As the Trump presidential campaign drifts away from the iceberg of that recording of The Donald bragging how he uses his celebrity to grope women, alarm bells clanging, staffers rushing around the tilting decks, the vessel of his ambition settling into the water, finally beginning, it seems, the final plunge to the bottom, we are left with a question:
Why isn’t the prospect of the nation’s first woman president a bigger deal?
When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, there was a pervasive sense of history. A nation that spent its first 87 years with legal slavery was now choosing a black man as leader.
This should be even more significant, because, if you look around the world and over the ages, it can be argued that prejudice against women is far more widespread and severe than bigotry against blacks ever was.
But don’t trust me on that.
“When I ran for Congress, when I ran for president, I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black,” said Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress — in 1968 — and who also sought the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination.
I wouldn’t have thought of either Chisholm or the significance of Clinton’s gender had I not spent an hour Friday morning with Nancy Pelosi, minority leader of the House of Representatives, the most powerful woman to hold American elective office, at least until Jan. 20, maybe.
We started out talking about how Trump — who she is absolutely certain will lose, she said, even before the tape became public — is not a cause of the Republican embrace of repressive values but a symptom of it.
“There is nothing that Donald Trump has said in terms of immigration, in terms of Muslims, in terms of Mexicans, as he refers to them . . . [that] we don’t hear every day in the Congress, in the committees, on the floor, in press conferences,” Pelosi said. “He’s a reflection of them.”
Obama’s election was a dagger at the GOP’s most cherished value of all.
“President Obama did a remarkable thing when he became president,” Pelosi said. “He said it doesn’t have to be a white man anymore. And this was such a threat to them because this is what they had: their white man-ness.”
Given that, Pelosi was asked, why isn’t there the same sense of historical significance around Clinton?
“It’s because the president already kicked open the door,” she replied. “When he kicked open the door for African-Americans, he kicked open the door for women, for everybody. Now it’s like, ‘OK, we had a black president; now we’ll have a woman president.'”
Maybe. Maybe it’s nonchalance. Maybe it’s those opposed to her being unwilling to believe and those supporting her holding their breath, hardly willing to hope.
In 1970, Shirley Chisholm wrote an essay in McCall’s magazine called, “I’d Rather Be Black Than Female.”
A different era, true. There were no women on the Supreme Court, few ambassadors or cabinet members.
“When a bright young woman graduate starts looking for a job, why is the first question always: ‘Can you type?’” Chisholm wondered. “A history of prejudice lies behind that question. Why are women thought of as secretaries, not administrators? Librarians and teachers, but not doctors and lawyers?”
So that has changed. But much is the same:
“Part of the problem is that women in America are much more brainwashed and content with their roles as second-class citizens than blacks ever were,” she wrote. Still true.
As regular readers know, I’m afraid that, despite last week’s orgy of bad press, Trump might yet somehow triumph over Clinton. He lasted this long after all. But Friday, between Trump’s jaw-dropping comments and Pelosi’s assurances — “Don’t worry. She will be president. I guarantee it.” — I began to see the flicker of hope.
And I realized, for the first time, if Clinton is indeed elected president, she will not only be a woman filling a job heretofore held exclusively by men, but she will also be that rare woman who is paid exactly the same as her male predecessor.Tweets by @neilsteinberg