Today, let’s drop by the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race for some debased discourse.
“Between now and Nov. 6, you better put a catcher’s mask on your face, because I’m going to stomp all over your face with golf spikes because I’m going to win this for the state of Pennsylvania and we’re throwing you out of office,” Scott Wagner, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, recently warned Democratic incumbent Tom Wolf via video.
Next, to Georgia, for some unbecoming behavior from US Senator David Perdue, who snatched a cell phone from a Georgia Tech student who had asked him an uncomfortable political question.
By now, anyone with eyes must have seen then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s disrepectful, combative, and insolent performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
And let’s not forget the poison dart that White House trade adviser Peter Navarro aimed at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad-faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door. And that’s what bad-faith Justin Trudeau did with that stunt press conference. That’s what weak, dishonest Justin Trudeau did. And that comes right from Air Force One.”
Switching from pugnacity to inanity, did you catch President Donald Trump’s recent declaration of love? No, not to Melania, but rather to that storied belle-lettrist, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un? “And then we fell in love, OK?” Trump recalled. “No really. He wrote me beautiful letters. And they’re great letters. We fell in love.”
What do each of these incidents have in common? Well, to answer a question with a question: Could a woman have gotten away with any of them?
“Oh, for heaven’s sakes, no, never,” declared Elizabeth Sherman, an assistant professor of government at American University and an expert on women in politics.
“A woman could never get away with doing or saying any of those things,” Barbara Lee, who has been working to advance women in politics for two decades, said via e-mail.
So why we are seeing more and more of that behavior from men?
Sherman thinks that, in this time of Trump, traditional rules of political decorum are being supplanted by combative masculine behavior. Lee agrees, saying that Trump “has normalized toxic masculinity, and given other male politicians permission to act out in the same way.”
But not female politicians. If a woman threatened even metaphorical harm to an opponent, her verbal vehemence would conjure up comparisons to Glenn Close’s character in “Fatal Attraction.” Grabbing a questioner’s cell phone, even momentarily, would get her labeled a harpy or a harridan. Or worse. And if she actually assaulted someone, that would almost certainly be a campaign-ender. But despite having attacked and injured a reporter, Greg Gianforte of Montana was still rewarded with a seat in the US House. And praise from the president.
Similarly, it’s hard to think a female supreme court nominee would be forgiven for the kind of angry tongue-lashing that Kavanaugh gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
And just imagine how any female politician, let alone a woman president, would be ridiculed if she offered up something as singularly foolish as Trump’s verbal billet-doux for Kim Jong Un. She’d be denounced as a gullible airhead unfit for the world stage.
Now, it’s true that male offenders will sometimes feel the need to offer a weasel-word apology or some limited contrition. Still, in the end, they often get away with the belligerent, bullying, or witless behavior that women simply couldn’t survive.
Mind you, I’m not arguing that because we accept it in men, we should extend our tolerance for that kind of boorishness or foolishness to woman as well. Quite the contrary. The standard should be, if a woman couldn’t get away with it, then we shouldn’t tolerate it in a man, either.Scot Lehigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.