CLEVELAND – Vendors hawking souvenirs and political ephemera line the sidewalks and streets of downtown Cleveland. Hoping to cash in with all the Republican National Convention delegates, they’ve brought truckloads of buttons, t-shirts, books, Donald Trump bobbleheads, and more. For the political collector, there’s tons to choose from. The hottest-selling item this week according to one salesman: a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan, “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica.”
It’s a cheap reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal that engulfed Bill Clinton’s White House in 1998. As the old saying goes, sex sells. Apparently the same can be said of sexism. As crass as the Monica button is though, that’s not the worst on display here. It’s actually just the beginning. “Trump that Bitch” and “Trump vs. the Tramp” are oft-heard chants. Flyers detailing Clinton’s supposed crimes are handed out with the headline, “Lock the bitch up!”
Bitch is a popular word with these people.
Now they want Hillary dead
And today the sexist paranoia around the former secretary of State perhaps reached its crescendo. Throwing Hillary in prison is no longer enough.
Now, they actually want to kill her.
Al Baldasaro, a New Hampshire RNC delegate and Trump’s advisor on veteran’s issues, publicly called for the execution of Hillary Clinton. Speaking about Benghazi and the deleted emails on talk radio this morning, Baldasaro said, “Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.”
It would seem like the intensity of their hatred for Clinton has reached its ultimate level. Then again, maybe the misogyny still has further to go yet. There’s one more day remaining in the convention, after all, and Trump himself has yet to address the delegates. And the Republican nominee has a solid record of his own when it comes to sexism, womanizing, and attacks on women generally.
Recently, there were the public fights with Fox News host Megyn Kelly (“blood coming out of her wherever“) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (“Goofy Pocahontas“). They’re just the latest though. Dozens of women have come forward with lurid tales of his misdeeds over the decades. His nomination has certainly ramped up the level of gender-based vitriol against Clinton on the national scene, just as it has done for race and religion. But this is not just a Trump phenomenon. He is the endgame of the anti-woman policies the Republican Party has been pursuing for years.
From ever-escalating restrictions on freedom of choice and affirmative action, to opposing family leave and pay equity policies, the GOP has long been greasing the skids for their current slide into open sexism. Trump is their product.
What are Republican women thinking?
With such a spirit of machismo on display at the RNC and open calls for violence being heard, how do Republican women feel about the anti-woman turn their party has taken?
If Rita Gaus and Cynthia Schaffer, delegates from Illinois, are representative, many apparently don’t see any problem at all. They insist that Trump and the Republican Party are “not targeting Hillary because she’s a woman, but because of her crimes.” For them, claims that there is sexism at the convention are simply a political game.
“If you are a confident woman, you won’t be offended,” Schaffer reasons. “If Clinton is offended, that’s just belittling women.” Hillary’s just too soft and can’t take a little heat.
Gaus agrees. “Some people use their womanhood for their political benefit; they make themselves the victim to get an advantage.” According to her, it’s all opportunism. “Every time someone has an argument with a colored person, they are racist. If it’s a gay, then they are anti-gay. If it’s a woman, they are sexist.”
Schaffer says her candidate’s past controversies over his treatment of women aren’t troubling. “Even if the guy [Trump] is a sexist, that’s his problem.” She’s willing to overlook it. There are bigger issues at stake, she believes.
“I used to think he was a big buffoon,” Schaffer added, but “it was his plan to Make America Great Again” that sold her on the Trump ticket. Both she and Gaus are ready for the wall. “We look at all the refugees,” Gaus argues, “who want to slaughter us, murder us, and rape us.” Trump is apparently the strongman who can protect the country from the rest of the world.
As for all the convention buttons ridiculing Hillary Clinton’s breast size and her thighs, or the t-shirts bragging about Trump’s big balls? Gaus and Schaffer laugh it all off. Just a few jokes; no need to get offended, they say.
History will look back at this moment
The Clinton campaign recently released an ad titled “Role Models.” In it, the eyes of children are transfixed on the television screen as some of Trump’s most offensive statements from the campaign are heard. “Our children are watching,” the commercial says, “What example will we set for them?” It’s a masterful piece of political propaganda.
But it makes a very important point. The Trump campaign is placing a decision before Americans about who we want to be as a country. The outcome of the 2016 election is one that will go a long way in determining whether the nation embraces its multiracial and multicultural reality, or begins a trek back toward some supposedly “great” America where women and racial minorities knew their place.
As for the GOP, its members have decisions to make about what kind of party they will be. For years, they have embraced more racism, more anti-immigrant rhetoric, more Islamophobia, and more sexism. The party’s leaders have employed a divisive ideology that seeks to split people apart and keep them fighting each other. If the 99 percent are kept busy fearing and blaming one another for their problems, they will never see it is Trump and the rest of the billionaire class who make up the 1 percent that really benefit from disunity.
Some will dismiss all of this week’s Hillary-hating festival in Cleveland as simply the indulgences of the fringe element of the Republican Party – the paranoid obsessions of the rabble. Others, like Gaus and Schaffer, may attempt to laugh off the buttons and t-shirts as just lighthearted humor. But neither of those are the case, no matter what some embarrassed Republicans might try to argue.
This is what the GOP has allowed itself to become. As he has done with racism and Islamophobia, Donald Trump has made sexism okay again. Republicans have embraced him and his message. The political culture of their party has descended even further into the cesspool of hatred.
For the precedent they are setting, the whole Republican Party will have to answer to history.
Photo: Anti-Hillary Clinton buttons on sale at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. | C.J. Atkins/PW