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Trump's Gillibrand tweet wasn't sexist: He’s an equal-opportunity boor

Trump's Gillibrand tweet wasn't sexist: He’s an equal-opportunity boor
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Even in the manic news cycle of the last few days, an offensive tweet by Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress MORE managed to capture attention. This time, it was a slam at Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandPentagon launches civilian-led commission to address military sexual assault Capito asks White House to allow toxic chemicals rule to proceed Lobbying world MORE (D-N.Y.) that was widely interpreted as not only sexist and demeaning but implying that she had once offered Trump sexual favors for campaign contributions. The outcry was instant, with some accusing Trump of sexually harassing the senator.

Is this really, as some suggest, a new low? Or is this particular outrage a proverbial tempest in a teacup that distracts the public from more important matters and gives ammunition to knee-jerk Trump defenders who believe Trump is constantly targeted for unfair criticism and “fake news”?

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There is no question that the tweet was rude, classless, boorish, and utterly unpresidential.  In other words, it was a Trump tweet. Was it sexist? That’s an easy suspicion, given Trump’s history of ugly remarks about women (including, of course, the infamous Access Hollywood tape in which he brags that being a celebrity allows him to grab women by their private parts).

Yet some commentators who are no Trump fans, such as freelance columnist Bethany Mandel and Commentary writer Noah Rothman, have pointed out that Trump has said similar things about male politicians such as Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFive takeaways from CPAC 2021 Trump wins CPAC straw poll with 55 percent 'SNL' envisions Fauci as game show host, giving winners vaccines MORE. And then there are these tweets:

To Trump supporters, the firestorm is evidence of how easily and readily his words get twisted into something malignant.  Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that “there’s no way this is sexist at all” and that “only if your mind is in the gutter would you have read it that way.” (In fairness, the gutter is where Trump-style political discourse generally resides.) Some, such as Fox commentator Katie Pavlich, even accuse feminists like Gillibrand of wanting it both ways: to be treated as equal when it suits them but to be shielded from rough words in the political arena.

Meanwhile, those who see sexism and even sexual harassment in Trump’s comment about Gillibrand argue that the combination of “come to my office begging” and “would do anything” that produces a clearly sexual meaning. But you could just as easily say that the reference to Rick PerryRick PerryRepublicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Five things to know about Texas's strained electric grid | Biden honeymoon with green groups faces tests | Electric vehicles are poised to aid Biden in climate fight Five things to know about Texas's strained electric grid MORE “playing nice” while begging for “support and money” contains sexual innuendo. Indeed, had Trump referred to Sen. Gillibrand “playing nice” in exchange for money, it probably would have been as sexual innuendo.

To some extent, this is a replay of the controversy two years ago over Trump’s remark that Megyn Kelly, who had questioned him aggressively during a debate, had “blood coming out of her wherever” — a comment widely seen, and deplored, as a gibe about Kelly having her period.

Trump himself defended his comment by saying that he meant to say “nose”  or “ears” and simply didn’t finish the sentence, and that his accusers had “dirty minds.” And, just as Pavlich now claims that those offended by Trump’s tweet want special treatment for women, Breitbart editor Frances Martel tweeted that “there's something very sexist about attacking Trump — a person whose entire public persona is ‘he insults people’ — for insulting a woman.”

While it’s hardly uncommon for either Trump himself or his supporters to offer disingenuous defenses of outrageous things he says, they may not have been wrong in this case. A look at the video of the interview in which Trump attacked Kelly shows that the offending comment comes right after “blood coming out of her eyes” and does sound rambling, and that only a few minutes later he said that Fox’s Chris Wallace “also had blood pouring out of his eyes.”

Nonetheless, especially given Trump’s track record — and the fact that he had just retweeted a tweet calling Kelly a bimbo — it’s not surprising that a reference to a woman bleeding “from her wherever” was taken as a menstruation joke.

With Gillibrand, the sexual interpretation is a bit more of a stretch.

Of course, even without the sexual meaning, Trump’s tweet was undignified and demeaning. At best, he’s an equal-opportunity boor. Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordCPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be Republicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March MORE (R-Okla.) had it right when he issued a statement saying that “respectful dialogue and disagreement set a better example” and that “our leaders should focus on the issues, not personal attacks.”

But the Gillibrand comment was hardly an all-time low for Trump. His disparaging joke during the campaign about Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain planning 'intimate memoir' of life with John McCain Trump-McConnell rift divides GOP donors Arkansas state senator says he's leaving Republican Party MORE’s (R-Ariz.) war record as a prisoner in Vietnam (“I like soldiers who don’t get captured”) was far more disgraceful. So was his recent retweeting of unverified, inflammatory videos from a racist far-right British group. So was his attack on President Obama while speaking at a Boy Scout jamboree.

Given Trump’s long record of personal and political awfulness, it’s difficult to feel bad when he may be the target of an unfair accusation — such as sexually harassing Sen. Gillibrand on Twitter. But the issue is not being mean to Trump. Besides emboldening true believers who think all attacks on Trump are a witch-hunt, the Gillibrand controversy adds to a climate in which dueling accusations of sexism are an easy way to score political points. (Right now, conservatives are out in force complaining about allegedly sexist assaults on press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.) In this discourse, women are not political agents but weaponized victims.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor for Reason magazine and a columnist for Newsday. Follow her on Twitter at @CathyYoung63.