Donald Trump Campaign Strategist's VP Remarks Reinforce A Big Problem With How People Think About Power Roles
Paul Manafort is presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump’s campaign strategist. While I didn't expect my views to perfectly align with Manafort's, it was still a giant bummer to me to hear Manafort's remarks about a female or minority group member running mate. After saying that Trump’s vice president will need to be “experienced” in an interview with the Huffington Post published Wednesday, Manafort declared that putting a woman or a member of a minority group on the ticket would be viewed as “pandering.”
This is a prime example of the “default mode,” a kind of logical fallacy wherein people believe that straight, white (able-bodied, thin… you get the idea) men are the starting point for what constitutes a capable, functioning human, and that everyone else is just a certain number of standard deviations off that model. It may explain why Manafort appears to think that having someone other than a white person on the ticket would be "pandering" — the implication to me is that this hypothetical non-white, non-male candidate would be there not because they happen to be popular or qualified, but because their non-white, non-male identity is merely a sacrifice to appease people. The Trump campaign did not respond to Bustle's request for comment about Manafort's remarks by the time of publication.
For his part, Trump appears to disagree with Manafort. According to a tweet from The Guardian's Ben Jacobs, the presumptive Republican nominee said, "It's likely 'we would have somebody [who is a woman or a minority] as a VP.'"
To me, Manafort's comments speak to a larger visibility problem that go well beyond Trump's choice in running mate; we’re just so used to seeing white men everywhere, all the time, that we begin to expect them to be the ones filling the prominent, powerful roles in society. Anything else is a deviation, so the assumption of the “default mode” worms its way into one's psyche in ways one doesn't even realize sometimes. I fully admit to hearing a woman narrate a nature documentary for the first time and just thinking it sounded “wrong.” It happens.
At the same time, I have seen people wake up from this way of "default" thinking. The Mary Sue ran an article last year about BoJack Horseman writer Raphael Bob-Waksberg's Tumblr comments about inverting gender stereotypes. He was writing about the Netflix comedy, but the insight applies beyond it:
The underlying assumption ... is that the default mode for any character is male, so to make the characters female is an additional detail on top of that. In case I’m not being a hundred percent clear, this thinking is stupid and wrong and self-perpetuating unless you actively work against it, and I’m proud to say I mostly don’t think this way anymore. Sometimes I still do, because this kind of stuff is baked into us by years of consuming media, but usually I’m able (with some help) to take a step back and not think this way.
I don't expect that we're going to get that kind of epiphany from Manafaort. In the meantime, though, at least i can take comfort in the Huffington Post editor's note that closes coverage of Trump:
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.
Image: Allison Gore/Bustle