THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER

The following editorial appeared in The Charlotte Observer on Feb. 2:

The women’s marches in Washington and elsewhere made a powerful statement on the day following Donald Trump’s inauguration. But a statement is not a movement, so two questions arise: Did this demonstrate anything more than that people who didn’t like Trump before Election Day still don’t like him? If it did, can this expression of outrage and unity translate into political power?

In the recent election, many women saw ample reason to oppose Trump. Not only was his opponent Hillary Clinton, the first woman atop a major party ticket. There was also his disrespect for many women and his expressed joy in finding that his fame enabled him to grab their private parts if he wished.

But the anticipated surge in women’s support for Clinton didn’t happen. Turnout in 2016 was only 1 percentage point higher than in 2012. And women didn’t flock to Clinton. She won 54 percent of women’s votes, 1 percentage point less than Barack Obama in 2012. Clinton’s 12-point margin over Trump among women was similar to the Democrats’ winning margin among women in most recent elections: 11 points in 2012, 13 in 2008, 3 in 2004 and 10 in 2000.

Exit polls showed that in 2016, as usual, party allegiance was more important than gender in predicting how people vote. Though the GOP primaries were divisive, on Election Day most Republicans wanted their nominee to win. Many women who disliked Trump’s crass sexism apparently liked other aspects of his agenda, such as his sentiments on taxes, abortion, regulation, immigration, the economy and national security. Many voters saw in Trump a candidate who might “drain the swamp” in Washington and “put America first” in trade deals and foreign policy.

Besides, many women just didn’t like Clinton. Some regarded her disdain for Trump’s treatment of women to be hypocritical, considering Bill Clinton’s past behavior. After the messy controversy over her emails, among other things, some feared electing her would spawn an unending succession of congressional inquiries and media scandals. Some considered her too secretive, too manipulative, too self-interested. Many who wanted change didn’t see it in her.

So what about a women’s anti-Trump movement? It’s possible, certainly. But unlike the civil rights movement, it would have difficulty uniting women behind a single agenda. As the election showed, women disagree about Trump. And whatever offenses Trump may commit, it will be politically difficult for him to roll back the significant legal and societal gains made by women.

Still, there is value in collectively expressing your unhappiness. As the tea party movement showed us not long ago, Washington still listens to the people, if their voices are loud and sustained. But those protest marches must also be backed up with protest votes. A march can become a movement, but it can best do so by making a statement politicians can’t help but hear.

This editorial appeared in The Charlotte Observer. Send comments to editorial@therepublic.com.