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By now, millions of people in the U.S. and abroad have heard or watched the 2005 recording of Donald Trump bragging about his aggressive behavior toward women. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women]. I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” Trump can be heard saying to former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush in a tape obtained by the Washington Post released on Friday night. “And when you’re a star they let you do it,” he continues, “You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
The recording is not merely the newest addition to Mr. Trump’s litany of degrading, dehumanizing, and outrageous remarks. As Planned Parenthood said in a statement released Friday night on Twitter, the Republican presidential nominee is discussing “what amounts to sexual assault.”
In 30 days, the election will be over. Though top Republicans are scrambling to distance themselves from their party’s leader, it’s too late to replace him on the ballot. If, as polls seems to indicate, that Hillary Clinton is to be our 45th president, many of us will wake up on the morning of November 9 as if we’re rising from a terrible nightmare. We’ll feel an urge to shake off the last 18 months and get back to life as usual.
The problem is, this is not some terrible dream. This is real life, our collective American life. Trump may not be the focus of our attention come mid-November, but his candidacy has exposed deep fissures and grave problems in our society. After the election, instead of trying to forget this all happened, we should hone in on those issues — and work toward solving them.
Let’s take three examples. Most salient today is the Trump candidacy’s extraordinary ability to shine a light on rape culture. In a nutshell, rape culture is the normalization of violence against women, particularly by the media and popular culture. The fact that Trump first dismissed the video as “locker-room banter” and that other Republicans back that up with “bad boy talk” excuses demonstrate what feminists have been screaming about for years: We live in a society that condones and encourages men to mistreat women. Rape culture is Billy Bush laughing it up and egging Donald Trump on. Rape culture is what allows Trump, in his video apology, to categorize attention to his admission of sexual assault as “a distraction from the important issues we’re facing today.” It’s what’s let all the other claims of Trump’s prior harassment and abuse to be all but ignored during the entire campaign. Rape culture is the reason why millions of Americans can shrug in the face of all of this and vote for him anyway.
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Then there’s our country’s racism that’s been thrust into the foreground because of Trump’s decision to goad racial prejudice as a campaign tactic. His candidacy put a public spotlight on what people of color already knew: that racism is alive and well in the U.S. From his characterization of Mexicans as rapists to his assumption that a Muslim woman who doesn’t speak while standing next to her husband is because her religion bans it to his embrace of stop-and-frisk, an unconstitutional police practice that overwhelmingly targets African Americans, Trump’s words have stoked the embers of racial animosity that have burned since this country’s founding. Clinton was slammed for saying that half of Trump’s supporters could be put in a “basket of deplorables,” people who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.” But Ta-Nehisi Coates fact-checked her assertion and found that she was not wrong. “We know, for instance, some nearly 60 percent of Trump’s supporters hold ‘unfavorable views’ of Islam,” Coates wrote in The Atlantic. “We know that some 40 percent of Trump’s supporters believe blacks are more violent, more criminal, lazier, and ruder than whites.” These people may not act on racial prejudice daily, but supporting a man who pins his candidacy on it is just as bad.
’Finally, Trump’s run has exposed unprecedented disillusionment with our political system. I am not a political reporter and have not been out on the trail. But I tried to understand what draws people to Trump through the exceptional reporting of my colleagues including Evan Osnos at the New Yorker, NPR’s “Divided States” series, and Jonna Ivan in STIR. What I’ve gleaned is that many people support Trump because they believe that the current political order has failed them. He is popular among working-class whites because wages have stagnated, wealth inequality is at an all-time high, and new forms of employment in areas like Appalachia that were once dependent on coal are slow to develop. Our political leaders have long been unable to resolve the fundamental economic dilemmas in many Americans’ lives. Voters are angry. They want Washington to be shaken up, and that’s what Trump has promised. How someone who built his career on gaming the system has become a champion for those who feel cheated by it is wild, but that’s our current political reality. Considering that a rebuff of Washington was, of course, central to Bernie Sanders’ popularity as well, anti-establishment sentiment is arguably stronger than it’s been in generations.
These are a mere three of the issues facing our communities, which have been made more evident than ever in the last year and a half. What I’d like our next crop of political leaders — and all of us — to be talking about after Election Day is: how can we solve these problems? Now that we see how rape culture permeates our society, how can we continuing to fight it? What more can we be doing to curb racial injustice, from implicit bias in the classroom to the systemic racism in our criminal justice system? How can we reform our electoral system to make politicians more accountable to us than to corporations? What needs to change in our economic system to make it more equitable?
We will have to depend on Clinton and other elected officials to keep these issues on the front burner without the same pressure from below, which means there must be continuous organizing if things are to change. Anyone who thinks, for example, that Clinton will be jumping to rein in the power of the banks and the moneyed class, please see the recently leaked Wikileaks transcripts of her Wall Street speeches for a reality check
Assuming Trump’s candidacy is just that — a candidacy and not a presidency — instead of shaking it off as a nightmare, let’s think of high fever that has left us restless and unsettled. Fevers, I’ve learned from motherhood, are always a symptom, never the sickness. In this case, our Trump fever is an urgent warning that our nation’s body politic is gravely ill. When the election is over, let us not be so relieved to have our fever broken that we forget to work to cure the ails that produced the spike in the first place.
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