Because mainstream media now reads like The Onion, the headline “Donald Trump Kicks Baby Out of Rally” is ripping across the Internet. And it’s true: when a baby started crying at a campaign event on Tuesday in Northern Virginia, Trump told the mother to “get that baby out of here.” Trump has heaped verbal abuse on many, but few of his targets have been more ridiculously inappropriate than an actual infant. It’s tempting to just fire off a sassy, dismissive tweet, but here’s the problem with that: This moment is not actually about the baby. It’s about the mother.
Or, more precisely, it’s about Trump’s thoughtless, relentless sexism. Let’s look at just this week so far. On Monday night, in a discussion about Trump defending former Fox News head and accused sexual harasser Roger Ailes, a USA Today reporter asked him how he would react if his daughter Ivanka were harassed in the workplace.
Trump said, “I would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case.” (You already know why that’s sexist, but just for due diligence: Trump is suggesting that if Ivanka were to be victimized by a male coworker, the onus would be on her to disrupt or forfeit her career in order to remove herself from the situation. Implicit in that notion is the premise that men belong in the workplace more than women, and have no responsibility to change their behavior if it hurts women. But you knew that!)
His son Eric went further, suggesting that what his father actually meant was that Ivanka is a strong woman who would never put herself in the situation of being harassed. The implication there, of course, being that women who do get harassed are weak. That’s textbook victim-shaming, which drew these clapbacks from former Ailes employees and current women.
— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) August 2, 2016
Sad in 2016 we’re still victim blaming women. Trust me I’m strong. #StandWithGretchen https://t.co/e2GxTaHZLN
— Gretchen Carlson (@GretchenCarlson) August 2, 2016
Trump’s comments are just the most recent in a litany of denigration. He called women “disgusting” for pumping breastmilk, and he thinks that to change diapers is to “act like the wife.” He said that women should be punished for getting abortions. Also, he has owned multiple beauty pageants, organizations which answer the question: What if the male gaze was a workplace? “Trump is an outgrowth of post-feminist sensibility in which it has become acceptable to mock feminism,” says Juliet Williams, a professor of gender studies at UCLA. “They act as if inequality on the basis of sex and gender is a thing of the past, and that breeds complacency.”
The baby moment stands apart from the rest–even his defense of his friend Ailes–because it was startling political theater. “Part of the performance of political masculinity is a baby-kissing gesture,” says Williams. “It’s patriarchal.” Which may be why when the baby first started crying, Trump said, “I love babies. I hear that baby crying, I like it!” But this is Trump, and when he is inconvenienced, he gets dismissive and disrespectful. It was bye bye, baby.
Moments later he said, “Actually, I was only kidding, you can get the baby out of here. That’s all right. Don’t worry. I, I think she really believed me that I love having a baby crying while I’m speaking. That’s OK. People don’t understand. That’s OK.” When he said “people don’t understand,” he was directing his ire at the baby’s mother, complaining aloud to his fanbase that a woman would dare to bring her child into his rally and disrupt him. Motherhood, the implication was, should not be public. If masculinity is performative, femininity should definitely not be. How, he wondered, could she not get that?
Now, for sure, Trump’s typically hard-to-parse delivery (transcripts do him no favors) makes it possible that what he was trying to say was something like, “listen, ma’am, it’s totally OK if you need to take that baby outside. Nobody loves to listen to a crying baby, right? And every parent knows it’s tough, even though some people might not understand. So go ahead and take that baby out if you need to.” You know: like a human being might have said.
But even if that’s what Trump meant, his delivery, his cadence, and the vast weight of everything he has said about women to date don’t exactly give him a cushion of good will. It fits the narrative. He’s sexist.
A different politician could have used the disruption as teachable moment. Trump could have reacted the way you might expect a politician or empathetic human, by using the moment to talk about creating space in the workplace and in the political process to accommodate caregivers. To fail to do so disenfranchises those people, many of whom are women–but not all, this is about fathers, too!–and especially poor women.
“Both of these moments shows his cluelessness about gender and class simultaneously,” says Caroline Light, Director of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University. “His constant hyperbolic language of success shows a complete lack of understanding of the complex barriers faced by average, working Americans.” If you’re Ivanka Trump, you can quit the job where you’re being harassed without worrying about not having the money to pay for daycare. Most people don’t have that luxury.
Ivanka herself said during her speech at the Republican National Committee that her father would be a champion of women. And yet his own words, and in the case of kicking out the mother and baby yesterday, his actions belie a different attitude. And speaking of Ivanka, the news came out after her father and brother’s comments that she has in fact been sexually harassed at work, and has written at length about how uncomfortable it made her feel.
And that, folks, is the kind of twist to the news you just can’t make up. If The Onion wrote it, you’d roll your eyes.