When I was a young child, I remember the made-for-television tennis match between Bobbie Riggs and Billie Jean King, dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes” in which the dominant women’s tennis player of that era easily defeated the aging male athlete after he did a lot of trash talking to the media.
That 1970s skirmish seems so quaint now in comparison to the coarsened political death match we are witnessing in the Presidential debates. Male sexual privilege of an earlier era — still alive in many industries today — is finally on full display. The only silver lining I can see is that its exposure to the blinding light of national scrutiny may finally kill this centuries-old power play.
Donald Trump is clearly of a genus of sexual predator that women have suffered through for decades. That is only one very big reason of many to reject his grab for power. He is also a racist, a xenophobic bigot, and a coward who dares criticize war heroes like John McCain and the Khan family while he himself eluded military service. There are many other vile behaviors he has exhibited in the past year that could fill a magazine.
Trump is a sexist of epic proportions — he bought beauty pageants to ogle the naked contestants backstage, he pursued sexual dalliances with married women for sport, he rates women openly based on their looks, and has even spoken publicly about his daughter as a sexual object.
This is what an ugly American male looks like. This is what was not only tolerated, but encouraged in the last generation when females had to try breaking the glass ceiling while their male counterparts were trying to grab at their dresses and whatever else was within reach.
Like many fathers of daughters, I have been hard-pressed to explain this sad history to my children. When my daughters ask me about Bill Clinton and the accusations hurled at him by Trump and his surrogates, I try to explain that while the former president in his personal life was a predator, at least he had many redeeming values and that he was a strong president nonetheless. But it is painful to have to engage in this moral relativism when so much is at stake. Besides, it’s not Bill Clinton running in 2016, it is his long-suffering wife Hillary, who is this country’s best hope of giving young women a role model and an inspiration that they, too, can grow up and be president one day.
At a time when our country is desperately searching for impressive male role models, I immediately think of President Obama. For the past seven years, whether you agree with Obamacare or his Middle Eastern foreign policy, it is undeniable that he has been a shining example of male rectitude. He has an extremely impressive bond with his classy wife Michelle, and he has raised two strong daughters who have stayed out of the spotlight and kept out of trouble (unlike many other First Children). There hasn’t been a whiff of personal or professional scandal in his administration. In fact, he has lived up to his campaign appellation: “No Drama Obama.”
But now America is witnessing a re-litigation of the carnivorous sexual escapades of the oldest Baby Boomers — Donald and Bill. It is important that our leaders walk a straight line, but airing the dirty laundry of their personal lives seems to be a unique American sport — you don’t see political campaigns in France or Germany delving into the personal lives of the candidates.
The next few weeks will feel like an eternity as we watch a failing candidate go nuclear on his opponent and her husband. We will likely see and hear new lows in our discourse, after we thought that the lows couldn’t get any lower.
But on Nov. 8, after an interminable campaign of mudslinging, we are likely to elect a new leader who will prove that through grit, hard work, and bare-knuckled politics, women, too, can compete and beat men for the highest office in the land.
The shattering sound we will hear that night will come from the glass ceiling that has held so many women back in America. It is about time we right that wrong.
And it will be doubly satisfying that the big loser that night will be the distasteful leader of the endangered species of the white-privileged male.
Tom Allon, president of City & State NY, was a Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 before he left to return to the private sector. Reach him at tallo