In 2008, President Barack Obama made history by becoming the first African-American president of the United States. With the 2016 presidential election coming up, this election is markedly dramatic—not only because the Democratic and Republican nominees are two of the most unfavorable candidates in U.S. history, but also because for the first time, a woman has been selected as a nominee of a major presidential party.
With the past eight years in mind and the next four years to look toward, one important question comes to mind: how do race and gender factor into the 2016 presidential election? I met with Marilynn Johnson, a professor in the history department, to take a look at the way these two controversial candidates are changing the way we look at the election.
There has been somewhat of a feminist revolution occurring more recently as a result of the election, Johnson said. It is expected that with a female candidate likely on the way to the White House, she would serve as a catalyst for this new feminist revolution. But according to Johnson, many argue that it is not Hillary Clinton serving as the catalyst, but Donald Trump.
“It has less to do with Hillary than it does with Trump,” Johnson said. “I know a lot of women my age and older that feel strongly about supporting Hillary because she is the first woman nominee and she is very experienced. However, it seems as though Trump’s rhetoric has made gender an important issue in the election.”
The rhetoric Trump has used throughout his campaign has been exceedingly controversial and divisive. From referring to Latinos as “bad hombres” to calling Clinton a “nasty woman” in the third presidential debate last month, Trump has received significant backlash from the public for his comments.
Trump’s comments about minorities, immigrants, and women are going to play a huge role in the election, especially when it comes to voters in these demographics. The rhetoric in the campaign has caused greater polarization in American politics than ever before.
“America has been polarized for quite a while, going back to the Reagan administration,” Johnson said. “It’s become so ugly and visceral in this election with the personal attacks, which makes the polarization that much more dangerous. Many people are questioning the whole system and whether or not you can accept the results. People not having much faith in the process is something new. The whole level of political debate has been pulled into the gutter.”
Johnson noted that the response to the sexual harassment allegations against Trump are more pronounced than they have been in the past, as women are now more responsive and critical of issues of sexual assault. Trump’s rise in politics and the rhetoric he has used have made it clear to many people that women and minorities still face a level of systemic gender and racial inequality that was arguably more surreptitious before, according to Johnson.
She also emphasized the importance of the effect that Trump has had on the Republican Party, essentially splitting it between pro- and anti-Trump camps.
“The major question of whether or not they will be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again remains,” Johnson said.
When the Democratic nomination came down to either Clinton or Senator Bernie Sanders, it seemed as though younger women were more inclined to vote for Sanders. Why wouldn’t more young women and feminists want to immediately support the first woman president?
“Those ‘firsts’ aren’t important, because we can have a very good black president, but those race relations aren’t going to be resolved overnight,” Johnson said. “It’s the same with women. No matter how prominent your role is, systemic or inherent gender inequality is not something that can be changed overnight.”
Featured Image by Jake Catalina/Heights Staff