Last week’s crude genitalia discourse should not distract us from the Trump Administration’s profound message about, well, genitalia. When historians look back at the Trump presidency, however long it might last, they will see last week as pivotal, a defining moment in what has emerged the Genitalia Presidency.
First a quick recap:
Trump repeatedly humiliated Attorney General Jeff Sessions by tweet; despite contrary medical advice, McCain urgently swept in to let the skinny ACA repeal bill get to the floor so that he alone could take credit for voting it down (see here and here); Trump hired Wall Street phenom (a legend by his own lights) Anthony Scaramucci as White House Communications Director; Scaramucci stunned with his New Yorker Ryan Lizza rant, crudely humiliating White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and alternatively humiliating, or admiring the flexibility of, Steve Bannon; Trump repealed Barack Obama’s executive order, disallowing trans persons to serve in the military; military leaders assured enlisted trans persons that they may continue to serve; and Trump rewarded Scaramucci for his communications skills by replacing Reince Priebus with General John Kelly as Chief of Staff.
This was all in one week. Among the notable highlights of Scaramucci’s stunning, gratuitous, call to Lizza, demanding to know who had leaked, among other things, publicly available financial information, were assertions that Priebus had “cock-blocked” him for six months, and that unlike Bannon, “I’m not trying to suck my own cock.” See here (link to full article).
Make no mistake: The Trump administration is singularly obsessed with genitalia. During the Republican debates, we were treated to Trump’s bragging about the size of his own, defending against Marco Rubio’s yet-to-be-confirmed claim that small hands correlate to other small body parts. Trump helpfully displayed his hands, stating “I guarantee you there’s no problem.” See here. Trump claimed “disgust” upon learning from the Democratic debate that his eventual rival, Hillary Clinton, a woman, urinates. See here. The obvious implication is that for Trump, the only imaginable parts of that anatomical region are a woman’s sex organs. In fairness, Donald and Melania each have their own bathrooms, see here, and although Trump grew up with a sister, now a federal judge, we don't know if they shared one, leaving us to wonder if Donald ever happened into Melania’s bathroom to see which of the design features overlap. And that all pales in comparison with the release of the now infamous Access Hollywood tapes, with Trump’s bragging to Billy Bush that as a celebrity, he would approach attractive woman and “Grab ’em by the pussy.” See here (full transcript).
The 2016 general election, and the divide it entailed, was always as much about culture as policy. (For a related discussion, see here.) At the center of it all is the ever-widening cleavage respecting nuance in matters of sex. Individuals conceive who they are well beyond race, religion, national origin, and myriad other cultural identities. We increasingly understand that critical aspects of core identity involve anatomical sex, gender identity, and sexuality. If we treat just these categories (purposefully oversimplifying) as binaries, that alone generates eight combinations. This is simple math. A biological (male or female) can identify as (female or male) and can be sexually attracted to a (male or female). Two cubed (or 2x2x2) equals eight. And yes, even that is simplistic. Gender identity isn’t binary; some are gender fluid or gender nonconforming. Some are attracted to both sexes, or neither. Even anatomical sex isn’t binary. Some are born with ambiguous genitalia, raising a host of complex questions of medical ethics. There are many other, often subtle, variations involving “sex” in the broadest sense of the term. And so, if we start with the basic eight listed above, the numbers rise quickly from there. Each added category offers the basis for a potential doubling of sex-related nuance. Such is the miracle of exponential growth, the same math that lets 45 folds of paper reach the moon. See here (TedEd video).
In no way do I intend to imply that Trump’s base supporters lack strong math skills or that they cannot handle subtlety, including with respect to matters of sex. But it is fair to say that Trump and his team sure treat them that way. Just as Trump eschews truth at nearly every turn, so too, he eschews nuance. Trump prefers simpler, blunter messaging, so much so that he rewarded Scaramucci’s unparalleled rant by letting Priebus go. Trump’s team, and its singular emphasis on the Alpha male, hearkens to a much simpler time, one captured by Archie and Edith Bunker: “when girls were girls and men were men.” Watch here.
The Trump administration has witnessed repeated failures. Thus far, it appears that the wall will not be built, Obamacare will not be repealed, and Muslims immigrants will not be banned. Try to imagine yourself a narcissistic ego-driven President, experiencing failure after failure, already having won the presidency against remarkable odds and having (according to Trump) brought a Republican Congress in on your coattails. What do you do? You can offer your base something visceral, basic, comprehensible. No fancy math, or subtle social science required. Even Congress isn’t required. This you can do by fiat. If you cannot Make America Great Again, you can instead Make America Binary Again. To hell with how this affects national defense, the commitment to our own soldiers, or our reputation around the world. Sure, Caitlin Jenner can pee in Trump Tower, see here. Yet despite the fact that even today she can almost certainly outrun most anyone in basic training, her younger self is suddenly declared ill fit to serve.
Let’s be clear: Discourse on intimate anatomy is hardly new. Indeed, it can be quite funny. Watch here (female) and here (male). (Really. Both are great.) Still, it is impossible to imagine this sort of discourse during the cerebral Obama presidency, or even during the tug of war, big-head-versus-little-head Clinton presidency. Indeed, Bill Clinton even let go Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders because she publicly discussed masturbation education. See here. How our standards have changed! The second video clip, from Austin Powers 3, ends with Me and Mini-me, a name already given to team Trump-Scaramucci. See here. The two seem perfectly aligned for their lack of humor, lack of subtlety, and shear crudeness. But don’t let the crudeness distract you. Beneath it all there’s a deeper message, and yes, that message involves genitals. When you can’t win on policy, fight the culture war, and where better to start?
At the end of the day, Trump cares about acquiring and holding onto power. He cares about being viewed as a success. He knows that only his base could possible view him that way, but even there, it has reached a point where he has to deliver up something on the positive side of the ledger. After all the losses, the one thing Trump can do, on his own, is to restore something he thinks they think is truly basic, elemental, below the belt. Ultimately this too is destined to fail. It is rather like trying to squeeze the toothpaste back into the tube. Besides, we are onto him. After all, Trump has already let the Pussy out of the Bag.
I welcome, as always, your comments.