What a vulgar Trump T-shirt reveals about his movement: NPR

A vendor sells Donald Trump 2024 campaign memorabilia at the Turning Point Action USA conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, July 15, 2023.

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Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images

Trump rallies involve a lot of merch — vendors sometimes set up overnight before a rally, preparing for huge crowds. There are hats, socks, flags, buttons and especially t-shirts.

I attend a lot of these gatherings. In the midst of all this, I became a little obsessed with this particular shirt.

Miranda Barbee bought one hours before a Trump rally on the beach in Wildwood, New Jersey, and held it up as she read it aloud.

“I just bought this shirt for $20. He says “Biden sucks, Kamala”, what does that mean, “swallow”? I didn’t even see the facade! It’s so funny. She returned it. “And the back says, ‘F**k Joe and the Hoe.'”

She and the friend she came with laughed.

“I honestly didn’t know the front said that,” Barbee added. “But I think it’s hilarious.”

These shirts have been sold in large numbers at recent rallies – vendors specializing in these particular shirts often stand in plain sight outside entrances and exits, attracting the attention of streams of Trump fans.

These are not official campaign clothing. When asked for comment, a campaign spokesperson did not directly address the shirts, but instead pointed to an official Biden campaign shirt (slogan: “Free on Wednesday”) that mocks the issues Donald Trump’s legal affairs.

However, I wanted to know: why? Why do these shirts exist and who buys them? Sooner or later, I had spent so much time thinking about it that I wanted to know if there was anything to learn here.

Hillary Clinton’s famous nutcracker

“The Hillary Nutcracker & Corkscrew Bill”, a boxed set consisting of a nutcracker and bottled corkscrew was available for sale during the 2009 holiday season.

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Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

Sexism is not exactly new in politics.

Think about the decades of hatred between Hillary and Clinton in the United States. At the time of his 2008 presidential campaign, a slogan on a t-shirt read “I wish Hillary had married OJ”, referring to OJ Simpson, famous for being tried for the murder of his wife. He was acquitted.

And then there was Hillary Clinton’s nutcracker… gleefully described by MSNBC’s Willie Geist in 2007 as “a Hillary doll with jagged stainless steel thighs that, well, cracks nuts.” To this, Tucker Carlson – then also of MSNBC – responded, “When she comes on TV, I involuntarily cross my legs” and said he would buy one.

Over the years, Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Sarah Palin would also be targets of demeaning, often obscene, merchandise.

But still, the open obscenity of Trump t-shirts. It’s new, right? I asked Tim Miller, a Republican strategist who worked for the presidential campaigns of Jon Huntsman and Jeb Bush.

“It’s not like you couldn’t find a guy outside the RNC in 2012 selling misogynistic stuff about Hillary. It was there, but just the intensity of it,” he said, “how crude it is, it’s definitely a category difference. »

This crudeness has been present since the start of the Trump rallies. As my colleague Don Gonyea reported in 2016, vendors were then selling shirts that read, “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica.” »

The difference between the parties

“What’s different about Donald Trump is that his campaign isn’t particularly worried about this type of misogyny attached to his campaign, because at least so far it hasn’t hurt him too much.” explained Kelly Dittmar, research director for the study. Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

A vendor sells t-shirts at a Trump rally on May 1, 2024 in Freeland, Michigan.

A vendor sells t-shirts at a Trump rally on May 1, 2024 in Freeland, Michigan.

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Danielle Kurtzleben/NPR

One example: Even after a jury found him civilly responsible for sexual abuse last year, the polls didn’t budge.

Some of what’s happening is partisan, Dittmar adds — a reflection of an existing gender gap.

“I think there’s more internal scrutiny among Democrats that ‘this is against our brand and it hurts us, by the way, with the constituency that is most trusted, which is women ‘.”

Plus, she says, this kind of language is especially often directed at women of color, like Kamala Harris. The word “ho” on the shirt undeniably speaks to race and gender.

Meanwhile, Dittmar says, the Republican base is made up mostly of men.

“And of course,” she added, “women who are supportive.” [Republicans]they’re more likely to say it’s just, you know, a joke.

That was the case for voter Christena Kincaid, who spoke to me right after she bought one of these shirts at a rally in Freeland, Michigan.

“It’s just slang. That’s all it is,” she said. “It’s ridiculous – it’s a bit of an exaggeration. I understand. But these are just words.

This idea, that it’s just words, fits Trump’s brand as an anti-PC activist who “tells it like it is,” which included loudly insulting women, Clinton to Megyn Kelly to Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar.

But also the idea that words don’t matter much — which echoes the reaction to the infamous Access Hollywood tape, which Trump defenders called “locker room talk.”

Spillover incivility

Rina Shah is a political strategist and former Republican congressional aide, as well as a Republican who opposes Trump. She told me she thought shirts were very important.

“If we allow our kids to see this visually, even if it’s at a rally, the person who wears that T-shirt at that rally won’t just wear it one day,” she said . “This scent of incivility permeates the social fabric of our country. »

I asked Bob Berger, who I met at that rally in Freeland, Michigan, to wear the shirt outside of a rally.

“Are you afraid of offending someone when you wear it?” I asked.

“No.”

“Do you think you’ll be careful about where you wear it? Like around, I don’t know, grandchildren?” I continued.

“Oh, maybe with the grandkids, I probably would,” he replied.

What Rina Shah said about Trump’s incivility trickling down to his supporters seems true, whether through clothing or just their willingness to be mean when talking about Biden and Harris.

“While I hope Joe Biden is arrested, regardless, he is no longer in office. I’m like, we’re still stuck with this bitch. I don’t want her either,” said Barbee, the voter I met at that New Jersey rally, referring to Harris.

I asked her: Does this language seem demeaning to you as a young woman – using words like slut?

“I mean, she’s a bitch,” she replied.

On top of that, you can also see all of this – the T-shirt slogans, the swear words, Trump’s vulgarity – as a marker of a divide in American politics: a yawning partisan divide in attitudes toward regard to gender.

“These differences in gender beliefs are going to make it more permissible or not for these types of messages to be spread without any sort of backlash or repression,” said Dittmar of Rutgers University.

Studies have shown that Trump voters — including women — in 2016 were particularly likely to hold beliefs that political scientists describe as “hostile sexism.” Additionally, some have found that these beliefs are more prevalent than they were in 2012. These “hostile sexist” beliefs include, for example, the idea that women are too easily offended.

Barbee, at that rally in New Jersey, the voter who spoke to me about the longest shirt, echoed some of those beliefs.

“I feel like feminism is becoming a huge thing these days, but I also feel like it’s: people are too sensitive, like they’re reacting to things they shouldn’t react to. “

This is an attitude that has existed for a long time. But his new t-shirt? It represented something new.

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