President Trump’s words and actions at several points last week were indicative of his desire to take over one role close to his supporters’ hearts: culture warrior.
Many of those who backed Trump in 2016 did so because of his promise to return the United States to what they view as more traditional values. They often acknowledged an anxiety about the country becoming more diverse ethnically and religiously.
But another cultural shift that Trump and many of his supporters find problematic is how differently society views gender norms these days, and that’s a battle that he has seemed primed to fight, especially last week.
The #MeToo phenomenon, the latest extension of the decades-long women’s rights movement, has forced many to rethink the balance of power between men and women in the workplace, especially when it comes to sexual mores. Many behaviors that have long been seen as acceptable from men are no longer considered so — and Trump and some of his supporters appear to resent that and what it could mean for men. For Trump, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by several women, this cultural shift feels especially personal.
In his book “Fear,” Bob Woodward wrote about the president’s strategy to deal with allegations of sexual assault. Trump reportedly told a friend facing assault allegations: “You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women. If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead.”
On Saturday, Trump attacked the protesters who were out in force as Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court moved toward confirmation. Many of the protesters were women, and many of them alleged they were victims of assault. While the growing consensus among many on the left is that these women’s voices deserve to be heard, the president called them an “angry” mob.
Trump appears to have a problem believing women who accuse men of sexual assault, particularly men who are his political allies. At a rally in Mississippi last week, Trump mocked the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when the two were teenagers.
How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know . . . What neighborhood was it in? I don’t know. Where’s the house? I don’t know. Upstairs, downstairs — where was it? I don’t know — but I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.
While critics denounced what they deemed Trump’s insensitivity to someone who says she was a victim of assault, his supporters responded with laughter and applause, affirming his belief that the idea of believing Ford is absurd.
It’s a clear pattern: Troubling issues with women have not been disqualifying for those on his side seeking his blessing.
On Friday, Trump endorsed Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) in his congressional race. The conservative lawmaker recently found himself on the receiving end of harsh criticism when CNN published recordings from 2012 of Lewis making highly controversial comments on his radio show in defense of Rush Limbaugh. “Well, the thing is, can we call anybody a slut?” he asked then.
Trump also supported the late Fox News chairman Roger Ailes and former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly after the two made headlines for mistreating women in the workplace. While sexual harassment is not new, the ongoing protest of it is a significant cultural change for those who are used to men having more power, influence and rights than women in the workplace.
The president, who calls himself a fighter, will probably continue to battle in this arena as long as those who back him praise him for doing so. The question moving forward is whether he can continue to win elections by rejecting changes that large numbers of voters seem to be pushing forward.