There are many words you could use to describe Donald Trump, but one of them is definitely “consistent”: Trump has never been one one to mince words when it comes to talking about women, and, like the predictable political animal that he is, he’s made a point to keep up that habit while campaigning and in the White House.
Over the course of the 2016 election cycle—and his ensuing fledgling term as president—among the many women he’s uninvitedly offered his unwarranted opinion on are Meryl Streep, whom he dared to call one of the “most overrated actresses in Hollywood”; the French first lady Brigitte Macron, whom he vocally sized up in front of both his wife and her husband on a state visit; the MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski, whom he ostracized for reportedly getting a face-lift to his tens of millions of Twitter followers after she criticized his account; and, of course, Hillary Clinton, his rival in the election whom he called, among many, many other things, a “nasty woman.”
Though it might shock Trump, women also have the ability to talk back, and his transgressions have delightfully resulted in some pretty memorable burns—the latest of which occurred this morning, when the latter two women, Clinton and Brzezinski, finally got some revenge. (Other than, you know, that time Clinton called Trump a real life “troll.”)
“Morning Joe,” Brzezinski’s show with Joe Scarborough, saw a massive ratings spike after Trump’s angry tweets, and on Wednesday morning enjoyed even more publicity courtesy of Trump when it revealed an exclusive excerpt of Clinton’s upcoming book, “What Happened,” which “isn’t a comprehensive account of the 2016 race,” but “my story,” as Clinton read aloud in her soothingly familiar voice, beginning to describe an election cycle she called “exhilarating, joyful, humbling, infuriating, and just plain baffling.”
The book, Clinton begins, “wasn’t easy” for her to write: “Every day that I was a candidate for president, I knew that millions of people were counting on me, and I couldn’t bear the idea of letting them down. But I did. I couldn’t get the job done, and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life.” Hence the “long list” of “moments from the campaign that I wish I could go back and do over”—the juiciest of which, of course, concern Trump himself, and specifically the unforgettable time he stood and loomed directly behind her while she was speaking during their second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis.
You’ll recall the scene of Trump menacingly hovering over candidate Clinton as if to intimidate her. “‘This is not okay,’ I thought,” Clinton said, taking care to enunciating that first phrase slowly. “Two days before, the world heard him brag about groping women. Now we were on a small stage, and no matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces. It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled. It was one of those moments where you wish you could hit ‘pause,’ and ask everyone watching, Well, what would you do? Do you stay calm, keep smiling, and carry on as if he weren’t repeatedly invading your space? Or do you turn, look him in the eye, and say loudly and clearly, ‘Back up, you creep, get away from me. I know you love to intimidate women, but you can’t intimidate me, so back up’?”
Clinton, of course, as she recalled, “chose option A.” “I kept my cool, aided by a lifetime of difficult men trying to throw me off. I did, however, grip the microphone extra hard. I wonder, though, whether I should have chosen option B—it certainly would have been better TV,” Clinton added with a hint of a laugh. “Maybe I have over-learned the lesson of staying calm, biting my tongue, digging my fingernails into a clenched fist, smiling all the while, determined to present a composed face to the world.”
Clinton is right on both counts: She essentially had two chances to make history—to call Trump out, or to continue on the best that she could with her campaign. In hindsight, of course, now that we know she lost, she might as well have called him out, but at the time, when her presidency still seemed likely, it’s unfortunately true that calling Trump a “creep” probably would have backfired and only further escalated her reputation as a “nasty woman”—and that Trump would have interrupted her if she had tried to do something anyway, given that he cut off her off at least 70 times in their preceding debate.
Still, it definitely seems like it could have benefited Clinton to have described her feelings sooner: Not everyone agreed with her politics or persona, but many women—even, and perhaps especially, say, the 53 percent of white women who ended up voting for Trump—could have related to her situation, and therefore ultimately to Clinton herself. Biting your tongue while being mistreated by a man in power is an experience all too many—even those in Trump’s inner circle—are also familiar with.
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