Saturday, October 8, 2016

Trump's tape vindicates the left-feminist critique of liberalism

Donald Trump's [latest] inflammatory remarks, just publicized from a 2005 recording, have sparked an extraordinary and much-deserved political backlash - even within his own party. A lot of the outrage has simply been directed at the "extremely lewd" character of his remarks, as when he calls a woman "a bitch" and ridicules her "phony tits"; some critics have been most offended by the "vile degradation" of "hitting on married women"; others have criticized his "boasts about sexual assaults".

One aspect of Trump's comments that has been largely overlooked, however, is his explicit admission of the way that power licenses his odious behavior:
When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything...grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.
The few responses to this have been telling. When Joe Biden decries such behavior as "an abuse of power", he isn't actually criticizing the power that lets people like Trump "do anything" - he's simply condemning its "abuse". And within capitalism, Kash CEO Kaz Nejatian insists, this is the approach we must take:

This is a decisively liberal feminism: one that takes hierarchies of power for granted. Within liberal feminism, the opportunity to abuse power must be defended, and even the opportunity to abuse women; if your "freedom" to acquire ungovernable economic power puts women at risk, so be it. Liberal feminism allows us to do things like "condemn" patriarchy, and shame it - but any collective action that actually mobilizes the arm of the state is prohibited, as this would be an imposition on "freedom". Contrast this to this second approach, proposed by Matt Karp:

Unlike Biden and Nejatian, Karp is actually prioritizing the danger posed by Trump. For obvious reasons, the VP and CEO are both first and foremost interested in preserving hierarchy, and only within that framework are they willing to consider the safety of women. But when Trump says that it is power that allows him to "do anything", Karp takes this seriously, and concludes that people should not have the kind of power Trump has if it puts women at risk. If this is a problem for capitalism or an imposition on the freedom of men to "abuse power", so be it.

Obviously, as Karp's own formulation suggests, the "extinction of the billionaire class" alone can't solve the problem of patriarchy; things like shaming have a role to play, too. But a feminism that exclusively relies on the latter because it prioritizes the preservation of billionaires over the preservation of women hardly deserves the name feminism; it's just capitalism with a "feminist" brand.