As the Donald Trump presidency passes its one-year anniversary, a major theme that has emerged in Trump-era American politics is the rise of the feminist opposition. The Women’s March, first held a year ago to protest Trump’s inauguration, was again the main event of the anti-Trump “resistance,” widely seen as female-driven. Is this a welcome moment of female empowerment and leadership — or does it have its own pitfalls, such as new fault lines of polarization?
A new ABC News-Washington Post poll shows a gender gap of stunning proportions: Women favor Democrats over Republicans in congressional midterm elections by 57 to 31 percent, while men give Republicans a slight edge (48 to 44 percent). By comparison, in the 2016 presidential election, women went for Hillary Clinton 54 to 41 percent while men voted for Trump 52 to 41 percent. White women in particular have shifted toward a preference for Democrats.
Meanwhile, record numbers of women are running for office, many of them for the first time. The exact numbers are unknown, but according to news reports, 390 women plan to run for the House of Representatives and 49 for the Senate. Many are first-time candidates; most are Democrats. The midterms are likely to strengthen the already substantial Democratic majority among women in Congress (currently 79 to 27).
The reasons for this female mobilization are easy to see. For many women, Clinton’s defeat in November 2016 — by a man who was much less qualified, had a reputation for crude sexist remarks, and had been accused of sexual assault or harassment by multiple women — was not only a political loss but a personal insult, a triumph of misogyny. The Republican “war on women” had long been a Democratic talking point; Trump seemed to be practically a personification of this war. Many disillusioned Republican women abandoned the party.
Trump has his devoted female supporters, many of whom argue that Trump is an equal-opportunity insulter rather than a misogynist, and that the portrayal of the Trump presidency as a bastion of patriarchy demeans the capable women holding high-level positions in the White House and the Cabinet. One can argue about how sexist this White House is, but it is certainly bad at public relations on gender issues. Trump’s endorsement of Roy Moore, the Alabama U.S. Senate candidate credibly accused of sexually abusing teenage girls, certainly didn’t help. (The defection of white women from Republican ranks in the Alabama vote was key to Moore’s defeat.)
As an independent who leans libertarian/conservative, I support Republican policies in a number of areas from tax cuts to responsible deregulation. Nonetheless, given the Trumpist rot in the Republican Party and its dominance in Washington, I believe it would be a salutary shock to the system if Democrats were to take back the House and/or the Senate in November. If that victory happens, it will come from women.
And yet I can muster, at most, one cheer for the gender gap — not only because women’s political empowerment should be bipartisan, but also because the feminist opposition is heavily steeped in the politics of female victimhood. The resistance sees America as a violent patriarchy more than a land of female opportunity and treats female politicians as women first and Americans second. Its rhetoric often devolves into attacks on men, especially white men. Just as Trump’s victory has driven more women into the Democratic camp, a Democratic Party that writes off white males as relics of an oppressive past will drive more of them toward Republicans.
If American politics continues to go down the path of gender wars, we will all lose.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.