Are Americans Ready to Elect Another Man as President?

Sometimes I wonder whether men hear the implied threat women sense almost every time Donald Trump opens his mouth. It isn’t just because we all heard him brag about committing sexual assault on that Access Hollywood tape prior to the election. Rather, it is about something Franklin Foer articulated back in March of 2016.

[T]here’s one ideology that he does hold with sincerity and practices with unwavering fervor: misogyny…In his view, treating women like meat is a necessary precondition for winning, and winning is all that matters in his world. By winning, Trump means asserting superiority. And since life is a zero-sum game, superiority can only be achieved at someone else’s expense.

I don’t think that it is merely a coincidence that the #MeToo movement arose during the presidency of Donald Trump. It all started when women had the courage to finally start speaking up about an intolerable situation that was brought into stark relief when this country elected an obvious misogynist. Oprah Winfrey gave voice to what was happening when, during a speech at the Golden Globes, she said:

For too long women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up…So I want all the girls watching here now to know that a new day is on the horizon.

By then, the movement towards that new day was underway. The weekend of Donald Trump’s inauguration brought the Women’s March, the largest protest in this country’s history. Women began to organize the resistance in their living rooms and churches. Black women powered the election of a Democratic senator in Alabama. A historic number of women ran for office in the 2018 midterms. Their victories brought us the most diverse House of Representatives in our history, led by a woman Speaker.

Make no mistake about it: part of what has energized this movement is the fact that the most qualified person to run for the presidency in our lifetimes, who also happened to be a woman, was defeated by a man whose core ideology is rooted in the misogyny of dominance.

In the midst of all of this, there are those who are asking the question about whether or not America is ready to elect a female president in 2020. Since we can all rest assured that Republicans will nominate a white male—most likely Donald Trump, if he isn’t impeached by then—the question comes down to whether Democrats are prepared to nominate a woman.

Like many people on twitter, I was outraged when I saw a graph developed by MSNBC.

But apparently their point wasn’t that these are the viable candidates to watch in the Democratic primary. According to Dylan Scott, this is what that graph represented:

This week, MSNBC wanted to give its viewers a simple, digestible summary of all the potential White House candidates who hadn’t jumped into the Democratic primary race yet — and somehow, with the most diverse presidential field in history taking shape, all 15 of the chosen contenders-in-waiting were white men.

Of the candidates who had already joined the race, five are women and four are people of color. With Bernie Sanders’ announcement on Tuesday, we’ll start hearing from the white men who are contemplating a run, and their stories will consume the media in the coming weeks.

But MSNBC incidentally captured something interesting that is happening: women and candidates of color were the first out of the gate, while white men have, for the most part, been taking their time. Scott finds a reason for subtle optimism in all of that.

Implicit in their hesitation seems to be a recognition that white men running for the Democratic nomination need something on top of the bare qualification of holding public office. The party has embraced its diversity and been blessed with a litany of women and people of color who can claim the same qualifications as most of these white men in their pursuit of the White House.

Being an experienced white guy isn’t enough anymore. And the party doesn’t see anything wrong with that.

There is also the possibility that women and people of color have entered the race early because they learned a lesson well over the years: they have to be able to do twice as much as a white man to be given half the credit. It’s the old, “Ginger Rogers had to do everything Fred Astaire did—only backwards and in heels.”

Whatever the reason for this most interesting development, the real question posed by the events of the last two years is whether America is ready to elect another white man. Time and again we’ve seen women demonstrate that they are not going to sit things out under the threat posed by Donald Trump, both implicitly and explicitly. It is not impossible for a man to harness that energy. But for a woman who feels it in her bones, it will come naturally.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.