Out of the Blue: Is Hillary Clinton such a nasty woman? (opinion)
Out of the Blue
“Such a nasty woman,” Donald Trump said, in regard to his Democratic rival.
There many audacious facets to unpack about this vitriolic barb tossed during the last presidential debate of 2016, but the thing to keep most prominently in mind is that while the internet came alive after Trump’s slam and viewers of all genders winced at his inelegant political misstep, Hillary just kept on talking.
Steadfast and focused, she didn’t even bother tossing Donald a gestured retort of any sort. She was busy outlining bullet-points of her proposed tax plan before Chris Wallace moved on to a new question. Hillary had work to do.
Analysts and journalists were quick to jump on the acidity of Trump’s latest foot-in-mouth statement. One of the more intriguing pieces I came across was Liz Plank’s article for Vox, in which she wrote:
“In that moment, Trump did for Clinton what she hasn’t been able to do with female voters: He made her relatable. Nearly every woman sitting at home has experienced a version of the nasty woman moment, though probably not on national television. Whether it was being called nasty by an ex-boyfriend or bossy at work, women immediately picked up on the insult, and knew exactly what it was like to be in Clinton’s shoes. Although much of the sexism against Clinton has been slightly implicit, her opponent, for whom subtlety is an entirely foreign concept, has made his gendered condescension toward her crystal clear.”
Everybody knows that all Clinton has to find descriptions of herself as “nasty” (or a trillion times worse) would be to fashion a simple Google search on the subject, but her poise and temperament at this moment in the debate proved, with an Aesop’s Fables directness, how little caustic jabs like Donald’s really matter.
We armchair politicos were sure that Trump using flowery derogatory language about women (“fat piggy,” “loser,” etc.) was going to disqualify him from the get-go, but thanks to some bizarr-o funhouse logic, it wasn’t until this new put-down came along that things really sank in.
Instead of dwelling on half-developed concepts about abortion protocols or huffy dismissals of inquiries from aisles of women accusing him of sexual abuse without detail or specificity, Donald Trump was — for perhaps the first time since primary season — straight up with Hillary at that ‘nasty’ moment last week.
Look at the events of the day after. At the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner (a charity fundraiser featuring good-natured political roasting between the major-party candidates), Trump staged one successful self-deprecating gag about Michelle Obama and his wife that the crowd responded warmly to, but after that success, he settled back into name-calling mode and was resoundingly booed as he tried to fashion jokes about Hillary’s crookedness and how much she hates Catholics (?).
To be fair, Clinton took relish in landing a few sizzling zingers of her own during the event (“Come to think of it, it’s amazing I’m up here after Donald. I didn’t think he’d be okay with a peaceful transition of power.”), but the chemistry of the audience in the room made it very clear that Trump’s aggression on Hillary being a “nasty woman’” during the debate had finally scorched the earth beneath his feet.
More offensive things have certainly come out of his mouth — both on hot mics 10 years ago and on current campaign rally stages — but “she’s such a nasty woman” has become the rallying cry of a newly-reinvigorated voting public.
Hillary didn’t even need to follow Michelle Obama’s advice of “going high” when Trump hit her with such a bruising undercut. By ignoring his buffoonish taunt, she showcased a strength that was undeniable to the millions of people who were watching, many of whom were desperate to uncork an enthusiasm for either candidate.
For the moment, we can giggle at Janet Jackson memes and soak up some empowered feminist ownership of “nasty” as a call to arms. But soon enough the laughter will recede and we’ll recall this iconic moment, after years of slogging through the weeds of an acerbic, ill-natured presidential campaign, when the clouds parted at the last debate and two figures came into sharp focus: a name-calling bully and a policy wonk who ignored the harsh language directed at her and finished discussing a point about an important economic issue facing our nation.
With that Janet backbeat: “It’s Hillary. Madam President, if you’re nasty.”
Mike Restaino is a writer and filmmaker based out of Incline Village. He is also a Vice Chair of the North Tahoe Democrats. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.