Let me tell you, no one is a biglier Civilization player than me. People always say to me – they say, Sarah, you are the most terrific Civilization player, the best. Some haters have said that this is not true and that Sarah is a very bad Civilization player but let me tell you, that is FAKE NEWS. FAKE NEWS, PEOPLE. We’re going to Make Civilization Great Again. Say it with me. MAKE CIVILIZATION GREAT AGAIN. We’re going to get rid of all those crooked politicians like Montezuma and Catherine de Medici (very nasty woman). We’re going to put the bigliest and most smart man of all in charge. We’re going to play Civilization as Donald Trump.
After the shock of Donald Trump’s victory, the question for liberals is: what now? Two new books are offering answers.
The US president’s first weeks in power have been marked by resistance both on the streets and in the courts. The Women’s March on Washington, DC was one of the largest demonstrations in American history and was followed by protests against the “Muslim ban” executive order. The ban was challenged in more than 50 lawsuits.
The problem with using the law to constrain those in power is that those in power are able to define the law. Understanding how far Trump intends to reshape the state is crucial in deciding how to oppose him. The positive outlook is to see him as just a bad president: ignorant and hateful, but part of the system and therefore susceptible to being constrained by it. The pessimist’s take is that Trump is a strongman leader who will bend or break democratic institutions to serve his ends.
The latter view is extreme, apocalyptic and – based on the evidence so far – correct. But not all thinkers on the US left have grasped the point. That, at any rate, is the lesson of What We Do Now, a collection of essays published in response to the election result.
First published New Statesman, 24 February-2 March 2017, under the headline “The anti-Trump toolkit”
In the dismal sleep-deprived afternoon of yesterday’s mourning, I appeared on Shelagh Fogarty’s LBC show, talking about why I’d chosen to address Trump’s victory in an open letter to my daughter, and what other parents should tell their children about his presidency. I didn’t mention the one piece of solid practical advice I’d urge, which is to move above sea level as quickly as you can, but I did say the election had been a “referendum on women’s role in public life”, which is quite a good line. (We lost.)
A while ago, a friend set me a problem. “Why,” he asked, “is feminism structurally weak?” Feminism should, after all, be a dazzling powerful political movement. Women marginally outnumber men. The evidence that we are the subjugated class is everywhere, from the wage gap to sex ratio in senior jobs to our woeful absence from political positions to the grim inequality of the housework split to the daily drip-drip-drip of advertising telling us exactly how wrong our bodies are.
Those things should fit together into a simple plan: get the biggest gang together and force the other side to turn over what’s ours by right. But this has never happened, and today it has failed to happen on a tragic, global scale. Donald Trump has beaten Hillary Clinton because he was a man running against a woman. There are many ways to dress up his victory, but only one that explains it. This was a referendum on sex roles, and America voted racist penis.
America has chosen, and it chose the pussy-grabber. The guy who said his daughter was a “piece of ass”. The guy who has been accused – in multiple, mutually corroborating accounts – of sexual assault. The guy whose ex-wife accused him of rape in a divorce deposition. So tell me again how a rape accusation ruins a man’s life. Please, I am all ears for your sympathetic descriptions of the terrible injustice done to men when they’re named as the suspected perpetrator of a violent crime in exactly the same way that suspected perpetrators of violent crimes are always named.
You are ten. When Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination and said “one of you is next”, she was speaking to you.
Not, of course, that you were literally on your way to becoming President of the USA – but her victory spoke of possibility for girls and women everywhere. When the ruling party of the biggest democracy in the world selects a female candidate as its presidential candidate, it matters. When that candidate is the woman who said “women’s rights are human rights”, it really matters.
Between late July and last night, we lived in a swallow-flight moment of hope. It was beautiful as it darted through the sky, and it is gone. Back in the summer, you teased me about this election: “Mummy, Hillary Clinton’s not going to win, is she? Because no one you like ever wins, do they?” And you made me laugh, which felt like a rare thing in that grim summer after Jo Cox was murdered and the UK voted to leave the EU.
But you were right, too. I felt it then, and I know it now: the things that I think make sense about the world, the faith in a bedrock of fairness and generosity that I have built into my calculations so far, do not seem to be there.
One of the strangest defences of Donald Trump’s 2005 comments (which I wrote about for the New Statesman over the weekend) is the claim that this is “just banter” and “what men do”. As Deborah Cameron explains in a typically excellent post, both those things can be true without diminishing the harm and the ugliness of the things Trump was recorded discussing. I joined Stig Abell on his LBC show yesterday to talk about what this incident tells us about rape culture, and how that affects all women.
Why is it “grab them by the pussy” that did it? Why, after everything he’s said, is it this that’s pushed senior Republicans to finally turn away from Donald Trump? Not slurring Mexican immigrants as drug runners and rapists. Not calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”. Not retweeting an anti-Semitic meme that originated on a white supremacist message board. Not his racist and sexist bullying of a Venezuelan Miss Universe winner, and not his heavy-handed hinting that assassination might be an appropriate way to put Hillary Clinton out of the running.
None of those things have left a mark on the Trump campaign like that inflicted by a few minutes of candid tape from 2005. As Trump went to film a cameo on soap opera Days of Our Lives, he was accompanied by a crew from the TV entertainment news programme Access Hollywood recording behind-the-scenes footage; some of that footage was unbroadcastable, and some of that has now been leaked. “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them,” says Trump in the recording. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.” Then: “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”