Donald Trump was speaking at a panel on women’s empowerment on Wednesday. Donald Trump. Women’s empowerment. Really.
I wish I was the genius of satire who’d made up something so audacious. At about the time as lawyers for the President were arguing that his power should make him immune to lawsuit from an Apprentice contestant who alleges Trump sexually harassed her, the man himself stood on a stage and declared his intention to “make our economy a place where women can work, succeed and thrive like never before.” Good one.
People talk about Trump and the art of the deal, but do they yet recognise his mastery of the art of the gag? Take, for example, this line: “I’m so proud the White House and our administration is filled with so many women of such incredible talent.” It takes a real craftsman of comedy to hang so much on that one word “filled”, because Trump’s administration isn’t actually full of women, by any definition of that word. Of 24 Cabinet members, four are female. Four! As Trump likes to say while soaking up applause for one of his "zingers”, “We didn’t get that on Madison avenue"”
No I don’t know what that expression means either. But then I'm not certain I know what anything means anymore – including the term “women's empowerment”, which apparently no longer entails giving women any power, including the power to decide whether they want to be pregnant or not.
Trump’s presidential Cabinet is even more dominated by white men than that of Ronald Reagan, and Reagan’s administration marked the beginning of the 1980s backlash era in American politics. Trump always has to go one better: if he’s going to do backlash, it will be the biggest, most beautiful backlash you’ve ever seen.
As far as Trump’s specific plans for "empowering" women, they amount to a sort of pulpy mush of benevolent sexism and doing absolutely nothing at all. He larded it on about how “scary” women’s competence is to men, while offering exactly no explanation of why – if women are so terrifyingly brilliant – we keep on getting paid less and being given worse jobs than men. Never mind; we must just need to “believe in each other and dare to dream”.
Actually, that’s not quite fair. There was a mention for one political policy: affordable childcare, the signature issue of Trump’s daughter Ivanka, which would be a huge boon to women’s independence. Well, women in wealthy families; according to one analysis, 70 per cent of the benefits of this proposal would go to families making $100,000 (£80,000) a year or more. Not much help here, then, for single mothers on the breadline.
Trump's "empowerment" speech was less big on women’s liberation than it was on family; less about what the state can do to support and enfranchise women, more about what “potential” can be rinsed out of women in the service of Making America Great Again.
Maybe the model MAGA wife is Vice President Mike Pence’s spouse, Karen, who, according to a Washington Post profile, sits in on meetings with her husband and acts as his “gut check and shield”. So devoted are the Pences, in fact, that he reportedly “never eats alone with a woman other than his wife” and “won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side”. So good luck getting your claws into Pence, all you workplace trollops. In fact, good luck getting a lunch meeting with him if he happens to be your boss. If you really wanted to release your potential, perhaps you should have tried harder to be born a man.
Donald wasn’t the only Trump speaking on Wednesday. While he was empowering women to dream (as long as they don’t dream of taking him to court), his wife Melania was making a rare appearance of her own in Washington at the International Woman of Courage Awards. “The time for empowering women is now,” she said. “Wherever women are diminished, the world is diminished.” It was the best joke in her and her husband’s entire double-act routine on women that day.
The time to empower women was last November, when America could have elected Hillary Clinton, and nobody in modern politics has done as much to diminish women as Donald Trump.
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