Dominance or Democracy? Decoding Trump & Pence’s Debate Strategy
Donald Trump and Mike Pence subscribe to authoritarian white masculinity as their debate strategy.
NPR Congress editor Deirdre Walsh asserted that Pence’s debate style was an “.” New York Times conservative columnist Christopher Buskirk called Pence “,” claiming that he was “in some sense the answer to every criticism leveled at Trump after the last debate.” The BBC’s Anthony Zurcher contended that Pence’s “.”
These seemingly disparate styles, however, are two sides of the same coin – manifestations of a particular version of authoritarian white masculinity that has taken over the GOP since it became the party of Trump.
Not only do these styles perpetuate sexist assumptions about leadership, they also are fundamentally undemocratic because they try to silence dissent, foreclose debate and curtail the participation of anyone with whom they disagree in our democracy.
An Inequitable System
is a version of patriarchal authority that has asserted itself in US politics in conjunction with the rise of Donald Trump. It assumes that heterosexual white men are best suited to leadership and casts political leadership by women and people of color as inauthentic – for example, the “” – or threatening – for example, “.”
The Trump presidency is, in part, a in 2016 as the first woman to top a major-party presidential ticket. This reassertion of white patriarchal authority is presented as necessary for the nation’s stability and progress. It’s one way Trump delivers on his promise to “make America great again.”
Authoritarian white masculinity has made a resurgence because it doesn’t only appeal to men. People of all genders can be socialised into patriarchal systems, and white women, in particular, sometimes benefit from their proximity to, and participation in, authoritarian white masculinity.
Where progressive political power aims to expand citizenship, voting and participation, conservative authoritarianism aims to curtail it. As a result, progressive women and candidates of colour face a complex set of stereotypes and constraints when challenging the white patriarchy on which the US political system is built.
But I also study the rhetorical ingenuity of candidates like Harris, whose ability to navigate an inequitable political system makes them formidable.
Authoritarian White Masculinity as Debate Strategy
Trump’s approach to the debate on 29 September was to establish himself as someone who leads through dominance.
Trump was unconstrained by either expectations of civility or the rules of the debate. The more disruptive, the better. Drawn in by Trump’s provocations, Biden urged Trump to “.” Debate observers likened the event to a .
Although some commentators cheered Pence’s ostensible civility during the vice presidential debate, Pence persistently ignored the rules to which his campaign had assented, speaking past his time limit, refusing to answer many of moderator Susan Page’s questions, and supplanting the moderator’s authority so that he could pose his own questions to Harris.
Pence’s authoritarian masculinity is the genteel version favored in the that compose Trump’s most loyal base: Southern conservatives and white . During the debate, Pence it was a “privilege to be on the stage” with Harris and repeatedly thanked the moderator while ignoring her authority.
When Page moved to a new topic, Pence said, “Well, thank you, but I would like to go back to the previous topic.” When she informed him his time was up, he kept speaking as though no one had said anything. When he wanted to interrupt Harris, he placidly insisted, “I have to weigh in.”
Harris: ‘I’m Speaking’
Harris’ strategy was to meet Pence’s authoritarian masculinity with an authoritative assertion of her own: “I’m speaking.”
Dominance or Democracy?
As Trump’s electoral prospects dwindle, his belief in his inherent entitlement to authority appears to be fostering a host of anti-democratic practices: contesting election procedures to reduce voter participation; declining to commit to accepting the results of the election if he loses; sabotaging or boycotting debates.
When Trump told Maria Bartiromo on Fox News that he , it was revealing. Debates are , dating back to the , flourishing in the that birthed the United States, and held up as the ideal form of campaign communication after those made famous by .
And the attraction of authoritarian masculinity seems to be shared by other Republican politicians. On the night of the vice presidential debate, Sen. Mike Lee posted a that implied that something other than democratic governance might be required in order for “the human condition to flourish.”
Presidential campaign cycles present voters with the opportunity to think about the expectations they have of political leaders, who those standards benefit and constrain, and how they promote or impede democratic engagement. As such, campaign communication and presidential debates are about much more than political strategy. They build – or break – American democracy.
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.)
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