The US Election or the White Man’s Ambition

While aiming high is seen as an obvious and neutral trait in male candidates, in the case of women, such an attitude is not only off-putting, but also cause for moral indignation.

Every four years, election analysts all over the world are put to the test in predicting — as well as subsequently analyzing — the results of the U.S. presidential election. Reality always surpasses expectations, and once again, the results of the 2020 election do not fail to surprise. The disastrous handling of the COVID-19 crisis by Donald Trump seemed to foretell bigger punishment by his supporters — at least from the ones who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and its repercussions. This is the logic of accountability: When leaders do a very bad job, usually, the government falls in the following election. Even Trump himself showed certain trepidation about accountability as he made every effort to delay the election. After all, as V.O. Key Jr. said several decades ago, “voters are not fools.”

This mechanism of accountability also operates through the growing incentive to vote in groups that had not done so in previous elections. Therefore, the significant increase in voter turnout was to be expected, and that was indeed what happened. At least we got something right: Early and mail-in voting reached previously unprecedented levels. In the absence of precise data, voter turnout has been estimated to be between 66% and 67%, while in the previous presidential election of 2016, voter turnout was 59.2%. This represents a 7%-8% increase.

However, the impact of this significant increase in voter turnout in the election results was apparently not as expected. The literature regarding the determining factors in voter turnout suggests that people who do not vote are usually those with lesser means and motivation, those who feel that politics has nothing to do with them, and for whom the person in power appears to matter very little. This is precisely the profile of the constituent who most likely suffered the consequences of Trump’s hapless handling of the pandemic. Therefore, many of the new votes were expected to go to the Democratic candidate. Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once summarized it by saying, “If everybody in this country voted, the Democrats would be in for the next 100 years.”

What happened to these new voters? Although we can only speculate for now, everything seems to indicate that some of those voters found a connection with the Trump universe; a universe that continues to bring together the interests favoring the cause of the white man who brings home the bacon month after month. These are white men who unapologetically claim that their crucial role in society is losing its relevance. It is quite possible that sectors of Latino men — who have toiled to find decent jobs after years of suffering — found connection with a group that feels that its roles are being challenged and criticized for being outdated, out of place, even. And all because women no longer want to take on the social role assigned to them: a role confined to the family sphere. Taking care of the family, being its emotional support, acting as responsible mothers and daughters. This is a social role that in Trump’s universe often appears as morally superior to that of men, in the purest style of “benevolent sexism.” This discourse is strongly reminiscent of the rhetoric the suffragettes had to hear from the institutional political establishment during the first decades of the 20th century.

We expected a more resounding victory on the part of Joe Biden. However, if we use a gender approach in the analysis, it clearly could have been worse. I would propose an exercise. Imagine what would have happened if, instead of Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate had been his running mate, Kamala Harris, a Black woman with a brilliant career as attorney general. In my opinion, Trump would have won. We tend to forget the reason because it is usually considered anecdotal, but that reason is, again, gender (and of course race as well).

Psychological research shows how gender has an impact on the political perceptions of Americans, both male and female. For example, there was a study that used experiments to elicit reactions from participants when faced with possible attributes or qualities belonging to hypothetical political candidates. It showed that having ambition is particularly penalized with respect to female candidates. While participants in the experiments considered ambition as a very obvious and neutral attribute in a male candidate, ambition causes not only rejection but even moral indignation in the case of women. If in doubt, ask Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of the strongest contenders in the struggle to choose a Democratic candidate. The loser of the 2020 presidential election even nicknamed her Pocahontas, in a display of careless misogyny.

Once again, voters still disfavor and reject ambition in women because it poses a real challenge to the historical monopoly that white men hold in the political arena..

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