In 2008, it was all about “hope” and “change.” In 2012, the phrases “47 percent” and “makers and takers” kept coming back. And in 2016, the words on everyone’s tongues are “cunt” and “bitch.”
You see that latter word everywhere at the Republican National Convention, applied to Hillary Clinton with gleeful and wanton abandon. The old “Trump That Bitch” meme is omnipresent — on merchandise, on social media, shouted out at rallies, worn on T-shirts on bodies young and old, male and female. I saw a tweenage boy wearing a “Trump That Bitch” shirt today. In one related visual meme, Trump is standing over Clinton in a boxing ring, having knocked her out. The button “Life’s a Bitch, Don’t Vote for One” has been selling well, as has a T-shirt showing Trump riding a motorcycle with Hillary falling off the back of it. “If you can read this, the bitch fell off,” Trump’s T-shirt says.
To my surprise, the former word — one of the last true taboos in American language, four letters with the genuine ability to shock people — has started to crop up as well. There were the infamous Baio tweets, which seems to have pushed on an unlocked door and let one of the darkest parts of the conservative id come raging out. After Baiogate, I saw the word once and heard it twice while wandering through the increasingly tense protests, looking at signs and merchandise.
The presence of “cunt” and “bitch” aside, vulgarity and open misogyny abound at this RNC. There is the popular pin that reads: “KFC Hillary Special: 2 Fat Thighs, 2 Small Breasts, Left Wing.” There’s another that says: “Trump 2016: Finally Someone With Balls.” It just keeps going on: “Vote No to Monica’s Ex-Boyfriend’s Wife.” “Hillary Sucks! But Not Like Monica!” “Git Her Don!”
Spurring all this crassness on, of course, is Trump himself; this merchandise and these words are nothing new at his rallies, and he has worked to build a permission structure for a certain segment of the population to say what it really thinks about women, minorities, and so on. Remember when he called Ted Cruz a pussy on the eve of winning his first primary, shrugging it off by saying he was just repeating what someone else had said? (That someone, by the way, did not have a microphone and a television camera pointed at her.) Or when he said that Clinton got “schlonged” in 2008 and called her disgusting for having to pee? Or all the times he has declined to smack down his surrogates or supporters for calling her a bitch, or claimed he had no idea that they did so?
What is new is seeing this kind of vulgarity play out on a national stage, at the most important event of the year for the Republican Party, aside from the election itself. Trump has normalized this behavior, which always existed on the fringes and in the depths but never before has been egged on by a major-party nominee.
There’s a metonymy there, one that can and should disturb many Republicans. Trump’s vulgarity rubs off on and reflects on the whole event, on the Mitch McConnells and Paul Ryans and Chris Christies of the world. Trump’s misogyny and vulgarity is now, officially, Republican vulgarity.