Female politicians show that rising to power is a group effort.
At the end of this month, Nancy Pelosi will retake her position on the podium behind the president as he gives his State of the Union address. As speaker of a House that is more female and more racially diverse than at any time in American history, Ms. Pelosi on the dais will represent more than just Democratic gains: She will be a visual symbol of a profound shift in how those with power might wield it.
For too long, female power has been calculated using the arbitrary measuring stick of how men exercised authority; women, as a result, largely shaped themselves to these male-determined standards and norms. But the women of the 116th Congress are redefining what it means to be powerful and reshaping some of the most dearly held American fables in the process.
Power, for all of American history, has been white and male, and maintaining that monopoly has required a series of agreed-upon conventions and plotlines. A handful of women and people of color have, in recent years, managed to get a foot in the door, but the definition of what power means, and the male-centered story of how one gets it, remains in place.
According to this script, power is meritocratic; those who earn it do so individually through their own hard work. Power has a particular look and a particular sound: tall and deep-voiced. Power is all-encompassing: a partner and children are the backdrop for a life centered on the pursuit of greatness; family indicates that the powerful person is grounded enough to be trusted, but the family is fundamentally a body that benefits from the powerful person, not a body that benefits him and fundamentally enables his success.
Within this story of meritocracy is the promise that anyone can achieve political power and success if they are good enough and if they work hard enough; that elected offices have for so long so wholly rested in male hands suggests simply that men have long been more worthy of them.
As a result, and by necessity, barrier breakers have largely followed this same script, from the practical to the descriptive to the aesthetic. When women and people of color did gain political power, their ascension was often used to prop up the existing meritocratic narrative: They had achieved, and so anyone can. The subtext: Perhaps the dearth of women and people of color in office meant they hadn’t worked hard enough for it.
This narrative of American political power is pervasive enough to be largely invisible. The women who folded themselves into the existing story were perhaps not so much doing it intentionally as acting according to the script on offer, without much space to imagine something different.
But as more women have entered the political realm, they have created more space for authenticity over self-aggrandizement. This is especially true as politicians come from a wider diversity of communities and backgrounds, each with different norms around authority.
Today’s rising female politicians tell a very different story than “I worked hard, and so I got here by myself.” One by one, they credit those who inspired their success, supported their ascent and cleared the trail so they could walk further still.
Donald Trump has a penchant for labeling particular people. It might strike some as just another insult for a petulant urchin of a man who insults everyone with whom he takes issue. But I believe that the nature of his insults to specific kinds of people says something more about the character and nature of the man, something of which he may or may not be aware.
I believe that the fact that he so often attacks the intellectual capacity of women and minorities exposes a racial and gender bias, one that has a long history and a wide acceptance.
.. Hover over the irony here: The man trying to help at-risk children by opening doors for them was being attacked by the man who has put children at risk by locking them in cages.
.. Trump repeated the sobriquet he has assigned to California Representative Maxine Waters, calling her, “Very low I.Q. low. Low I.Q.”
.. review of the many insults Trump has spouted since he declared his candidacy finds that although he has called many people dumb, or dummies or low I.Q., the targeting of that particular insult at women, including minority women, occurs with curious frequency and is often a singular line of attack against them, rather than one of many.
He has called MSNBC anchor Mika Brzezinski “dumb as a rock,” “low I.Q.,” and “crazy and very dumb.”
He has called HLN anchor S.E. Cupp and political commentator Ana Navarro “two of the dumbest people in politics,” and has called Cupp “one of the dumber pundits on TV.”
He has called Republican consultant Cheri Jacobus “really dumb” and “a real dummy.”
He has called Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin “one of the dumber bloggers.”
He has said of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that she “has embarrassed all by making very dumb political statements about me.”
He has said of the journalist Mary Katharine Ham that she “isn’t smart enough to know what’s going on at the border.”
He has called the Forbes writer Clare O’Connor a “dummy” multiple times.
He has said that Maria Cardona made Morning Edition contributor Cokie Roberts look “even dumber” than he believed she was on a news show.
He has called Arianna Huffington, founder of HuffPost, a “dummy.”
.. I read in these comments an overt misogyny that has long existed in this country and the world, one that seeks to undercut the seriousness and cerebral capacity of women, to render them as emotionally unsuitable for deep deliberative analysis.
.. This is the very same argument that people have used to deny women’s suffrage and prevent access to full political participation.
.. Most people, male and female alike, believed that women were biologically unfit for politics. According to one orator at a mass meeting in Albany, New York, ‘A woman’s brain involves emotion rather than intellect, [which] painfully disqualifies her for the sterner duties to be performed by the intellectual faculties.’
.. ‘Housewives!’ announced a Massachusetts journal, ‘You do not need a ballot to clean out your sink spout.’ ”
And yet, 170 years on, we have a president of the United States questioning women’s intelligence.
.. “Women have scored higher than men in intelligence testing for the first time since records began.”
Donald Trump is always trying to cure his loneliness by making friend/enemy distinctions; trying to unite his clan by declaring verbal war on other groups; trying to shrivel his life into a little box by building walls against anybody outside its categories.
.. Richard Reeves points out that in “On Liberty,” Mill used the words “energy,” “active” and “vital” nearly as many times as he used the word “freedom.” Freedom for him was a means, not an end. The end is moral excellence. Mill believed that all of us “are under a moral obligation to seek the improvement of our moral character.”
“At the heart of his liberalism,” Reeves writes, “was a clearly and repeatedly articulated vision of a flourishing human life — self-improving, passionate, truth-seeking, engaged and colorful.”
.. He championed the labor movement, was the first member of Parliament to call for women to be given the right to vote, was the leading British philosopher of the 19th century and served as a loving son, husband and friend.
.. Mill had an optimistic view of human nature and probably an insufficient appreciation of human depravity
.. Mill was living in a Victorian moment when the chief problem was claustrophobia — the individual being smothered by society. He emphasized individual liberation. His emphases probably would have been different if he had lived today, when our problem is agoraphobia — too much freedom, too little cohesion, meaning and direction.
.. His example cures us from the weakness of our age — the belief that we can achieve democracy on the cheap; the belief that all we have to do to fulfill our democratic duties is be nice, vote occasionally and have opinions.
.. Mill showed that real citizenship is a life-transforming vocation. It involves, at base, cultivating the ability to discern good from evil, developing the intellectual virtues required to separate the rigorous from the sloppy, living an adventurous life so that you are rooting yourself among and serving those who are completely unlike yourself.
The demands of democracy are clear — the elevation and transformation of your very self. If you are not transformed, you’re just skating by.
Filmed a few weeks after the 2016 election: (2016-11-22)
- The same country that elected Donald Trump elected Barak Obama.
- Are we an ideal or some form of ethnostate? (8:08)
- No one asked Donald Trump what makes America Great? (10:22)
- Steve Carrell gets to ask a tough question about Pork Barrel spending, but he has to pull his punches because comedy is catch and release (22:37)
- Jon on why he left the Daily Show (35:10)
- Susan B Anthony symbolizes the country. She didn’t want black men to get the vote before white women. (38:20)
- America is not natural. Tribal is natural (39:25)