Donald Trump was on defense all evening: on his non-revealed taxes, his dodgy business dealings and much more. But one moment in that debate especially hit me. It was when Clinton noted that Trump had disparaged the 1996 Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, as “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.”
Not surprisingly, the “Miss Piggy” comment got the greatest attention. He was angry that Machado had gained weight. That’s presumably bad for business in the beauty pageant world, whose tawdriness is easily overlooked if you don’t pause to think about it. Trump also defended calling Rosie O’Donnell a “fat pig,” which he did in front of a laughing Republican primary debate crowd last year. As Trump put things last night: “Rosie O’Donnell, I said very tough things to her and I think everyone would agree that she deserves it and nobody feels sorry for her.”
Trump’s “Miss Housekeeping,” though, was even worse. It was at once a sexist slur against Latinas and a way of minimizing and mocking the hard work done by so many Americans. It’s a revolting display of Trump’s disdain for the dignity of difficult work. His particular combination of boorishness and lack of empathy is rare within the political profession, which so rewards emotional intelligence. In this moment, his incapacities caught up with him.
Those of us who lead lives of relative privilege often witness this difficult work close at hand. Certain class realities being what they are, such personal service work easily escapes our notice.
Irony being what it is, their work allows me to enjoy various conference junkets on themes of poverty and inequality. I travel frequently for work. On one Washington trip, a hotel maid arrived to clean my room, her young daughter quietly tagging along as she went about the work. I don’t know why her daughter was with her. Maybe school was out that day, or her child-care arrangement fell through. That’s real life for many people.
Housekeepers work hard, for low wages, in a not-always-pleasant occupation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 926,000 people work as maids or housekeepers, working at a median hourly wage of $9.97. Hotel workers face other hazards, including chronic pain from lifting and straining, widespread harassment, groping and sexual assault.
People do this work to support themselves and to feed their families. I overheard one woman in a similar tough occupation tell a co-worker, “I don’t work for my boss. I work for my kids.” Millions of women do.
I worked a short stint as a janitor, I received a very small taste of the difficulty and the deceptively fast pace required to clean up after others. Trump surely employs thousands of such workers in his hotels, resorts and casinos. Many of those women contribute more to this world than Donald Trump is now doing. As we also heard last night, they probably pay more in taxes, too.