I have never felt more like a journalist than I did while watching the final presidential debate of 2016. At first my eyes were somehow glued to both my Twitter feed and a screen displaying the debate, but my typing fingers finally slowed to a halt at 9:40 pm. He just couldn’t stop interrupting her. Later, I came home to a cozy dorm room and allowed myself two minutes of Instagram decompression before reopening my laptop to write an article about what I had just witnessed, what I have witnessed this whole election — hoping, pleading that the people who eventually read it will hear me for what I am: a human being in a constant state of fear regarding what comes next, and not a media-rigger, a liar, or, god help me, someone looking for 15 minutes of fame.
Ten women have come forward and accused Donald Trump of sexual assault, all of whom, he has said, are just seeking attention. At the last debate, between his misinformation on women’s health and his own sexual predation, Trump only made this disgusting code of ethics worse.
As Hillary Clinton, the world’s most even-keeled badass, put it: “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. ... I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like.”
I am a woman, and I know how this feels. And it is my civic duty as an American citizen and a journalist to denounce his very presence in the 2016 race.
Donald Trump is, in layman’s terms, a bully. He’s every troll in the comments section who has told people with whom he disagrees to kill themselves, every guy who gave swirlies in middle school bathrooms in the 1990s, every abusive dude who felt so superior as to think it was his place to tell women that they need to lose weight. What's more, Trump is also a hypocrite about this bullying: He continues to vilify others for doing the same things on which he capitalizes. Trump has called Mexican immigrants rapists, while women have started to come forward to accuse him of sexual assault. His commentary is not “real” or “honest” or “raw,” but at the very best misleading, degrading, and deplorable. (I know he loves that word.)
And the impact of having a presidential candidate who is a bully is clear. There’s even a name for it: The Trump Effect. Secretary Clinton brought this up during the second debate, and it unsurprisingly seemed to pass over her opponent’s inflamed head. Teachers across America have reported higher rates of anxiety and fear in their students of color and increased uncivil political discourse in their classrooms, and 40 percent of educators have decided to resist discussing the election in class at all. When people use the term “Trump’s America,” they aren’t just referring to a Saturday Night Live sketch (although all of those have been deeply hilarious and on point), but to real, honest, and raw concern among countless Americans about their future quality of life.
It is difficult to channel my focus to only one of Trump’s flaws. All the problems his candidacy has brought to the table — including racism, xenophobia, and countless other types of bigotry — are equally important to discuss and dissect. The prospect of Trump’s candidacy makes me afraid for so many people in America. I watch as two of my brilliant and beautiful roommates (one is an international student from Oman, the other of Hispanic descent) scream at the TV when Trump screws up a debate question. I watch them worry about what will happen to their scholarships, their families, the lives they’ve built in our corner of the world. These women’s worries are only two examples of a widespread fear in our country. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is wrong. I shouldn’t have to justify their fear. They shouldn’t have to be afraid.
But Trump’s shaming of women is what I feel most qualified to comment on. Although I am a relatively privileged white woman, Trump still makes me fear for myself. At the writing of this article, Trump’s largest and most recent offense was the publication of a hot-mic recording of comments describing sexual assault that the candidate made during a 2005 appearance on Access Hollywood with Billy Bush. While Trump called his comments “locker-room banter” — no doubt in the hope that it would make him seem innocent — doing so made the situation far worse. Trump condoned touching women against their will because he feels he is powerful and therefore can do whatever he wants. Win or lose, Trump has cultivated rape culture in America, and standing on the sidelines is not an option.
But perhaps even more disturbing than the comment itself was the reality that so many people were so unsurprised that he said it. His entire career has been spent verbally (and perhaps physically) abusing people — specifically women. He gets off on “firing” people, criticizing a woman’s ability to lead, referring to entire ethnic groups in derogatory terms, teaching our children a lifestyle of disrespect and cheating, and fat-shaming prominent, successful women. Trump has made many a comment on Rosie O’Donnell’s body shape in the past. He has not only refused to apologize for his racist and fatphobic comments about former Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado, but also used his multimillion-follower base to slut-shame her for a sex tape, apparently to prove that not only was Machado “fat,” but she was “no Girl Scout.” One of his most popular anti-Hillary phrases (of many) is, “She doesn’t have the look.”
His comments about women harm far more people than the individuals they single out. The effect transcends his various targets, including his opponent (who, by the way, is extremely qualified to be Madam President and has the most chic pantsuits I have ever seen), to all young girls and women, who receive the message that sexism and rape culture are alive and well. It teaches boys and men that they can get away with saying things of a similar nature to the individuals in their lives. Trump’s so-called candor is not honest: It is ruthless and hateful and erases all progress in societal kindness.
In one of my communications classes at school, my professor took an entire class period to “talk about how we talk about politics” instead of lecturing about our reading. My classmates told stories of the sexism and racism they’ve experienced over the course of this election, the friends they’ve lost because they became Trump supporters, and even the personal affects of how Trump speaks.
“He’s angry,” a student said.
“He’s aggressive,” I chimed in, comparing him to an abusive parent, while Hillary is the parent who “isn’t mad, she’s just disappointed.”
“Oh my god, I don’t want them to be my parents,” my professor said.
The class laughed, but not because it was funny. We laughed because we are scared. This election is not just political. It’s personal.
Let’s get one thing straight: Anyone in the public eye who chooses to make negative and judgmental statements about the appearance or gender or any other aspect of another’s identity does not deserve their position of power. Anyone whose views are proven to be misinformed and inconsistent, who makes comments that are directly offensive to anyone not white or male (but should be offensive to everyone), who is a bully that is teaching our children to be bullies, should never be the leader of the free world. And yet, here the hell we are.
Of course, Hillary Clinton is not perfect and has made mistakes. I disagree with her in many areas — for example, I wish she would have done more to help minorities over the course of her career. But she is undeniably exceptionally qualified and even-keeled. Despite her flaws, I believe she has our best interests at heart, and putting her and Trump on the same scale of barbarity, as some have attempted to do, just seems massively ignorant and sexist.
I remember during my freshman year of high school, my social studies classes debated about Obama and Romney. Both candidates participated in real political discourse and, looking back, I can see how our debates reflected that. The 2016 election feels like a circus in comparison. Speaking out against Trump is not just trendy, nor is it about my own identity as a liberal. It feels like a dire mandate as someone who believes in equality for all people.
We must vote for Hillary. We must keep talking about the monster Trump has become. We must work to defend America and its basic principles — a country of immigrants who want better and are willing to work for it, a nation of people in a world where all we hope to see is kindness. Let’s put an end to the Trump regime before it gets worse, and remember to eliminate hate in November and beyond.
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