What would it be like if a black, Hispanic, Muslim, or woman candidate for president said the bigoted things Donald Trump has been saying — except focused such comments on white men?
It's a useful thought experiment — one that shows the extremism of Trump's views, as well as the white, male privilege that permits him to espouse them as a candidate for president.
Take the latest Trump controversy: his treatment of women. Seven women have now come out against Trump, claiming that he forcibly kissed or groped them. The sexual assault allegations give real-world examples to the gross comments Trump made in recently leaked audio: "I'm automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait," Trump said. "When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything."
Of course, this wasn't even the first time Trump made incredibly crude comments about women. He previously said, "Women: you have to treat 'em like shit." He told Celebrity Apprentice contestant and former Playboy Playmate Brande Roderick, "It must be a pretty picture. You dropping to your knees." He suggested that Fox News's Megyn Kelly asked him tough questions because she was menstruating. He even objectified his own daughter, saying, "I've said if Ivanka weren't my daughter, perhaps I'd be dating her."
So what would it be like if a woman tried to make similar comments about men?
One thing that's especially tricky about imagining these comments in the reverse is that Americans don't have the kind of cultural language to objectify and denigrate men in the same way as women. But let's take, for instance, a woman presidential candidate, Claire Hilton, and imagine her saying similarly sexist thing about men:
- "I'm automatically attracted to handsome — I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab 'em by the balls. You can do anything."
- "Men: You have to treat 'em like shit."
- "He gets out and he starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions. You could tell that his testosterone levels were completely out of control."
- "I've said if Bobby wasn't my son, perhaps I'd be dating him."
That many of these examples don't quite match up with Trump's is exactly the point — they may sound more weird than anything, but that's because the structure of power from which Trump speaks does not exist in the same form for women. The language that objectifies women in American culture simply doesn't exist for straight, cisgender (non-transgender) men. It seems absurd to reduce a man just to his body, or reducing a man's behaviors to only biological factors — just as it should seem for women.
This, by the way, is an oft-unspoken reality of political correctness in America: There's much that white, straight males can say that members of more marginalized groups cannot, despite Trump's repeated claims that he's the one under siege by political correctness. And Trump's treatment of women isn't the first time he's demonstrated this dynamic.
Kicking a judge off the bench because he's white or Christian?
In a previous controversy, Trump declared that a federal judge, Gonzalo Curiel, shouldn't oversee the Trump University case because he's "of Mexican heritage" and a member of a Hispanic lawyers' association. Trump explained, "I'm building a wall. It's an inherent conflict of interest."
Trump later clarified that a Muslim judge could also be disqualified from a case against him, presumably because he's proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the US.
But what happens if this isn't about Trump, Hispanic Americans, or Muslims?
Let's imagine, for instance, that a black presidential candidate, Barry Cooker, suggests that a white judge couldn't oversee a lawsuit against him. Here's how that might look, with the wording taken from the Wall Street Journal's report on Trump's racial and ethnic test for a Hispanic judge, except with names and some identifiers switched out:
Mr. Cooker said US District Judge Bob Stevens had "an absolute conflict" in presiding over the litigation given that he was "of white heritage" and a member of a predominantly white lawyers' association. Mr. Cooker said the background of the judge, who was born in Indiana to white Americans, was relevant because of his campaign stance against police brutality against black Americans and support for financial reparations to compensate for centuries of anti-black policies like slavery and segregated housing. "I want him to pay reparations. It's an inherent conflict of interest," Mr. Cooker said.
Or we can imagine a Muslim presidential candidate, Karl Edison, arguing that a Jewish judge couldn't oversee a lawsuit against him:
Mr. Edison said US District Judge Bob Stevens had "an absolute conflict" in presiding over the litigation given that he was "of Jewish heritage" and a member of a Jewish lawyers' association. Mr. Edison said the background of the judge, who was born in Indiana to Jewish Americans, was relevant because of his campaign stance against foreign aid to Israel and opposition to Israelis' settlements in the West Bank. "I want Israel to pay for its actions against the Palestinians. It's an inherent conflict of interest," Mr. Edison said.
Writing these words simply feels wrong. A candidate who said any of this would be done by nightfall. Yet Trump has survived.
A religious test for immigration and tourism?
One of Trump's most shocking proposals was his plan to ban all Muslims from entering the US. The comments came a week after the San Bernardino shooting, in which two Muslim shooters killed 14 people. Trump said his ban was necessary until US leaders could "figure out what is going on."
