We have a cancer within, growing on the presidency. — John Dean to Richard Nixon, 1973
The great majority of women survive breast cancer. That’s what I’m thinking as Breast Cancer Awareness Month commences. I am reminding myself and other survivors that, despite the dreaded diagnosis and difficult treatment, most of us will live long lives. Everything should be OK.
But this year, talking about breast cancer feels strangely discomforting. Facing the disease may not, after all, be the most challenging chapter of our lives. When Donald Trump was elected president, new threats to our well-being struck roots in dark soil and began to metastasize. We elected a leader who turns out to be worse than we feared, an unprepared and seemingly unstable man who undermines our peace of mind and peace in the world on a daily basis.
Everything may not be OK.
We live now in a political environment that is hostile to human rights, and to American women in particular.
As I write, the president is disparaging the Iran nuclear deal; last week he was threatening to “destroy” North Korea. In between, he was blaming the victims of the horrific destruction in Puerto Rico.
As we go to press, he is rolling back rules that obligate businesses to provide contraception for women. Some women now must drive more than 100 miles if they need abortion services.
His cabinet secretaries, men and women, chip away at the initiatives that offer women access to decent health care, equal jobs, equal pay, child care, and safe food and air. The administration advocates for changes in health care that would hurt women and limit funding to supportive groups, like Planned Parenthood, that provide basic breast cancer and gynecological cancer screenings for women.
The sense of anti-woman hostility from the Trump White House is palpable, and it began with the release of the “Access Hollywood” tapes during the campaign, featuring the future president of the United States bragging about sexually assaulting women and feeling proud of it. “They let you do it,” he said, “when you’re a star.” How can any American reconcile those remarks with the fact that he was actually elected president? A cancer on the presidency, indeed.
Donald Trump’s misogyny is apparent and pervasive. We have seen the first lady walking behind her husband, or left to open a door herself or stony-faced in the midst of one of her husband’s rants. She didn’t ask for this job, and it shows. She is married to a man who quipped about dating his daughter in a radio interview.
So, you say, maybe he’s a chauvinist or just a guy’s guy. It’s only locker room banter. But this chauvinist is the president, and for women especially, the atmosphere crackles with threats, implied and overt.
The staff he chose? From Betsy DeVos to Ben Carson to Steve Mnuchin to Elaine Chao to Jeff Sessions to Ryan Zinke and Sonny Perdue, you have a cabinet that is more male and white than any since Ronald Reagan’s. The token women he chose are not tuned in to women’s issues, and the men are unenlightened, to put it kindly. Jeff Sessions? Heaven help us.
The women on his staff, from Kellyanne Conway to Ivanka Trump, exude no empathy for others, and seem tone deaf to the needs of ordinary women who stress over child care and employment and providing for aging parents.
Breast cancer is, almost exclusively, a woman’s disease. It affects our morale and our confidence and our appearance. It brings us face to face with our own mortality.
When you have your breasts poked and dissected and radiated, there is no abiding a man who objectifies women and reduces us to our body parts. That he happens to be the president is truly sickening.
That’s why this Breast Cancer Awareness Month feels different. Many women, and the men who support us, feel abandoned by this president and his administration. Where is his women’s rights agenda?
As Hillary Clinton said a long time ago, “Women’s rights are human rights.” And as Michelle Obama said of her husband, “He believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and health care.” And then we have Donald Trump, who suggested in an interview with Chris Matthews that women should face “some form” of punishment for having an abortion.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a good time to renew the fight for women’s rights, and a good time to begin fighting the cancer on the presidency.
Copyright © 2017 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at email@example.com.