Second Presidential Debate A Missed Opportunity to Discuss the Need for Feminism

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Liza Featherstone says that neither candidate put Trump’s remarks on sexual assault in the context of prevalent gendered violence and inequality

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DHARNA NOOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Dharna Noor joining you from Baltimore.

The second presidential debate took place on Sunday night and in it moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz questioned Trump about the audio that was leaked in which he describes sexually assaulting women to radio host and TV host Billy Bush.

DONALD TRUMP: I got to use some tic tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a start they let you do it. You can do anything.

BILL BUSH: Whatever you want.

TRUMP: Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.

NOOR: Did the debate really tackle gender inequality and violence against women head on. Now joining us to discuss this is Liza Featherstone. Liza is a journalist based in New York City and a contributing editor to The Nation where she also writes the advice column Asking For a Friend. She’s the editor of False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Thanks for joining us today Liza.

LIZA FEATHERSTONE: Thanks so much.

NOOR: So I want to begin just by getting your initial response to the audio that was released that we just heard and his response to Anderson Cooper’s question about his remarks. Let’s take a listen to the clip from the debate.

ANDERSON COOPER: You describe kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault. You brag that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?

TRUMP: No I didn’t say that at all. I don’t think you understood what was said. This was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it. I apologize to my family. I apologize to the American people. Certainly I’m not proud of it but this is locker room talk. When we have a world where you have ISIS chopping off heads, where you have–and frankly drowning people in steel cages. Where you have wars and horrible horrible sites all over, where you have so many bad things happening, this is like medieval times. We haven’t seen anything like this. The carnage all over the world. And they look and they see. Can you imagine the people that are frankly doing so well against us with ISIS and they look at our country and they see what’s going on? Yes, I’m very embarrassed by it. I hate it. But it’s locker room talk and it’s one of those things.

NOOR: Is Trump right to say that people should be focusing on the crimes of ISIS instead of his remarks. He’s essentially saying that his remarks pale in comparison to ISIS’s crimes.

FEATHERSTONE: I mean it’s actually kind of funny if you think about it. He’s on tape bragging about really violent and disgusting behavior and his defense is I’m not ISIS, am I right? I’m not ISIS. I mean that’s just, that is really ridiculous and a low bar. Obviously ISIS are an appalling gang of misogynist also. But also is not running for President of the United States. It’s just not a reasonable comparison.

NOOR: Trump also made the claim that Bill Clinton was more abusive to women than any other politician and he also said that Hillary Clinton was essentially complicit in his infidelity. Let’s take a listen to that.

TRUMP: If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse. Mine are words and his was action. His was what he’s done to women. There’s never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation that’s been so abusive to women. So you can say any way you want to say it but Bill Clinton was abusive to women. Hillary Clinton attacked those same women and attacked them viciously four of them are here tonight. I will tell you that when Hillary brings up a point like that and she talks about words that I said 11 years ago, I think it’s disgraceful and I think she should be ashamed for herself if you want to know the truth.

NOOR: Is it fair to say that all of this about Hillary Clinton, Trump essentially is indicating that these comments and the attitude behind them aren’t unique to him. Is that just further normalizing what’s often called rape culture? Or is that a fair way of looking at it?

FEATHERSTONE: Well there’s a couple of things to say about that. First of all, in the history of our country, the history of our country is that many of our presidents were slave holders. So actually yes, a lot of them were just as much rapists as Donald Trump and perhaps Bill Clinton. So that’s not a very informed comment on his part. But leaving that aside and it’s a big aside, he may be right about Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton has been accused of raping women and also of serious harassment against women and those charges may well be true. But it’s really a [non-sequester] for Donald Trump to be bringing it up at this point. Because Bill Clinton like ISIS is not running for President of the United States. Hillary Clinton is running for President of the United States.

Also it’s a sort of further non-defense because how does he know this? He knows this because he says he and Bill Clinton have engaged in this kind of talk on the golf course together. Well that’s really attractive. Not only are you a rapist bragging about raping women but you’re hanging out on the golf course with your buddies who are doing the same thing. I mean it really is not much of a defense nor much of a distraction from his own actions.

NOOR: And what do you make of his remarks there about Hillary Clinton essentially saying that she was complicit in these vile acts by Bill Clinton.

FEATEHRSTONE: You know there I think Donald Trump makes a good point. There are some charges by these women, Juanita Broaddrick is one, saying that Hillary Clinton threatened them or told them that they had better be quiet, put pressure on them to not bring these charges against her husband. And if those things are true those are very serious charges against a woman who has been running as a feminist for president. I’ve always thought that those charges were troubling and serious. There are many things that we actually know about that. We know that she has played a role in trying to smear the reputations of women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual offenses like this.

So those charges are certainly serious and Donald Trump is very reasonable to bring them up. However, again while serious and troubling especially in someone purporting to be a feminist politician, they actually don’t rise to the level of the behavior that Trump is bragging about on this tape which really is a violent crime and if he did these things he should be in prison.

NOOR: So Anderson Cooper did ask Donald Trump this question about the audio that was released where he essentially claimed that he was engaging in sexual assault but no other questions of gender inequality were really addressed. There was nothing about equal pay or safe abortions. Both candidates did sort of say that they’re the candidate for all oppressed groups and Clinton actually did mention that a feed of the Affordable Care Act is the fact that women can’t be charged more for healthcare than men.

But was there a missed opportunity here to talk about violence against women in a more broad way rather than how disgusting Trump is?