But what if the hypothetical Muslim presidential candidate, Karl Edison, said that we should ban all Christians from entering the US? Here's what that might look like, based on the New York Times' report for Trump's Muslim ban, except the names and words are again switched out:
Karl T. Edison called on Monday for the United States to bar all Christians from entering the country until the nation's leaders can "figure out what is going on" after gunmen seized a government building in Burns, Oregon, an extraordinary escalation of rhetoric aimed at voters' fears about members of the Christian faith.
A prohibition of Christians — an unprecedented proposal by a leading American presidential candidate, and an idea more typically associated with hate groups — reflects a progression of mistrust that is rooted in ideology as much as politics.
Mr. Edison, who in September declared "I love the Christians," turned sharply against them after the armed standoff in Oregon, calling for a database to track Christians in America and repeating discredited rumors that thousands of Christians celebrated in Nevada after a similar group of Christian gunmen fended off federal agents in an armed standoff at a ranch.
The referenced gunmen in this, in case it's not totally clear, are the Bundys, the family that helped lead armed standoffs at a ranch in Nevada and later a wildlife refuge in Oregon, frequently citing anti-government beliefs but also their Christian faith. Cliven Bundy, for instance, said during the Nevada standoff, "If the standoff with the Bundys was wrong, would the Lord have been with us?"
Many Americans might quickly point out that the Bundys don't represent Christians or the denomination they belong to, Mormonism. They are, instead, extremists who have wildly misinterpreted their faith.
But that's exactly the point. The two shooters who killed 14 people in San Bernardino don't represent most Muslims, either. But Muslims don't get the same benefit of the doubt that Christians do if a Christian individual or group lashes out.
So Trump, in a sweeping proposal, lumped up all Muslims into a monolithic group, and suggested they should be banned from the US. Something similar for Christians, even if it's based on bouts of violence done at least partially in the name of Christianity, seems patently absurd, because Americans are more sympathetic to a religion a lot of them follow or are, at the very least, more familiar with.
A minority or woman candidate would simply not get away with any of this
The broader point is that a minority or woman candidate simply couldn't get away with these kinds of comments. A Muslim candidate running for president would likely be forced to downplay his religion. A black or Hispanic candidate would likely have to downplay his race or ethnicity. A woman candidate would, until very recently, likely similarly downplay her gender. Anything that would make them seem like the "other" to what Americans are used to in politics could pose a risk to the campaign.
In fact, these aren't even entirely hypotheticals. One can just look at the Democratic presidential primary in 2008 for clear examples. Hillary Clinton, for one, strayed away from bringing up her gender too much — to the point that it was actually a story in the beginning of the 2016 campaign that she would be leaning into her possible place in history as America's first woman president. And Barack Obama had to fight off accusations that he's Muslim — not just because he's Christian, but because voters' fears about Islam posed a political threat to his campaign.
Obama also avoided the issue of race in his campaigns and presidency. As Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote for the Atlantic in 2012, in a piece titled "Fear of a Black President," "The irony of Barack Obama is this: he has become the most successful black politician in American history by avoiding the radioactive racial issues of yesteryear, by being 'clean' (as Joe Biden once labeled him) — and yet his indelible blackness irradiates everything he touches."
Obama's initial message was all about unity and hope. His most memorable speech on race — in 2008 — only came after his hand was forced when controversial remarks by his black pastor surfaced. In this, Obama was avoiding associating himself too closely with his race — perhaps to avoid the "race baiter" label that followed so many prominent black politicians, like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, before him, and would make him a divisive figure in a politics dominated by white men.
Meanwhile, Trump can fully lean into his whiteness and maleness. He can proudly cite his plans to ban the people who aren't like most Americans — Mexicans and Muslims. He can objectify women — even his own daughter! — and become the Republican nominee for president. And if he is criticized? Bah, it's just political correctness striking again.
But the real political correctness here isn't in what Trump says, but in what nonwhite and non-male candidates know they could never say.
Minority and women candidates can't challenge the taboos Trump has gleefully ignored. When they lean into their race, ethnicity, religion, or gender, they're told they're playing cards — the race card, woman card, Muslim card, whatever. So they need to play it safe, and avoid aligning themselves too much with identity politics. It's a huge double standard, and one Trump has profited mightily from.