Trump maxing out his 'man card'

By the Numbers: Donald Trump and women voters
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By the Numbers: Donald Trump and women voters 02:36

Story highlights

  • Sally Kohn: Trump supporters' wish for 'great' days gone by is off the mark
  • Our time is better for all -- women, people of color, white men -- than in the past, she says

Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator, and a supporter of Bernie Sanders. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)Make no mistake about it, a substantial portion of the American public is supporting Donald Trump — some implicitly, others explicitly — because he is a man. More precisely, Trump's version of misogynist machismo matches theirs. Think of this reactionary backlash as a vintage fad in American politics: certain voters longing for the days of crew cuts, flagrant racial oppression and unimpeded sexual harassment. In their minds, the good old days.

This mindset is quickly going out of fashion but some stubbornly cling to the past.
    Sally Kohn
    When you hear the attacks on "political correctness" this is what they mean. Don't take my word for it — listen to a Donald Trump supporter who was just selected to be an official Trump delegate in California. William Johnson, one of the leaders in the white nationalism movement in California and nationwide, praises Trump for "allowing us to talk about things we've not been able to talk about." Former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, who has endorsed Trump, said, "when we say 'take America back,' we know exactly what that means ... and I think everybody who says that knows what it means."
    This is the first and only time I have ever agreed with David Duke, whose analysis is spot on here. Donald Trump's support is not exclusively but largely fueled by the fact that he is a white man who pledges to "make America great again" for many other white men like himself.
    White nationalists supporting Donald Trump
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    Meanwhile, in a recent commencement address to the 2016 class of Howard University, President Obama insisted that the United States "is a better place today" than when he graduated from college more than 30 years ago.
    This is unarguably true. But I think some white men, particularly of the ilk supporting Trump, think that their identity group is worse off as a whole — that it was indeed better to be a straight white man in the 1910s or 1950s. This is, of course, objectively absurd from an economic perspective but as Matt Bruenig has written, many white men feel that gender and racial hierarchies provide them with a social benefit. Social caste is all about relative ranking. And for a number of those white men, any notion of equality for women or minorities is plainly a demotion over the past.
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    Obama singles out student during commencement speech 05:29
    There's a reason Trump has become their standard-bearer. This weekend, the New York Times ran a story based on interviews with dozens of women who worked with and interacted with Donald Trump throughout his career. The aggregate portrait is unmistakably skeevy. Here's Trump making Miss USA contestants line up and watch as he personally ranks which women are hottest. Here's Trump only wanting the good-looking women in his office to take lunch orders in meetings. Here's Trump waving around a copy of the New York Post in which Melania boasted that Trump was the best sex she'd ever had. Here's Trump groping a woman during a business meeting.
    It's like reading a script from "Mad Men," except the events are real and took place in the 1990s, not in the 1960s. Part of the dramatic appeal of "Mad Men" was the contrast with how far we've come since. Donald Trump, it would appear, didn't get the memo.
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    And this is the man, according to his own interview with the Times, who plans to attack Hillary Clinton because of her husband's philandering? Does Donald Trump realize that he shouldn't exactly be casting the first stone here? Trump insists, "Women love me!" Uh, except they don't — or at least 7 in 10 women in America definitively don't. And that polling was done before these latest revelations.
    To be clear, Donald Trump doesn't ever have to say he's "playing his man card" for it to be nonetheless true. This is how race and gender privilege work in our society. Arguably every president in the history of our nation has implicitly played his "man card" without ever having to say so directly, simply because leadership has always been correlated with masculinity. And up until President Obama, every president also played his "white card" without lifting a finger.
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    Trump's women problem 01:54
    In America, we often perversely assume that a woman or person of color in a leadership position got there illegitimately, blaming "political correctness" and affirmative action. And yet the fact is that white men remain statistically more likely to ascend to every position of power across our society. So when we see the one woman of color in the corporate board room, we assume she doesn't deserve to be there, but we assume the 14 white men do.
    The simple fact is that President Obama is right. We are a better country today than we were in the past — better for women and people of color and for lots of white men, too. And we will continue to become better, including more equitable and diverse. This is a good thing, for all of us. Donald Trump is a misogynistic vestige of our ugly past.
    Even if he is elected by a resentful backlash of voters, our country will nonetheless eventually progress and overcome. And that man card will be no more valuable than the others in the deck. Which is as it should be.