Crooked Hillary? Trump, impunity, and the sexist double-standard

Much has been made this election cycle of a perceived impunity Hilary Clinton appears to enjoy. Given the amount of coverage devoted to allegations regarding the Clinton Foundation and her notorious e-mail servers, Bernie Sander’s emphatic plea that the American people are “sick and tired of hearing about [her] damn e-mails,” sounds in retrospect like a lost voice in the desert. This issue in particular, ‘Clintonian’ impunity, proves the greatest vulnerability in the campaign to elect our nation’s first woman president.

Yet this past week, Americans faced another sort of impunity which brought the country, and the world for that matter, to its knees not but eight years ago. John Stumpf, the ‘gutless’ CEO of Wells Fargo, spoke in front of the Senate Banking Committee, simultaneously claiming total accountability for the scandal embroiling the bank and blaming every employee for the massive-fraud save executives and himself. The hearing proved a theatrical demonstration in the sort of executive impunity Americans seem to have accepted as status quo in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown.

At the hearing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts bolstered her record as the champion of the populist response to Wall Street lawlessness. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton published their respective responses to the scandal, with both rejecting the specific premise of executive unaccountability – the cornerstone of Wall Street’s social irresponsibility. Yet of all people, Donald Trump, the self-styled personification of populist outrage, remained noticeably silent on the entire issue.

Trump’s silence and complicity can only mean an acceptance of this status quo; let alone what his plans to dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau seem to suggest. More important to note, though, is why this particular form of impunity does not bring the Donald roaring to the podium. Why the obvious absence of a massive response from the Trump movement to this blatant mockery of the American people and our laws?

For starters, Trump stands as the beneficiary of this very sort of moral unaccountability. From the racist beginning of his campaign, to the Trump University fraud scandal, and ending in his deflection of the Birther movement, Trump enjoys and has enjoyed an ethical and legal double-standard unlike any other in modern American politics. Then again, his opponent is unlike any other opponent a candidate has faced in modern American presidential politics: a woman.

Assuming the legitimacy of both the outrage against Clintonian and Wall Street impunity, one cannot deny that the former stokes much stronger and lasting anger. Trump and his followers obsessively decry not just the content of the email scandal but Clinton’s very moral being (“Crooked” Hillary). But Trump’s lack of response to the Wells Fargo scandal points directly to the double-standard of impunity in this election cycle. The non-existent reply from the Trump movement proves that it is not impunity as such that they reject (Trump’s personal impunity, Wall Street impunity, etc.), but, specifically, a woman acting with impunity.

Perhaps this represents a continuation of long-standing, sexist resentments in the United States. One easily draws this conclusion when observing how personally so many of Trump’s followers seem to take Clinton’s missteps. Moreover, the GOP candidate’s rhetoric regarding women in general comes to mind. What became clear following Trump’s silence on the Wells Fargo scandal was the double-standard he’d inculcated in his followers with respect to a major issue for most Americans: The notion that this country operates for elites in a way it does not for average citizens.

Even if Trump were to raise hell about the Wells Fargo scandal (Stealin’ Stumpf?), the issue of his personal amorality still stands. That might have just been an issue of his personal disregard for social standards, his “temperament” as the Clinton campaign puts it. Yet this most recent spat, or lack thereof, proves just how insidious his movement’s focus on Clintonian impunity truly is.

It is not that elite politicians get away with breaking the law, nor that elites in general are free to live above it. Evidently, this country can readily handle men getting away with anything (Brock Turner comes to mind). But a woman getting away with breaking the law? That literally incites a personal, visceral rage in a sizeable portion of the American population, and largely fuels the Trump insurgency.

Though Trump’s sexist rage proves shameful and a sad testament to the state of sexual politics in this country, this most recent misstep of his reveals two perhaps critical weaknesses in his campaign. First, as argued above, this obsession on his part can be nothing but a twenty-first century witch hunt. The evidence of a double-standard, and the vitriol characteristic thereof, proves that unabashed sexism informs his pursuit. Second, and perhaps more devastating, Trump, the hulking macho who will muscle America back to greatness, might be too weak to take on Wall Street. He’s proven his willingness to unendingly prosecute Clintonian impunity, yet he is utterly impotent to do anything about that of Wall Street.

As the man’s supporters go, one finds it hard to believe the issue of Wall Street irresponsibility would not cause them to take up arms. Yet the media and Trump’s campaign refuse to fan the flames of that fire. While this points directly at the separate issue of how the media fails the American public in its perpetuation of the sexist double-standard, this issue also highlights a serious failing of the candidate towards his supposed constituents. If the issue is pressed, Trump might be forced to speak up on the subject. Moreover, as a member of that very elite he so regularly decries, Trump may finally be pressed by his own supporters into releasing his tax returns.

The challenge to Trump is to prove to his supporters that he does not actively and regularly benefit personally from this double-standard. Politically, this double-standard proves a gold mine for him. But as it pertains to this elitist person himself – Donald Trump, the GOP candidate – it has the potential to reveal his weakest point with his own base.

Photo: Donald Trump shrugs off accusations during the first Republican presidential debate in Cleveland on August 6, 2015. | AP 


Colby Wagenbach
Colby Wagenbach

Colby Wagenbach lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.