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I was determined to take a break from writing about GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump and then he went and pulled out the "schlong."
In Grand Rapids, Mich., on Monday evening, Trump drew his now-typical arena audience of 7,500 — a scene equal parts Ross Perot '92 and George Wallace '68. There, he carried out a long and bizarre attack on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Much of it was focused on her delay in returning to the stage following a commercial break during the Democratic debate on Saturday. Trump continually described Clinton's bathroom break — a fairly routine part of life — as "disgusting": "I know where she went, it's disgusting, I don't want to talk about it. No, it's too disgusting. Don't say it, it's disgusting." Such disgust with normal activities of the female body was, of course, reminiscent of Trump's suggestion that Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly was driven to tough questioning of him because she was menstruating ("You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her — wherever."). Those comments are the latest in a long line of demeaning statements Trump has made about women over the years, the basis for Kelly's challenge to Trump in that first debate that agitated him so thoroughly.
Monday's comments went to a new, sexualized level as Trump described Clinton as being "schlonged" by Barack Obama in their 2008 primary battle: "...[S]he was gonna beat Obama. ... But she was going to beat — she was favored to win — and she got schlonged." Suggesting that Clinton's perceived inevitably is overstated based on her past performance is a fair, if unoriginal, attack, but using a term better suited to a Penthouse Forum to do so makes clear anew that the woman who would be the nation's first female president hits real psychosexual buttons.
Some will say that we should "have a sense of humor" about Trump's comments. The problem is not Trump's failed attempt at humor (in contrast, the "Saturday Night Live" weekend sketch that brought together 2015 Hillary, 2008 Hillary and Sarah Palin included some brilliant gender humor), but the dispiriting tone toward women with which it was said.
The crass, sexist comments were yet another reminder of Trump's unsuitability for public office. More importantly though, his comments are a reminder about why it's crucial that the ultimate glass ceiling be broken and that America finally grapple with true gender equality. Raised in a home where "women's lib" was both promoted and practiced, I saw my mother face challenges in the newly emerging field of computer programming starting in the 1960s, and the limitations my smart and creative grandmother faced made me a feminist before I had a word for it. The operating assumption of the early 1970s was that gender disparities in the United States — in both life and in law — were nearing their end. While naive in retrospect, it was generally expected that a woman would have held the nation's highest office — with all its symbolic power — within a generation. Forty-plus years later, we're still waiting.
Hillary Clinton is an imperfect candidate. Despite the personal warmth described by friends, Clinton lacks authenticity as a candidate. Her long, polarizing history on the national stage makes her a poor agent for political conciliation. And, her coziness with Wall Street is out of step with the domestic issue of this age: economic inequality. Despite these flaws, she has many strengths: She is strong, smart and has a depth of command of domestic and foreign policy issues that is unmatched. This ambidextrousness is crucial during a campaign where the issue of the week could come from absolutely any direction and any part of the globe and makes her a highly suitable candidate for the Oval Office. The most important aspect of her candidacy, however, is that her electoral success would affirm, once and for all, that gender does not define one's future in America.
Let's be clear. Just as Barack Obama's presidency has flared up expressions of base racism across the nation, a Hillary Clinton presidency will pull to the surface misogynistic sentiments of the sort we see in Trump's remarks from this week. But, it will also remake America for future generations of girls — and boys.