'Going to be brutal': Kamala Harris makes first appearance amid sexism row

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Democratic US presidential candidate Joe Biden and new running mate Kamala Harris have made their first joint appearance on the campaign trail.

In a high school gym on Wednesday (local time) in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, Mr Biden praised the 55-year-old first-term senator from California as the right person to help him displace Donald Trump from the White House.

“She's ready to do this job on day one. We're both ready to get to work rebuilding this nation,” he said.

As the daughter of two immigrants, her mother from India and her father from Jamaica, Ms Harris is the first black woman and the first Asian American to appear on a major-party US presidential ticket.

Within minutes of Mr Biden’s announcement early yesterday, the president called Ms Harris “nasty,” “mean”, “horrible” and “disrespectful,” using some of his favourite pejoratives for female opponents.

Joe Biden was quick to admonish attacks on Ms Harris he perceived to be wrapped in sexism. Source: Getty
Joe Biden was quick to admonish attacks on Ms Harris he perceived to be wrapped in sexism. Source: Getty

For a president whose first instinct is to personally attack his rivals, the former prosecutor represents a difficult challenge as the White House trying to mount a campaign to malign Joe Biden’s running mate.

“If you look at the first statements that came out of the Trump campaign about Kamala Harris, they were really kind of incoherent,” Dr David Smith from the United States Studies Centre told Yahoo News Australia. “It’s going to be very difficult to actually pin that much on her.”

It has exacerbated concerns Mr Trump and his supporters, however subtlety, will traffic in sexism and misogyny as they search for an effective attack line.

Following her announcement, Fox News host Tucker Carlson repeatedly mispronounced her first name, even growing angry when corrected by a viewer, saying “So what?”. The segment was criticised by many, including Mr Biden who chastised the nature of the remarks already made by the president and his allies.

“You all knew it was coming, you could have set your watch to it,” he said during the joint appearance.

“Is anyone surprised that Donald Trump has a problem with a strong woman, or strong women across the board.”

Sexist attacks to get ‘ugly’

The president’s own aide, Kellyanne Conway, admonished reporters on Wednesday (local time) about asking Ms Harris “sexist” questions and focusing on her appearance.

“It's very disheartening to watch—and I think some of them should recuse themselves—people excited about what jacket she's going to buy and just giggling some girl time in a dressing room,” she said to reporters outside the White House.

“I really hope that we're going to see fair coverage because America deserves that. They're trying to get information, not opinion when it comes to who these folks are.”

Those from both sides of politics have expressed concerns about the nature of online commentary ahead of the election in 83 days.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Christine Todd Whitman, a former New Jersey governor and Republican, warned Joe Biden's running mate will be at the centre of an “ugly” social media campaign from online trolls.

“This is going to be brutal because these platforms allow people to do things anonymously, saying things anonymously,” Ms Whitman said.

Trump has tried to paint Ms Harris as a member of the radical left since the announcement yesterday. Source: Getty
Trump has tried to paint Ms Harris as a member of the radical left since the announcement yesterday. Source: Getty

Celebrities and women’s groups call out sexism in media

With the knowledge that Joe Biden would announce a female running mate, women’s groups in the US have been organising to campaign against sexism in media coverage and political debate, hoping to negate the challengers faced by the likes of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in recent years.

Celebrities Julianne Moore, Reese Witherspoon, Alyssa Milano, Kerry Washington, Debra Messing, Amy Schumer and Sarah Paulson are among the high profile personalities to champion the ‘We Have Her Back’ campaign launched by womens advocacy groups.

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Tina Tchen, the president and CEO of Time’s Up Now, said the nomination of Kamala Harris was a historic moment for women of colour.

“Like many women in public service across party lines, Senator Harris has been the subject of vicious attacks,” she said in a statement Tuesday (local time).

“In the face of sexist and racist attacks, we unequivocally have Harris’s back — and we have other women candidates’ backs, too. Through our ‘We Have Her Back’ campaign, we are calling on the media to stamp out the kind of unfair coverage, double standards, and coded language that have held women — and especially women of colour — from positions of power, across party lines, for far too long.”

Harris: ‘Everything’s on the line’

Speaking at her first public appearance with Joe Biden, Ms Harris said the November 3 election held real consequences for the direction of the country.

“This is a moment of real consequence for America,” she said. “Everything we care about, our economy, our health, our children, the kind of country we live in, it’s all on the line.”

Kamala Harris is the first Black woman and the first person of Indian descent to be a presumptive nominee on a presidential ticket. Source: Getty
Kamala Harris is the first Black woman and the first person of Indian descent to be a presumptive nominee on a presidential ticket. Source: Getty

Ms Harris has been a rising star in the Democratic party in recent years and known for her sharp prosecutorial style, which she aimed at the incumbent president over his handling of the economy and the coronavirus pandemic.

“[Trump] inherited the longest economic expansion in history, from Barack Obama and Joe Biden. And then, like everything else he inherited, he ran it straight into the ground,” she said.

Ms Harris also compared the COVID-19 crisis gripping the country to the handling of the much smaller ebola epidemic during the Obama administration.

“That is what’s called leadership,” she said. “But compare that to the moment we find ourselves in now.”

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