As Donald Trump imagines them and as the Republican National Convention presented them, the suburbs are a woman, pointing a gun. Specifically, they are Patricia McCloskey, the Missouri woman who was photographed wielding a pistol on the lawn of her villa-esque home in St. Louis in June as Black Lives Matter protesters walked too near the property’s perimeter for her comfort. Though the Trump-iteration of the Republican Party thrills at the prospect of triggering its opponents, it would be a mistake to read her invitation to the convention as simple trolling. Her real place on the agenda was as a clean white blazer tossed carelessly over age-old racist panic.
“What you saw happen to us,” she intoned, referring to the viral reaction to her and her husband threatening protesters with weapons, “could just as easily happen to any of you who are watching from quiet neighborhoods around our country.” She then warned that “Marxist activists” want to “abolish the suburbs altogether,” bringing “crime” and “lawlessness” and “low-quality apartments.” Setting aside the fact that the McCloskey family does not actually live in the suburbs, her point was still remarkably clear: “They” are Black people, and the “quiet neighborhoods” are white enclaves that have prospered through generations of racist housing and zoning policies. Without Donald Trump, she warned or promised, “your families will not be safe.”
This was part of Trump’s ongoing appeal to “suburban housewives.” The moms who have answered his call are, like McCloskey, terrifically paranoid, racist, and open to violence. They see trouble in every corner of the country, drummed up by a staggering collection of enemies, some wholly imaginary–Marxists, elites, sex traffickers, the Black Lives Matter movement, baby-eaters, Satanists, antifa. Such women have imagined themselves in peril for much of this country’s existence: the slave-owning wives of slave-owning men and the women of the Klan, sure, but also the mothers fighting desegregation in schools and threatening patients outside abortion clinics. In the Trump era, these women represent the late stage of the archetype Victorians knew as the angel in the house. Don’t call her a simple housewife; she carried the power and responsibility to soothe the world of men from the comforts and privileges offered in the private sphere.
These are women who might say they are fighting for the soul of their country—their heritage—while also insisting, like Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, that they are the real housewives. What women in this mold are really fighting for, now as then, is their own place within a white power structure still governed largely by men. Whether or not Trump’s appeal to white, suburban moms “works” does not necessarily come down to picking those women up as voters. Rather, he is appealing to those for whom that fantasy of womanhood appeals—likely a much bigger constituency, one not limited to the “real” housewives themselves.
The housewives of the Trump era command a much wider sphere of influence. Some, of course, have been inside the White House itself. Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s own avenging house angel, announced her departure this week, leaving behind her official role as counselor to the president after serving since 2016 as one of his most ferocious defenders. But she did so in a way that reaffirms her domestic powers. In a statement, Conway said that in these times, children require “a level of attention and vigilance” from their parents. “For now, and for my beloved children, it will be less drama, more mama.”
These are women who weaponize womanhood, like anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson, in an attempt to elevate themselves as its arbiters. Johnson’s signature story is that she once worked at Planned Parenthood, where she claims she saw an abortion that so disgusted her it drove her not just from her job but into the arms of the anti-abortion movement. Reporting from Texas Monthly contradicts this story. It has not slowed Johnson down. “Nothing prepared me for what I saw on the screen,” she said in a prerecorded speech at the RNC this week, “an unborn baby fighting back.” Johnson has positioned herself as a “mother, wife, convert, advocate for life” as she was introduced in profile in a Diocese of Austin publication. Now acting as the mother to the collective unborn, other womanly duties followed.
She opposes a woman’s right to vote, posting to Twitter shortly before her RNC speech that for “a husband and wife who are in agreement and a wife who honors her husband as the head of the home,” a wife should trust him to cast a “household” vote for her. She may be a defender of children generally, but that doesn’t extend to her own. In a since-deleted video, Vice reported this week that Johnson said it would be right for police to profile one of her sons. “Statistically, my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons…. that doesn’t actually make me angry. That makes that police officer smart.”
Johnson and her motherhood receive a platform before some of the biggest audiences. Other more seemingly conventional angel-of-the-house types—those working outside the formal political arena—can also wield considerable control over the political narrative. These women offer domesticity in public, like on perfectly assembled Instagram grids, wrapped in aspirational lifestyle brands. Scratch some of those accounts these days, though (really, just look at their Stories), and more threatening messages can be found.
Through their audiences on Instagram and Facebook, Trump-supporting women have helped promote and in some cases organize “Save Our Children” rallies in dozens of cities across the United States over the last several weekends as thinly veiled fronts for QAnon. The community assembled around that baseless conspiracy theory, which promulgates anti-semitic messages and whose followers have engaged in violence from kidnappings to shootings they say were motivated by their QAnon beliefs. It might not seem like an attraction for crystal moms and homeschool moms. Yet they are now fanning it, softening its rough edges to make it more appealing for those who say they just want to protect kids, even if it means standing around on a Saturday afternoon with people holding homemade signs warning about children being stolen for “adrenochrome” and international pedophile cabals.
This fantasy womanhood is not easy to deflate with facts, animated as it is by sentiment, woundedness, and inflated grievance. Worse, it’s rewarding, something to get on television with. That’s what the QAnon rallies were for—to appear non-threatening enough to attract cameras. It worked, too. Uncritical coverage lauding QAnon-supportive and adjacent women as anti-sex trafficking activists appeared in Scranton, Grand Rapids, Steubenville, and Peoria, where the woman behind the rally said she was inspired to act after her son was “almost taken,” as the local news put it. That some of the hashtags on signs around these child-protecting women would lead viewers into the maw of “the storm” on Facebook, where QAnon supporters revel in the war Trump is leading on “pedophiles” and “antifa” alike, was left out of the stories.
Sometimes, the angels go too far. One of the women the Trump campaign has taken to calling “angel moms” was booted from her RNC speaking slot at the last minute on Tuesday. Mary Ann Mendoza was to be introduced as a mother whose police officer son was killed in an accident involving an undocumented immigrant. She is also a member of the Trump campaign’s advisory board. Mendoza used Twitter to spread anti-semitic conspiracy theories connected to QAnon on the morning before her scheduled speech, and after The Daily Beast reported this, the RNC canceled Mendoza’s appearance. It’s one thing for the president to call QAnon good people but another for a mother to promote the same conspiracy in more direct language.
The endgame for these late-stage house angels is not protection but violence—the freedom to hurt, imprison, or otherwise punish all those who they say threaten them and their “way of life.” Like older cults of white innocence, it recasts the violence as self-defense, the aggressor as the victim. Trump has perfected it, even as it is lightly greased with macho posturing. Trump plays a fantasy of a white woman well. And whether or not he is trying to win them as voters, some women invested in the fantasy have enlisted for the cause.
Kimberly Guilfoyle introduced herself at the Republican convention on Monday as “a mother, a former prosecutor, a Latina, and a proud American.” She is also the current girlfriend of Trump, Jr. (and former wife of California Governor Gavin Newsom), but motherhood topped this all, a moral authority into which the high-octane lies that followed were meant to cool and absolve. “They want to enslave you”—“they” being the Democrats, Black Lives Matter, socialists, the media, teachers unions, and the many forces conspiring to destroy all that the angels represent and are fighting to protect. “Don’t let them kill future generations,” she jabbed. The battle they imagine is coming may not be imaginary at all. “Leaders and fighters for freedom and liberty,” she hollered full-force into the empty air, “the best is yet to come!”