HEATHERSTONE: Yea. I think there was a missed opportunity on that and I think that Hillary Clinton really could’ve come out and said look by electing me you would not only be voting against a rapist, but you would also be electing for someone who fought for women. Then she could say what she was going to do to advance women’s lives and she has during the campaign at times talked about paid family leave. She has talked about repealing the Hyde amendment. A little awkward now that she has Tim Kaine on her ticket who is a supporter of the Hyde amendment. But that level of democracy is just what we have come to expect but she could have talked to him about raising the minimum wage. As she has at times referred to at the campaign. She could’ve really put this in one big agenda and said look, here’s Donald Trump on the one hand, talking about raping women and now laughing it off and dismissing it as locker room talk. Or you could elect the first woman of the United States who takes all these issues very seriously and she could’ve talked in detail about the issues.

I mean, I don’t know why she didn’t do that except that she really has been so positioning herself as a conservative candidate in the attempt to woo republicans that I think she’s really kind of painted herself into a corner and it’s made it actually difficult for her to respond to these things in a principle and feminist way. I think by the way that that positioning of herself as a conservative candidate is authentic. I don’t think it’s necessarily purely political on her part. But it does deprive her of the ability to really come out swing on this I think.

NOOR: And you’ve been really critical in career for years. So I want to sort of prose another critique of her that we’ve heard often. Jill Stein often says that while Trump says despicable things, Hillary Clinton has a track record of actually doing terrible things and you yourself that Hillary Clinton during her term as Secretary of State there were more cases of [femicide] and rape in Libya and Iraq, countries which the US invaded. Is this assessment that Trump says, scarier things but Clinton’s actually done scarier things, a fair one?

FEATHERSTONE: I do. I think it’s analogous to my friend Rania Khalek makes a similar point about Trump says awful things about Muslims and Hillary Clinton has actually done terrible things to Muslims and killed and been responsible for many Muslim deaths through her foreign policy and which is worse. I think that you could certainly make a similar argument on women’s issues that yea Trump is a pig. He says these awful things but Hillary Clinton has a lot of responsibility for welfare reform which under her husband threw a lot of poor women into even deeper poverty in the United States and then on the other hand as Secretary of State was very bellicose, very hawkish and is responsible for those responsibility for a lot of women’s deaths in and rape by the way in Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere. Honduras as well. So I think that this absolutely a fair argument.

On the other hand, let’s not dismiss the real world effects of a republican presidency which would also be horrible for women. Donald Trump is not going to just talk if he’s president. He’s going to be making policy. Do you want somebody making policy who views women in that way. Let’s look a little bit, let’s not forget his running mate Pence who has also been responsible for very horrific anti-abortion policies as Governor of Indiana and I would assume have an extremely right wing and anti-woman approach in a Trump-Pence presidency.

So I wouldn’t quite—obviously if it were a choice between nasty words and nasty policies you’d pick nasty policies but I’m not sure it’s really a choice. I don’t think the polices under Trump wouldn’t be so harmless.

NOOR: Clinton has recently taken a number of more progressive positions than she did in the 2008 election for instance. She’s come out in support of single payer health care. She called her support of the Iraq war a mistake. She says she’s not supporting the TPP anymore. Should we believe that she’ll actually take up these new progressive positons if she’s elected or if it’s all just rhetoric?

FEATHERSTONE: So I think we should be very skeptical of those claims. I think that a politicians record on the things that they have actually done is a much better guide to what that person is going to be like as president than the claims that she makes in order to get elected. Especially because she has really backed off a lot of that progressive rhetoric ever since the convention. Ever since she secured the nomination, beat of the Sander challenge, her rhetoric has been very much more centrist and even to the right at times.

So no I wouldn’t believe her. I would be very skeptical of that. That said, I think it’s still, I think that progressive forces should be happy that we made a show of power in pressuring her through the Bernie campaign and through campaigns like the fight for 15. But I think that it’s by no means guaranteed or even all that likely that she will actually champion any of those issues. I think that people are going to have to continue fighting for those things and most likely she will be a pretty conservative president.

NOOR: And that said, Trump has called to do things like defund Planned Parenthood. Clinton wouldn’t do that. He would cut the EPA, he would increase the military budget. So I guess I’m wondering Liza, in January, during the primaries, you penned this piece in The Nation called Why This Socialist Feminist is Not Voting for Hillary. In it, you kind of argued that Hillary Clinton’s elite feminism doesn’t really involve the kind of redistributive economics that would allow women to live better lives.

So would you still write this article now? Are you still not voting for Hillary Clinton and would you vote for her if you lived in a swing state?

FEATHERSTONE: Yea you know that’s a good question. That piece was written in the primary and it was a response to the fact that there was a democratic, self-described democratic socialist running against Hillary in the primary and I thought that his agenda was far more meaningfully feminist than hers as was his entire record of accomplishments over his career. I don’t think that there’s really ever a candidate in a general election for a socialist feminist to vote for except for sometimes the Green Party candidate or the sort of, sometimes there are a few fourth or fifth party socialists that are on the ballot as well. So that particular piece isn’t really, it’s not really intended for a general election.

I would never discourage anybody who was in a swing state for voting for Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump. I myself don’t live in a swing state and I do plan to vote for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate despite reservations.

NOOR: Liza Featherstone, thanks so much for joining us today.

FEATEHRSTONE: Thank you.

NOOR: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.