For all intents and purposes, Donald Trump delivered a metered, not too terribly offensive speech with less repetition, hyperbole, and bluster than usual to a group of women at an empowerment event honoring 13 female activists from around the world, including from Syria and Yemen (countries included in his Muslim travel ban) on Wednesday. He even employed what can only be assumed is his quiet voice — the one he breaks out so as not to frighten women and children.
The event at the State Department featured appearances by the women in Trump’s presidential life, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Small Business Administration leader Linda McMahon, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Medicaid/Medicare Chief Seema Verna, and First Lady Melania Trump, who also delivered a speech, calling for “gender empowerment and respect for people from all backgrounds and ethnicities.” The crowd was there to pay tribute to women like Natalia Ponce de Leon of Colombia, a woman who, after being soaked in acid by a stalker in 2014, began a foundation to help protect the rights of acid attack victims.
Setting the stage for Trump was right-hand man Mike Pence, renowned for legislating against the right of women to make decisions about their bodies and appearing just days after he and 30 other white men discussed the reproductive rights of American women, namely the idea of revoking Medicaid coverage from new mothers who haven’t found a job within two months after giving birth. Pence gave a confusing speech that praised women in the workplace and then suggested they stick to traditional roles.
“American women are also graduating from college in record numbers. Women leaders are defending our nation and wearing the uniform of the United States of America,” Pence said before he got to what was essentially a caveat for the former accomplishments to be deemed acceptable.
“In the midst of busy lives, American women are also doing those most precious things. They’re making time for families and communities and for involvement in religious organizations,” Pence said.
But Pence’s remarks about ensuring that women succeed while continuing to thrive in traditional roles of domesticity were just a warm-up for the man who claims that no one has more respect for women than he does, the “grab them by the pussy” president. So, just two months and a week after signing an executive order that affects the safety of women throughout the world with its bans on U.S. aid to overseas nongovernmental organizations that provide or advise on abortions, Trump addressed a roomful of women, including the 13 honorees from various countries.
Trump began his remarks in a familiar way, taking the introductions of the aforementioned women in his administration as an opportunity to note his perceived accomplishments. While explaining that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao could not make the event, Trump took a few moments to dig into a self-aggrandizing tangent about Ford Motor and other companies, which he claimed aren't going anywhere, and neither are the jobs.
Still, he reeled it in and turned to back to Women’s History Month, dropping names like Abigail Adams, Harriet Tubman, and Susan B. Anthony as proof he’d memorized a few female historical figures. But Trump being Trump, he just couldn’t toss their names in the air without an awkward flub.
“And we’ve had leaders like Susan B. Anthony. Have you heard of Susan B. Anthony? I’m shocked that you’ve heard of her,” Trump said at an attempt at a joke. He then used Anthony’s words to pivot to an inadvertent thank-you to the 53 percent of white women voters who helped put him in the White House.
Anthony “dreamed of a much more equal and fair future. An America where women themselves, as she said, helped to make laws and elect the lawmakers,” Trump said.
And still, the speech remained on the rails as Trump evoked deeply poetic imagery that momentarily appeared to be without an agenda.
“From the untamed frontiers of the western plain to the skyscrapers of Manhattan, American women in every generation have shown extraordinary grit, courage, and devotion,” he said. “Only by enlisting the full potential of women in our society will we be truly able to, you have not heard this expression before, make ‘America great again.’”
“Good expression,” he added, cajoling the women he was there to honor to laud his campaign slogan further as if they hadn't heard it the first time.
From praising his own decisions, Trump moved into Pence territory, invoking women's worth in relation to their children and families.
“Our economy is a place where women can work, succeed, and thrive like never before. That includes making sure that all mothers and all families have access to affordable child care,” Trump said, failing to mention that his administration sought to revoke the Affordable Care Act's maternity coverage last week, on top of seeking to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides lifesaving reproductive care to women in need.
Although Trump was there to ostensibly honor activists from Bangladesh, Turkey, Botswana, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Niger, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Syria, and Yemen, he failed to ever mention women on a global scale and instead remained laser-focused on American girls.
“We want every daughter in America to grow up in a country where she can believe in herself, believe in her future, and follow her heart, and realize her dreams. And we want a country that celebrates family, that celebrates community, and that creates a safe and loving home for every child, every child. That’s what we want.” Trump said, again adopting the Pence mode of thought and emphasizing the notion that a woman’s worth is tied to family.
To be fair, Trump did toss a nod to female entrepreneurs, but only briefly and just before he said what could have possibly been a flub but what became a remarkably telling piece of his speech that spoke to the crux of the misogyny that helped to land him in office. “As a man, I stand before you as president” he said, and he was right in a way. As a man, and not as the highly qualified female presidential candidate who also received millions more votes, he was afforded the opportunity to stand before a roomful of accomplished women and deliver thoughts about his aspirations for their futures.
Watch the speech to empower women below.