We hardly discuss one of the most interesting aspects of the 2016 US presidential elections: That the long picture gallery of all American presidents remained hundred-percent male. Neither do we discuss why so many of us, both women and men, failed to see anything wrong with that, even while some others celebrated the Trump victory by open pussy-grabbing or its verbal equivalents.
Imagine some other demographic groups, more than half of all citizens, calmly accepting (1) that none of its members has ever governed the country, and is very unlikely to do so in the near future! It's not possible, my friends, except when it comes to women.
But when it comes to women, the majority of Americans, equal representation is not an important goal. Rather, it's outdated identity politics, at best only of symbolic worth. The strength of that message is mind-boggling, unprecedented and unpresidented.
How did it come about?
I argue that it is the result of gaslighting, a term which the American linguistic left adopted from psychological literature, and then adapted to political speech, often to silence someone. Gaslighting is
manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize a target. Its intent to is sow seeds of doubt in the subject, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.
My friends, we have been gaslighted, through denial, misdirection, contradiction, lying and more. It is particularly easy to gaslight those who are prone to self-inspection, to careful scrutiny of their own ideas and to careful attention to how others criticize them. Indeed, I have eagerly abetted my own gaslighting!
It took Mark Lilla's New York Times article "The End of Identity Liberalism," on the horrors that is identity politics inside the Democratic Party to drop the scales from my eyes. He wrote:
Recently I performed a little experiment during a sabbatical in France: For a full year I read only European publications, not American ones. My thought was to try seeing the world as European readers did. But it was far more instructive to return home and realize how the lens of identity has transformed American reporting in recent years. How often, for example, the laziest story in American journalism — about the “first X to do Y” — is told and retold.Notice the gaslighting in the sentence I have bolded: The story of, say, the first female president, ever, would be a lazy story. If we pick from the terms of the quote which defines gaslighting, this would be misdirection. Yet nobody would have stated that the story of, say, the first black president in South Africa would have been a lazy story.
Later, in an uplifting appeal, Lilla wrote about the values we all can share:
We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism. Such a liberalism would concentrate on widening its base by appealing to Americans as Americans and emphasizing the issues that affect a vast majority of them. It would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another.
That might qualify as a lie, using the list of terms which define gaslighting, because pre-identity liberalism was identity liberalism of the type where Lilla's own group had all the power, and because most issues do not affect the vast majority of Americans in exactly the same way.
Take Trump's infrastructure improvement promises (which he might renege on, as is his wont): Those jobs are not going to go to all American adults, in their population proportions, but overwhelmingly to men, because construction industries are almost completely male (2).
My heartfelt thanks to Mark Lilla. He opened my eyes and then I directed them to all the other material which almost got me gaslighted into believing that it doesn't really matter if women hold political power on the highest levels. The rest of this post addresses some of them.