Elizabeth Warren, would-be Democratic presidential nominee candidate, had a great line in the TV debate on 19 Feb:
“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians’. And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump, I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”
Michael Bloomberg: the billionaire candidate spending vast sums in his attempt to win the Democratic nomination, who bought himself a podium on the platform that night – the one, uncomfortably, next to Warren, as luck would have it.
For that great put-down Warren garnered much praise, alongside some inevitable misogynistic abuse, but also real results. After the debate Bloomberg announced his company would release three women from Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) they had signed after making complaints about Bloomberg’s sexism, although Warren has retorted that there are many more women in this situation than three, and that we don’t know the extent of the allegations against Bloomberg.
The debate happened in the week of the trial of Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood mogul who’s sexually violent, predatory behaviour – when, after decades, it was finally exposed – sparked the #MeToo movement. Weinstein has just been convicted of sexually assaulting production assistant Mimi Haleyi and raping actress Jessica Mann, a mere sample of his probable crimes. Other charges may yet follow.
Following such developments, speaking truth to power when it appears in the shape of overbearing, sexually predatory men is now allowed, praised even, in the US when it wasn’t before, and that is a great gain. Yet against this backdrop, the Teflon President Trump hulks, his misogyny still throwing monstrous shadows.
Twenty-two women have publicly accused Trump of sexual misconduct. His sexual politics are in the same vein as Weinstein: in the run-up to the
presidential election in 2016 an audiotape came to light in which Trump boasted of foisting himself on women and grabbing them "by the pussy". That is how he conducts himself.
In office, what sort of policies does his sexism engender? After his election, Trump quickly set about undoing Obama’s – admittedly limited – progressive policies. His acts have included:
Rescinding the requirement in Obama’s healthcare law that employers provide contraception coverage.
Rolling back a rule designed to close the gender pay gap.
Removing US funding to any overseas organisation that offers abortions.
Rolling back on workplace protections for LGBT people.
Trump combines sexism with racism, among his worst acts has been separating migrant parents from their children at the border. In July 2019 he tweeted that four Democratic members of Congress – four women of colour – should "go back" to the countries they "came from". Those women were Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Ayanna S Pressley of Massachusetts. Whether always acting from personal conviction or not on these issues, Trump plays up to his core constituencies, chief among them the Christian right, but beyond them also the racist far right.
Trump has always had more people against than for him in approval ratings. And it is worth remembering that he won the presidency with a minority of the popular vote! On the day after his inauguration ceremony, millions of women marched in opposition to Trump, many wearing knitted, pink “pussy hats”.
So who can cohere the resistance to Trump of whom these women protesters are but one component – albeit a crucial one – and prevent a Trump second term?
Well, it does not at the moment look likely to be a woman. The contest for Democratic presidential candidate includes Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren but while many feminists would love to foreground a woman president, male candidates are making the early running. An encouraging development is the good showing of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders calls himself a “democratic socialist”, although his conception of socialism is far from that of supporters of Women’s Fightback – he is very much a reformer, though a radical one, while we are revolutionaries.
He is not likely to radically reform the pro-capitalist Democratic Party. But he is combative against Trump and the right on all the important issues. He talks about the working class, and could win the backing of the union movement. And he is leading a diverse, often young movement that promises to dramatically change US politics and pull it to the left.
Eric Lee, convenor of the London for Bernie group, argues:
“Sanders’ unifying, class-wide message of solidarity is so powerful. Alone among the Democratic candidates, he offers real answers to those working class voters who abandoned Obama for Trump four years ago.
“If, as predicted, he wins the Democratic nomination, he will need to sharpen that message and push back against the racism and sexism that have become the signatures of the Trump presidency.”
The Democratic candidate will be announced in the summer; and the election takes place in November.
Between now and then a lot needs to happen to see Sanders triumph over Trump, but one thing is certain: the movement to which Sanders’ candidacy gives expression holds out a rich prospect for the future, for women as much as anyone.