Anyone who thinks being a woman automatically imbues you with sympathy for the sisterhood hasn’t met the women in the Trump administration. The recent Rob Porter scandal has revealed the priorities of two women in particular. Hint: it’s not other women.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the most visible woman in the White House and Hope Hicks is easily the least. As White House Press Secretary, Sanders appears on TV frequently to engage in verbal fisticuffs with the neutered press corps. As White House Communications Director, Hope Hicks acts like a public relations rep. She stays out of the story and controls the narrative. She rarely gives interviews or TV appearances, always throwing the focus back on her boss—even when GQ wanted to profile her, she sat silently while Trump talked about her.
As The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan wrote, “You might think that as one of the most visible women in the Trump administration, Sanders would bring some credibility—maybe even sympathy—to bear on subjects related to respect for women.” Likewise it would be great if Hicks, a young, attractive woman similar to Trump’s favorite daughter, could use that influence in a positive direction for women’s rights.
However, insensitivity to women’s suffering is a fundamental part of this White House. “Make America great again” may be Trump’s official slogan but “Grab ‘em by the pussy” defines him. It’s no surprise that the two women carrying his message display a similar cruel indifference to victims of abuse.
Last week, Trump tweeted that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is a “lightweight” who would “come begging” at his office for campaign money, “(and would do anything for them).” It’s not hard to recognize the tweet’s misogynistic innuendo, especially when you consider that Trump said it. Still, Sanders dismissed the obvious sexual undertones. “Your mind is in the gutter,” she told reporter April Ryan.
That insult was the most humanizing part of Sanders’s briefing. Responding to accusations of domestic abuse by two former wives of now-former Staff Secretary Rob Porter, Sanders could only say “the president supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process.” Those eighteen words communicate nothing except a dangerous indifference to those victims. Sanders appeared to resent just being asked about them.
Her statement sounds like Trump’s response to the Neo-Nazi attacks in Charlottesville, that there were “fine people on both sides.”
Then there is Hope Hicks, charged with of crafting the message that Sanders delivers. She was dating Rob Porter at the time the abuse allegations came out against him. She helped write his statement, as well as Chief of Staff John Kelly’s. “Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidant and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
This adulatory statement from a man who, according to a statement he released later that evening, only got to know Porter since he (Kelly) became Chief of Staff, is the epitome of what the #MeToo movement is trying to change. That is, directing sympathy for those accused of doing the abuse, not the abused.
This is the first time Hicks has become the story. She’s under fire from inside and outside the administration for not distancing herself from the Porter scandal. This is the first time she’s found herself centered in a story bigger than her fashion choices, and she put herself there. She put herself in the middle of the story to aid a man accused—with overwhelming evidence—of domestic violence.
Trump, always looking for someone to blame, blamed Hicks. Trump is an immature abuser, so of course he would look to someone else to blame and he sees women as easy targets. Trump was reportedly angry she would put her romantic relationship before protecting the administration.
Valuing public service above your personal life is nothing new. But it’s ironic and disgusting coming from this man and this administration. The disturbing part is not that Hicks prioritized protecting her boyfriend over the president. It’s that she prioritized protecting an accused abuser.
Abuse and harassment have been central to the Trump Administration from the beginning. Sanders and Hicks both, in their separate and opposite roles, fulfill one of the core tenets of the Trump Administration: protect accused abusers at all costs.