Sexual Politics

I don’t know what to make of the Trump thing. I don’t think anybody does—not even Trump.  Its agenda is as yet unformed, but the model of a racist strongman is already there. Economic anguish, racial distress, status anxieties, terrorism—all play a part. Some of the anger is real, and some of it is a fantasy projection. Taking this apart will take some time, at which point it may be too late.

But let’s begin with sexual politics, not just because it’s such a powerful force to begin with, but because it’s clearly a motivating factor in this election. So is race, of course, but there’s a highly developed rhetoric for discussing that issue, on all sides. The conceptual language that exists about sex is far less widely shared. Sexual politics is, finally, subtle, its contours often ambiguous, not because it really is but because it is so intimate. What is truly intimate is also hard to see.

But recent stats on demographics and voting patterns are a good place to find the grubs under the rock. The Times’s data crunchers have compiled a revealing breakdown of voting preferences by sex. Clinton is leading Trump in every group but white males without a college degree. If class alone accounts for this discrepancy, why isn’t Trump winning white working class women by anything like the same margin? His lead among such men is 40 points, according to a recent ABC poll, but when you factor in such women it shrinks to 15 percent. (College-educated men favor Clinton, but by a much smaller margin than educated women do.) The gender gap, it seems, exists across the class structure, suggesting that sexual attitudes are a key element in Trump’s allure. This gap is present in nearly every election, but this year it may be greater than in all of modern history.

It has to be said, first of all, that the sexual anxieties produced by the rising status of women would exist without Hillary Clinton. But for all of her career she has been an emblem of white male resentment. Whether it’s acknowledged or not, she embodies the sexual struggles of the past 25 years. In asserting that, I don’t want to deny her flaws, ideological and strategic. But these issues have become venomized in Clinton’s case, and I don’t think that quality—similar in its intensity to the racial hysteria that surrounds Obama—has entirely to do with rational judgment. Sex never does.

I’ve been struck by the proliferation of Hillary-as-bitch iconography on the internet. It isn’t hard to come across these memes or their close relation, images of Hillary as a witch—(rhymes with). Of course, everything exists on the internet, but what interests me is the provenance of these pics. They appear on the web pages of progressive young men nearly as often as they do on right-wing sites, and they’re also present on heterosexual porn blogs. This is clearly a subjective analysis, but there seems to be a crossover, and I think it corresponds to the hidden currents of male fantasy on both the left and right.

I’m not saying that the militants who think that Sanders has betrayed the revolution are sexists, certainly not most of them. The political reasons for their rage are real. But I am suggesting that their animus has a psychosexual dimension. The politics of Clinton hating, across the spectrum, is infused with negative energy, reflecting a coded response to her projection of power. The sobriquet Trump has bestowed on her—“Crooked Hillary”—is freighted with this energy: she’s crooked, as in, not just criminal but also not straight, not a real woman. Of course, It’s easier to see that shit on the right, just as it’s easier to see the racial panic that animates the Trump campaign. The right is less mediated than the left when it comes to expressing aggression. But biases rooted in sexual fears are as pervasive a force in this election as is race or class. They’re just harder to spot.