When a boy who looked no more than 10 years old repeatedly screamed “Take the bitch down” at each invocation of Hillary Clinton’s name at a Donald Trump rally in Ashburn, Virginia on Tuesday, his yells landed like a thunderbolt.
CBS News’ Sopan Deb, NBC’s Katy Tur, and Guardian politics reporter Ben Jacobs captured the scene:
Most responses to the journalists’ tweets focused on the indecency of the boy’s tongue, the misogyny of his chosen epithet, and the disrespect he communicated for a public figure many decades his senior. Many faulted the boy’s mother, who identified herself as Pam Kohler of Mount Vernon, a community in Fairfax County, Virginia about 45 miles from Ashburn. Kohler defended her son’s “right to speak what he wants” to the Los Angeles Times’ Noah Bierman and attributed his choice of words to “Democratic schools.” (It is unclear what precisely constitutes a “Democratic school,” given that the Virginia General Assembly, which apportions education funding and passes laws related to schools, is currently controlled by Republicans.)
But the age of the speaker aside, nothing about what was said should have sounded out of the ordinary to anyone who’s been listening these past few months. The 2016 election will undoubtedly echo through history for a host of reasons, but one of them will surely end up being the mainstreaming of increasingly gender-inflected language to describe the woman who has a better-than-average shot of becoming the nation’s first female president. It’s a stinging new political vocabulary in which “bitch” is the new black.
On Wednesday, the New York Times published a roundup of raw footage exploring the “angry and provocative ways” in which Trump supporters have made their voices heard at campaign events across the country. Laced among barbs aimed at “dirty beaners,” “political correctness,” Islam, and “fags,” the b-word stands out. “Hang the bitch,” says one attendee. “Hillary needs to get her ass spanked,” intones another, outside the field of view. A young man flashes a thumbs up, displaying a t-shirt that reads “TRUMP THAT BITCH” on the front and “HILLARY SUCKS BUT NOT LIKE MONICA” on the back. “Trump the bitch,” says one female rallygoer (yes, they exist). “Hillary is a whore,” comes the call, a man’s voice this time. Another “TRUMP THAT BITCH” sign. “Kill her.”
And what about the candidate himself? Trump is the ringleader of this whole misogynistic horror show. In February, the Republican presidential nominee echoed a supporter at a campaign event who referred to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, then Trump’s last serious rival for the GOP crown, as “a pussy.” And ever since turning his full attention to Clinton, the business mogul has for months stoked misogynistic hatred of his Democratic rival, mocking her voice and accusing her of “playing the woman’s card.” As Slate’s Michelle Goldberg and Chelsea Hassler were unsurprised to discover, the Republican National Convention was rife with misogynistic signs and merchandise. And that’s to say nothing of Trump’s long and remarkably consistent history of alternately objectifying and criticizing women’s bodies.
Verbal abuse formulated to highlight the gender of its intended recipient is hardly new to women in the public eye, but it’s made a stunning resurgence into normalized political discourse over the past few months. And it’s unlikely to abate anytime soon.
One hopes the young man who made his voice known at yesterday’s Trump rally—bathed, perhaps, in the therapeutically feminist glow of a Hillary Clinton presidency—will grow to become a sensitive adult who talks to and about women with respect. But for the time being, it’s no small wonder he’s not. After all, he’s looking up to his elders—the loudest of whom, it’s worth remembering, has a 10-year-old son of his own. And he’s just one voice in the crowd.