For years, the satirical website the Onion ran a series of stories that painted former vice president Joe Biden as a lovable, pugilistic dirtbag. In the Onion’s alternate universe, the fictional Biden got busted selling bootleg Hillary Clinton T-shirts in the parking lot during the 2016 Democratic National Convention, set up a secret pot-growing operation in the White House, drove a Harley-Davidson around Washington and ran off to the Everglades, where he was found tossing whole chickens to gators. The joke worked because it took Biden’s efforts to cultivate his blue-collar bona fides to a ridiculous extreme.
This week, however, it seemed like the Onion’s Joe Biden had replaced the original when Biden told students at the University of Miami that if he were a younger man, he would have gladly fought President Trump over the way the other man talks about women. “I said, ‘If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him,’ ” Biden said, remarking on Trump’s excuse that his remarks on the “Access Hollywood” tape about grabbing women were mere “locker-room talk.” “I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms my whole life,” Biden said. “I’m a pretty damn good athlete. Any guy that talked that way was usually the fattest, ugliest S.O.B. in the room.”
I appreciate the former vice president’s intentions, I guess. But on behalf of my fellow women, I’d like to decline Biden’s time-traveling offer to prove his masculinity in our defense.
There’s nothing wrong with the vision of chivalry that is really just old-fashioned decency. It would have been nice if Billy Bush, who was caught cracking up on the “Access Hollywood” tape with Trump, had instead called the other man out. It would have been even better if Bush had subtly inserted himself in between Trump and Arianne Zucker, rather than pushing Zucker to give Trump a hug. The entertainment industry would have been improved if Harvey Weinstein’s male colleagues, including his brother, Bob, had declared his behavior intolerable rather than trying to manage it.
But there’s a point at which so-called chivalry shades into self-aggrandizement. And in Miami, Biden zipped past it.
Declaring that he would have happily “beat the hell” out of Trump, bragging about his own athleticism and implying that Trump is fat, ugly and of uncertain parentage isn’t really about defending women. It’s a way of proving what a stud Biden is. And the way Biden chose to puff himself up is a weird mirror of Trump’s own remarks on the “Access Hollywood” tape: Both men were trying to prove their virility at someone else’s expense. In Trump’s case, that someone else was the women who, theoretically, will let a famous man do anything. In Biden’s, it was another man he boasted he could dominate. And in both scenarios, women and our rights are secondary to how men can use us.
Biden’s remarks come at a moment when women are showing they can fight back against Trump just fine on their own. The adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, who works under the name Stormy Daniels, has proved highly adept at using Trump’s own playbook, commandeering headlines and cable news for days with a trickle of revelations about her alleged affair with the president. Summer Zervos, a former contestant on Trump’s show “The Apprentice,” won a victory in court this week that will allow her defamation suit against the president to proceed. The teenage girls who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have stepped up to push back against the president’s politics and puncture his pieties.
There’s no question that Trump’s policies and nasty, sexist behavior can do real damage to women. But the best way to fight Trump isn’t for Biden to remind us how tough he was in high school. It’s for the former vice president, and everyone else, to get behind the women who are standing up to Trump.