I have been struggling to answer election questions posed by my 15-year-old son, Aaron. “How come this guy Donald Trump is so popular with the Republicans,” he has asked. “Can voters really want him as president?”
It’s a challenge to answer questions like these because Aaron has been raised with a black American as president and when a woman, Hillary Clinton, is being seriously discussed as his successor. It doesn’t occur to him that blacks and women, for many generations, have been treated culturally as “ineligible” for the presidency.
I was born in Ohio in 1945 and am the same race and about the same age as Clinton and Trump. I was raised with the same basic racial and gender prejudices they were. When I was in school, the boy-girl distinction was critical. Girls were going to be teachers, nurses and moms; boys were preparing for careers or for some rough but well-paying trade job. Moms were homemakers, and dads worked long and hard hours to provide for their families.
Persons of other races were around, but we seldom interacted with them, or even thought much about them. To the extent we did, it was largely in some service arena or athletics. I expect that it was about the same for Hillary Rodham and Donald Trump.
Some younger readers may be thinking, “So what? That was then, this is now.” Well, I’m afraid these old racial and gender prejudices are still with us and are being given new life by the Trump presidential campaign. Here’s why.
Trump is a man of his generation. I think he believes, in his heart of hearts, that men are superior to women, that whites are superior to blacks. And, because he has a big personality and financial presence, he has been able to speak out on these deeply held beliefs.
How else can we explain his multiple-year campaign to question whether Barack Obama was born in the United States and a legitimate president? I don’t think it was really about politics. Having a black man as president conflicted with part of his basic cultural orientation — that blacks should know their place. The birth certificate question was a convenient vehicle for promoting prejudice that could not be expressed explicitly.
Trump got a lot of attention for these efforts, and little by little he became the unofficial spokesman for those who have never overcome seeing everything through the cultural lens of race and prejudice. During the 2015-16 nomination process he was the only candidate who was able to successfully appeal to racial and gender prejudice, and he ultimately won the Republican nomination.
Concerning gender, Trump is a man of his generation as well. He has married three times, each time choosing a younger and apparently more attractive wife. And, over the years, he has consistently talked about women in explicitly physical and at times derogatory terms. I believe that he is still stuck with those old boy-girl role prejudices — that women should be subordinate and supportive. A woman of strength, one who aspires to be president, makes him, and others who embrace his views, very uncomfortable.
So, that’s my answer, Aaron. Despite all the progress against bias and prejudice made during my lifetime, these negative elements of our culture are still with us. Even with all his obvious flaws, Donald Trump is popular in large part because he has embedded two strongly held American prejudices, race and gender, deep within his campaign to “Make America Great Again.”
In my view this is what’s really at stake when you vote in this presidential election — which vision do you embrace for the future of our nation? Is it one where prejudice and bigotry can get a man elected president? Or is it one of continued progress toward a more perfect union, one that offers equal rights and opportunities and rewards hard work, preparation and ability? My vision is the latter, and I believe that it will be well served by electing our nation’s first woman president.
George Walter is the Nisqually Indian Tribe’s environmental program manager, and is a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.