Donald Trump is no stranger to backlash, not least when it comes to the barrage of comments he has made on women. From lewd comments on his daughter’s figure to a slew of attacks against female media personalities who he has called “unattractive,” overweight, “bimbo[s],” Trump is well-known for raising eyebrows and sparking anger.
As famous conservative talk show host and author Dennis Prager said: “Goodness is about character - integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like. More than anything else, it is about how we treat other people.” So in this day of quick judgment and viral content, how can we assess the “goodness” of people in the public eye? The easiest way is look to how they treat those around them, specifically the women in their lives: their wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters.
This election cycle in the United States has made it clear that the way a man in the public domain treats women is a clear indicator of his own inner compass. Take for example, the caricature-cum-actual-Republican-presidential nominee Donald Trump.
As Jill Filipovic outlines in her opinion piece for the New York Times: “In our reluctantly feminist America, one question this election poses is whether we’ve evolved enough to value women as individuals instead of assessing them relationally, as an attractive wife supporting her husband or as a high-achieving daughter, reflecting a flattering light back on her parents. It’s a question Mr. Trump has addressed in his personal life. His answer isn’t very pretty.”
From letting his wife take a very public fall after it was revealed that parts of her Republican National Convention speech were plagiarized, to how he has repeatedly discussed how he would date his daughter Ivanka Trump, making lewd comments saying “[Ivanka] does have a very nice figure. I’ve said that if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps, I would be dating her,” to his complete lack of compassion for her or any woman having to navigate sexual harassment in the workplace.
When discussing how Ivanka or any woman should handle sexual harassment in the workplace, he expressed his belief that it makes more sense for a women to leave her job, saying, “I would like to think [Ivanka] would find another career or find another company if [she was sexually harassed at work].” All of these moments, indicate that based on his treatment of the women in his life, Trump lacks basic “goodness” as defined by Prager.
Never mind the controversy over how he questioned the grief of the mother of a fallen American soldier, Ghazala Khan,. His mistreatment of her has been met with such outrage that Gold Star Family Members, the term used for family members who have lost sons or daughters in a conflict, released a scathing statement through the votevets.org website, saying,: “When you question a mother’s pain, by implying that her religion, not her grief, kept her from addressing an arena of people, you are attacking us. When you say your job building buildings is akin to our sacrifice, you are attacking our sacrifice.”
For the first time in 128 years, The Harvard Republicans Club broke tradition and refused to endorse Trump for president, stating on their Facebook page: “The rhetoric [Trump] espouses –from racist slander to misogynistic taunts– is not consistent with our conservative principles, and his repeated mocking of the disabled and belittling of the sacrifices made by prisoners of war, Gold Star families, and Purple Heart recipients is not only bad politics, but absurdly cruel.”
Ghazala’s husband Khizr Khan even told CNN that Trump “is a black soul, and this is totally unfit for the leadership of this country.”
An important barometer
The discourse about how men should treat women is an important barometer for how modern a leader is and his “goodness.” Politicians who are self-proclaimed feminists have seen a huge jump in their polls, from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to US President Obama. As Obama wrote in a recent opinion piece for Glamor magazine, “it is absolutely men’s responsibility to fight sexism too. And as spouses and partners and boyfriends, we need to work hard and be deliberate about creating truly equal relationships.”
It’s important that when an individual is deciding how to cast their vote, they consider how that candidate treats the women in their life and women in general. As Orlando Vidal, Chair of Democrats Abroad - UAE explains: “It’s critical that when one looks to elect a public official, they consider their behavior in all spheres of their life. How they treat those around them or how they treat a certain sect of the population indicates what kind of person they are. We can tell about the ethics of a candidate based on how they treat those around them; do they behave honorably in all parts of their life? And if they don’t, that doesn’t indicate very good things about their skills as a leader and politician, much less as a person.”
As Vidal outlines, it’s more than just adding one’s voice to the chorus, it means voting. “It’s easy to be involved in the conversations about political candidates on social media and with friends but the true power comes in exercising one’s right to vote. If you are a citizen abroad and can register to vote, it’s critical that you do. If you’re friends with someone who can vote from abroad, make sure that you remind them of their responsibility to vote. If you’re not voting, then you’re just shouting into a vacuum without creating any real change.”
Vidal continues: “the recent campaign in the States highlights how the louder more bigoted voices can become the only voices we hear but voting is a private act and it’s one where an individual can exercise their power without having to drown out the loudest voice. It is important that we hold candidates accountable for how they treat people during a campaign and vote accordingly.”
Assessing candidates isn’t just a Western responsibility. All candidates across geographical lines need to be assessed on their inherent ethics, based on how they treat the women around them. As Rashi Bhargava, Event Organizer for Women Helping Other Women (WHOW), Dubai, says “in India there are many female politicians at very senior positions. We were also one of the first few countries to have a woman prime minister. Yet the society in general until recently was unequal in terms of how women were treated and talked about. Male politicians in India today continue to talk about women disrespectfully. Earlier they got away but now they don’t mainly due to social media. So they cloak their real feelings and say politically correct things in public.”
Real change will come when, as Bhargava says, “younger and educated people with different values enter politics who genuinely think women and men are equal.”