Monday, May 28, 2018
Opinion

Gail Collins: Trump remembers the ladies

Women's History Month is coming to an end. President Donald Trump must be absolutely exhausted.

"... the White House has been hosting events all throughout March," press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters, launching into a list of activities that culminated Wednesday in a visit by the president to a special Women's Empowerment Panel. The administration regarded this gathering as so important that it featured every single female Cabinet member.

Yes! All four!

Actually, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao couldn't come, so they substituted Seema Verma, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "My Cabinet is full of really incredible women leaders," the president said, looking at the quartet.

There are 24 people in the Cabinet. This is one of the reasons that pictures of White House decisionmaking resemble a meeting of the Freemasons.

Besides Chao, the Cabinet women include Nikki Haley, ambassador to the United Nations, and Linda McMahon, head of the Small Business Administration. While everybody wants to encourage small business and at least some of us want to encourage the U.N., neither of those would be regarded as exactly superpower positions.

The final slot, secretary of education, belongs to Betsy DeVos, whose confirmation hearing was highlighted by the discovery that she didn't know about the rights of disabled students.

"I'm so proud," the president beamed. He then set off on a quick march through women's history, with shoutouts to Susan B. Anthony ("Have you heard of Susan B. Anthony?"), Harriet Tubman and "the legendary Abigail Adams."

Trump referred to Abigail's famous letter asking John Adams to "remember the ladies" when writing the new country's laws. He did not mention her husband's response, which was, "I cannot but laugh."

The theme for the White House women's celebrations appears to be Failure to Appreciate Irony. On the one hand, multiple panels on women in business and families. Meanwhile, over on the non-symbolic side, a passionate push for a bill that would have sent women's health care costs through the roof.

"Really? Take away maternity care? ... Who do these people talk to?" Hillary Clinton asked, somewhat rhetorically. This was during a speech to California businesswomen that marked the return of the feisty, political Clinton who spent a year warning people what would happen if they made Donald Trump president. Welcome back, Hillary.

Given the shortage of Cabinet members, female Trumps have been called into play for the administration's version of March Madness. Melania Trump gave a talk honoring the State Department's International Women of Courage award winners, two of them from countries the president wants to include in his immigration ban. She also showed up for the four-women-in-the-Cabinet panel. "Melania said, 'This is something I just have to be at.' She feels so strongly about it," said her husband.

We are leaving the first lady alone. Presidential relatives who don't mess in politics are off bounds.

Relatives with a West Wing office and security clearance are, however, fair game. Whenever the White House is trying to manufacture feminist credentials, Ivanka gets hauled out as Exhibit 1.

She's certainly all over the place. Hosting a roundtable of female business owners. Sitting next to Angela Merkel to discuss vocational training. Sitting at Dad's desk for a photo op during a visit by the Canadian prime minister.

"A great discussion with two world leaders about the importance of women having a seat at the table!" she tweeted. "That's not a woman in power," retorted comedian Trevor Noah. "It's Take Your Daughter to Work Day."

To be fair, Ivanka has been pushing Congress for a big child care tax deduction. It's a laudable concept, except for the part about being unlikely to pass and giving most of the benefit to families that need it the least.

But she's dropped all pretense of trying to get her father to support reproductive rights. After his health care defeat, the president sneered at the right-wing House Freedom Caucus for having "saved Planned Parenthood."

This was a guy, you'll remember, who used to praise Planned Parenthood for its work promoting women's health. Now he's got no problem driving it into the ground. And in lieu of abortion rights, there's been no attempt to expand women's access to contraception.

Meanwhile, the White House was promoting its women's history celebrations as being all about empowerment. It was, Spicer claimed, a long-standing presidential obsession — Trump had "made women's empowerment a priority throughout the campaign."

Well, there were those apologies for having bragged about being able to grab women by their private parts.

"Nice try, Sean," retorted Emily's List, recalling stories from that campaign of yore, including estimates that Trump paid men on his campaign staff one-third more than women.

Whoops, back to irony. Susan B. Anthony would be appalled. Have you heard of Susan B. Anthony? Elizabeth Cady Stanton? If they were around today, you know who they'd be picketing.

© 2017 New York Times

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