On Friday, the Republican nominee for president of the United States publicly, and quite cheerfully, raised the specter of his female opponent being assassinated. It was the second time he had done so in six weeks.
Donald Trump’s surrogates suggested he was merely trying to defend Second Amendment rights. But there are plenty of ways to advocate for those rights that don’t invoke images of Hillary Clinton being gunned down in broad daylight.
The real question that no one seems willing to ask is this: Why are these violent fantasies in Trump’s head in the first place? Why can’t he see Clinton as his rival in a war of ideas, rather than a sworn enemy who must be vanquished by murder?
Why does Trump, when he fears he’s being laughed at, so often fantasize about violence against women?
As I pondered that question, I kept thinking of a quote by the novelist Margaret Atwood:
Men are afraid of being laughed at by women. Women are afraid of being killed by men.
The closer you look at the events of the 2016 campaign, the more chilling this assessment becomes.
Trump’s central motive for entering the race, after all, was the shame he suffered after being laughed at during a fancy banquet.
He has spent much of the campaign stoking racial and religious resentment. This "politics of scorn” is nothing new in American politics.
But his preoccupation with humiliating and hurting women is unprecedented. To put it bluntly: We’ve never dealt with a politician — let alone a presidential candidate — so nakedly insecure about his manhood, and so hostile towards women.
As a reality TV star, Trump could get away with saying things like, “must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees” to a female contestant. His history of making unwelcome romantic advances and sexist comments is well documented.
What’s shocking is how little effort he’s made to control himself as a candidate. Throughout the primary season, he mocked women for being ugly or weak or bimbos, and when they challenged him, he conjured an image of “blood coming out of their wherever.”
When the issue of rape in the military came up recently, Trump defended an old Tweet: “26,000 unreported sexual assults [sic] in the military—only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?”
26,000 unreported sexual assults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2013
This statement may be the most succinct definition of rape culture ever uttered. The idea is that rape is inevitable when the genders mix, a pattern that is only troubling if you happen to see women as fully human. Trump doesn’t.
A few months ago, Trump was the first candidate in modern history to declare that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who receive abortions.
Back in June, Trump spent some weeks trying to smear Bill Clinton as a sexual predator. He has since dropped that line of attack.
I can’t know what it’s like to move through the world as a woman. But part of the reason my wife, and many of my female friends, are so frightened by Trump is because they sense that he’s not just a clownish demagogue, but a threat to their liberty and safety.
The media celebrities who get access to Trump and his surrogates don’t have the guts to ask this question, but they should:
Why does Trump, when he fears he’s being laughed at, so often fantasize about violence against women? Does he really believe that rape is inevitable? And that it will be his role as president to punish women?
The more disturbing question is this: What do the mothers and daughters who intend to vote for Trump feel, deep down, when they hear huge crowds cheer him for saying these things?