows how to play the feminist card when it suits his ends, like when he wondered aloud about Ghazala Khan, “maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.” So typical of Trump, isn’t it? He floats a half-formed thought and lets everyone pick it apart. If he weren’t so bad with words, I’d say his calculated ambiguity made him a gifted poet.
Trump’s jab about Ghazala Khan may have been a half-hearted attempt to reveal the supposed hypocrisy of liberal feminism in the U.S. The reasoning seems to be: Hillary claims to be a feminist, and yet she invited a Muslim man to speak at her convention, a man who wouldn’t let his wife get in a single word.
I’m really tired of conservative politicians like Trump trying to scare feminists with these stereotypes of Islam. Just last week, someone on Twitter tried to convince me that Hillary Clinton was secretly planning to declare Sharia law in the U.S. Photographs of her in hijab have been circulating on Twitter for awhile now, above captions that warn women to protect their rights and keep her out of the White House.
This move is both predictable and insulting. This summer, Trump supporters have frequently berated me and other feminists online for spouting off too much about American sexism while ignoring the supposedly far worse misogyny of Islam. I’m well aware of the status of women in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. I also know of the healthy feminist movements in those countries. I took Middle Eastern politics in college and studied Arabic and Farsi. I’ve read enough of the Quran and contemporary commentary by progressive Islamic scholars to know that Islam is no more violent or sexist than Christianity and Judaism. Conservatives make a big mistake when they assume women—or anyone for that matter—know as little as they do about world religions.
Besides, I suspect Middle Eastern feminists don’t need my help. My tweets are useful to them. I don’t live or vote in those countries. I can show solidarity with those movements, I can read about them and learn from them, I can donate money toward their projects. Aside from that, there’s not much else I can do without becoming a hypocrite. In fact, I believe one of Gayatri Spivak’s main arguments in “Can the Subaltern Speak?” is that Western feminists should mind their own business.
Trump’s sexism doesn’t pull apart that easily from his more general opportunism, selfishness, and dishonesty. I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton just because she’s a feminist and Trump is a sexist. I also find problems with Trump’s racism, his broad lack of vocabulary, his inability to articulate supposedly sound economic plans, his recklessness, and his absurd ideas like building a wall to keep out immigrants. His sexism is just one more flaw.
On the other hand, some of Trump’s critics are equally sexist. Take the Ted Cruz supporters who tried to use Melania Trump’s nude photos in GQ against Trump, asking questions like, “Is that the kind of First Lady you want?” To be honest, I have no problem at all with a First Lady who looks hot in lingerie and poses for magazines. It would be ideal if she could also promote public health initiatives like Michelle Obama has, among her many other accomplishments. If sprawling out in her underwear and plagiarizing speeches is the only thing she can do, though, I’ll take a pass on that.
In the end, Trump is what I’d call a fair-weather feminist. He uses feminism when it gains him voters. He boasts a twisted understanding of equality in which he’s allowed to belittle women and men alike using whatever insults he can. A woman can support Trump if she wants, and that’s her business. But her Trump love doesn’t make her any more feminist than the rest of us.