The White House is wrapped in its latest personnel scandal after staff secretary Rob Porter’s two ex-wives went public with accusations against him of emotional, verbal, and physical abuse they say they suffered for years.
Predictably, the Trump administration handled the news as terribly as possible. Communications director Hope Hicks, who’s currently in a romantic relationship with Porter, apparently went rogue and wrote the statement denying the allegations without the president’s approval. More and more information is coming out showing that numerous key members of the White House staff — including Chief of Staff John Kelly and counsel Don McGahn — knew about Porter’s history but didn’t say anything. And of course, Trump wished accused domestic abuser Porter well and said he hoped he had a “great career” ahead of him.
But all the terrible men aside, we need to talk about Hope Hicks’ role in all of this.
I’ve never been impressed with Hope Hicks — or the media’s cycle of either ignoring her bullshit or fawning over her — since the day she was whisked away on the campaign trail with Trump over two years ago. Much like the fact that Ivanka Trump is a walking parody of corporate feminism, so too did I think it was obvious that Hicks didn’t have any professional or political legs to stand on. But that doesn’t seem to be as apparent to others as I believed.
And it seems to be especially true even now: Hope Hicks defended her boyfriend who allegedly abused his two ex-wives (and an unnamed third woman), yet people are largely downplaying her part in this scheme in favor of going after other folks in the administration. Once again, Hicks seems to be bobbing and weaving her way around the news cycle, much like she has her entire time with Trump.
Hope Hicks is just the latest iteration in a narrative we’ve seen time and time again: A conventionally attractive white woman drowning in her own internalized misogyny becomes hellbent on saving a man — in particular, a white man — who doesn’t deserve saving. And often, doing so comes at the expense of other marginalized people, including people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, low-income folks, and women.
The history of this behavior, especially in the U.S., dates back centuries. For example, during the women’s suffrage movement in the late 1800s, temperance reformer and celebrated suffragist Frances Willard said, “‘Better whiskey and more of it' is the rallying cry of great, dark-faced mobs” as reason not to align with Black women in the fight for voting rights. The women’s “branch” of the Ku Klux Klan had roughly half a million members in the early part of the 20th century. White women were amongst the fiercest foot soldiers keeping schools segregated nearly 70 years ago. And as we all know far too well, the majority of white women backed Donald “Grab ‘Em By The Pussy” Trump in 2016 and tried to elect accused serial child molester Roy Moore to the Senate.
Now we have Hope Hicks, who, on top of already spending the past two and a half years of her life shielding Trump, has now decided to defend Rob Porter. And in this case, Porter is accused of being an abuser with a long history of domestic violence. It’s already awful enough that these women felt like they weren’t believed for years; now there are people like Hicks defending Porter even after photographic evidence has come out that may substantiate their claims.
We don’t know if Hicks herself is a victim of abuse or her background in these matters. But as Ashley Edwards pointed out, Hicks’ behavior — and the behavior of this entire administration — sends the message that the onus is on domestic violence victims to showcase impossibly lofty levels of credibility and believability before any action will be taken, let alone any support given. Even if they somehow show this supposed ironclad evidence of abuse, there’s no guarantee of anything happening against the abuser.
Of course, the big question is, why do white women like Hicks continue to do this? The answer is complicated, but to put it simply, whiteness and patriarchy intersect to form one hell of a drug. It’s easy to want to hold onto the power you already have while reaching for that last bit of privilege that seems out of reach. To many White women, it seems like if you just act cool enough, just make yourself perfect enough, and just act evil enough to everyone else, you’ll finally be able to kick it with these White dudes as equals.
But that’s not the case.
I can’t say if Hope Hicks is going to see the light anytime soon. But I do have some words for the women who are desperately trying to cling to any excuse necessary to justify her behavior or don’t see the problem with what she’s doing.
Here’s my message to the Hope Hickses of the world: These guys you’re simultaneously shielding and trying to impress? They don’t give a damn about you. They never did. They never will. And don’t get me wrong, they do a really nice job of acting like it; so good, in fact, that you feel like you can almost touch that power they hold so dear.
But that’s what they’re counting on, and in reality, why should they care? Having you in their back pockets only aids them. When you actually take a second to look around, you realize it doesn’t help you in any way. Instead, what you’re left with is the fact that you’re the cruelest kind of pawn: You’re intentionally making life worse for others in the hopes of lifting yourself up. The problem, of course, is that this ascension has a very finite limit, no matter how much you try to fool yourself.
“Insanity” is popularly defined as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. So, my fellow white women, we’ve been playing this awful game for centuries and haven’t seen a ton of honest-to-God progress. I’d say it’s time to change things up.
Lily Herman is a contributing editor at Refinery29. Follow her on Twitter. The views expressed are her own.