Was misogyny a salient feature of Donald Trump’s debate performance Monday night? Given how fashionable it’s become, at least in certain circles, to see misogyny in just about any less-than-totally-kosher encounter between a man and a woman, it’s not surprising that some have seized upon the myriad ways that Trump let his sexist-schmuck flag fly.
He stands accused of making chauvinist remarks, interrupting and talking over his opponent, and just generally being a mansplainer. A Huffington Post article entitled “10 Times Women Wanted To Throw Things at the TV During the Debate” highlighted tweets calling out his bragging and bullying.
The charges, of course, are true. Trump, according to Vox, interrupted Hillary Clinton 51 times; she interrupted him 17 times. When he asked Clinton if he could call her Secretary Clinton because “I want you to be very happy,” it was a caricature of drunken-uncle-style boorishness. And even though the term “mansplaining” is too often used to describe a male saying just about anything, Trump managed to embody its original definition. As author and blogger Alexandra Petri tweeted, “Finally the whole country will watch as a woman stands politely listening to a loud man's bad ideas about the field she spent her life in.”
Petri's 138-character observation has been retweeted 59,000 times and counting. But I have to admit that as I sat in front of my TV Monday night I didn’t feel like throwing anything. On the contrary, every insult, barb and mansplanation made me almost giddy. You could see the same reaction in Clinton, too. Even better, when Trump blustered away about his “winning temperament,” you could see something else on Clinton’s face: The kind schadenfreude-esque relief that sometimes comes over competitive gymnasts or figure skaters when they watch their rivals make fatal mistakes.
Except in this case the rival wasn’t a tiny person in sparkles (whose fall might make take your heart along with it) but a “braggadocious” behemoth in an expensive suit who elicits about as much sympathy (even from his political supporters) as a strip of tire spikes.
“Mansplaining” might be too generous a dig for this guy. If anything, Trump was “dumbsplaining.” Watching him jaw on and on nonsensically almost had the effect of turning my anxiety about the debate — which had not been insignificant — into equanimity. As soon as Trump got to the secretary line, I was ready to prop my feet up and knock back some Milk Duds.
Historically, debating women in high-level elections has been tricky for men. (Remember Joe Biden’s kid gloves with Sarah Palin or even Barack Obama’s misstep with the line “you’re likable enough, Hillary”?) If a male candidate fights too hard, he’s a brute. If he holds back out of chivalry, well, that’s sexist, too.
But Trump is such an unmitigated brute that it’s worth asking if his treatment of Clinton should even count as a sin against women. Some insist that his charge that she lacks the “stamina” to be president is code for “women can't cut it,” but, come on, he’d say that to anyone of any gender who'd recently had a sick day and stood in the way of something he wanted. Besides, if you go back and watch the Republican primary debates, you’ll see him interrupting plenty of men.
Clinton was smart to zero in on Trump’s poor treatment of women other than her. The reference to Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe whom Trump publicly ridiculed for gaining weight, worked brilliantly, not least because Trump’s version of damage control was to make things worse for himself by continuing to bash Machado in the hours that followed.
Clinton's best play is remaining cool and silent — and even visibly amused — at any overt sexism Trump aims directly at her. That’s because just as his dumbsplaining barely rises to the level of mansplaining, his misogyny, at least when it’s pointed at someone as formidable as Clinton, is almost too cheesy to be taken seriously.
It is not, however, too cheesy to keep Trump from looking like what he professes to hate — a loser. That’s why I secretly wish that at the next debate he’d do something completely ridiculous like rate Clinton’s body on a scale of 1 to 10. Barring that, maybe he can make her “very happy” by mentioning Rosie O’Donnell again. Clinton can stand there smiling calmly and planning her first day in office. Now that’s a winning temperament.
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