This election is about the sex of state. In the eyes of millions of his supporters, particularly the men who would make him President, America's manhood is at stake. Donald Trump is running as an erect phallus, a sexually aggressive man who can break through the forms, crush our enemies and make the American body politic strong once again.
Trump is not running on a policy platform. People are voting for his dick. Never before has a candidate for the American Presidency defended his penis size, let alone a prime-time debate, assuring us that his small hands do not mean anything else is small. "I guarantee you, there's no problem. I guarantee you," he shot back at a primary debate. One of the rally posters for Trump now circulating proudly exhorts: "Don't' be a pussy! Vote Trump."
For Trump, political power is a manifestation of manliness. On the one side the next president must have the moxie to demand a good deal for America's workers in trade deals so that white men can earn a dignified wage and escape the humiliation of government handouts and poor-paying jobs once taken primarily by teenagers and non-whites. On the other hand he must have the willingness and courage to shoot to kill our enemies where they live, and their families and neighbors if need be, to repel and deport those who would violate our sovereignty. We have to be willing to kill before we can count on cooperation with other nations. Liberty is a trigger warning.
Only a sexually powerful man can make a politically powerful nation. Mussolini's Italian fascists understood their rigid salute as a hard-on. The Hindu nationalists, with whom Trump has a mutual love affair, cast Gandhi as an effeminate, abstinent man whose non-violence led to the carving up of the flesh of Mother India in the 1947 partition. They, too, are wrestling aficionados. In Trump's world his machismo, his sexual aggression, his projectile puckering and ability to judge and move on the babes who stream through his life, qualifies him for office. Trump owned the Miss Universe Organization, which also runs Miss USA, from 1996 to 2015. In American history, making women into public sexual objects was a way to counter them as political subjects. It is important to recall that America introduced the beauty pageant shortly after women were granted the vote with the passage of the 19th amendment. The pin-up was meant to counter the citizen female.
Trump's seemingly unhinged jump in the second debate from his apology for "locker room talk" to his capacity to protect the American body politic from the "real" predations of ISIS and immigration signaled to his followers that the same masculine sexual power that led to the excesses of the first would fuel the needed response to the second. "And women have respect for me," he said. "And I will tell you that I'm going to make our country safe. We're going to have borders in our country which we don't have now." His subsequent intrusions into Hillary's speaking space, hovering there as she took her turn, were not just rude; they were an assertion of masculine primacy. Only men like him can stand strong, ready to move, at the border.
Trump is the alpha male. He is the man who would punch out his detractors and endorse his follower's inclinations to do likewise, the man willing to use state violence, including torture, to reassert America's authority in the world. This election now threatens to become a fistfight. He is the one who beds -- or least tries to -- whom he wants. That's the kind of power - manifest in violence and sex -- that America now needs to protect ourselves. Trump is the powerful son of a powerful father who promises to protect us from the storm, who understands the true codes of power. At the Republican convention, the crowds did not chant "Yes, we can." They rather shouted, "Yes, you will."
Trump's campaign is organized around his person. He does not have a program as much as a slate of feelings: of humiliation, of imminent, even apocalyptic, danger, that enemies outside and inside have penetrated our territorial body: the Mexicans and the Muslims on the one side, and the multinational corporations and the big banks on the other. Both cross our boundaries at will. The first two, in his vision, take advantage of our liberal sympathies, stealing our jobs, raping our women, poisoning our bodies with their drugs and sneaking through screening nets and recruiting young jihadis to attack the homeland. The second suck up and divert our monies abroad. Two thirds of Trump's followers believe that America has become "too soft and feminine," according to a PRI poll this last April. As a body politic we have become a pussy.
Hillary Clinton is cast as their handmaiden, an avatar of globalism which is taking our country down. She is a woman in a pantsuit conspiring with global capital, the money of foreign nations who feed the coffers of the Clinton Foundation. Her global multiculturalism is emblematized in her chief of staff and closest advisor, Huma Abedin, an Indian Muslim raised in Saudi Arabia, who herself had to suffer her husband's transgressions. The sources of threat, of feminine submission and emasculation, sit at the table.
Many of his supporters are not voting for Trump: They are voting against Clinton. He is not her. This is not just an ordinary sexism, a preference for men over women: It is an affirmation of political patriarchalism, of a powerful father who, while he fornicates with whom he likes, will protect the homeland, not a mother who endures a president husband who allows a lowly intern to fellate him in the Oval Office and makes deals with the Iranian mullahs who hope for our defeat and the destruction of Israel.
Donald vs. Hillary: it is a contest between the fist and the lap, the phallus and the womb. For Trump and his followers a masculine capacity for violence must have priority over a feminine capacity for care - of children, of women, of the poor and the immigrant. If a country can't hit before it hugs, it risks destroying itself. Trump embodies masculine power; he manifests an indomitable will, defeating the Republican king-makers, saying the gross and the unthinkable. In the primaries he denigrated Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio as weak men. It is those who see Muslims as violent who are most likely to support him. Trump supporters tend to think there is going to be a terrorist attack right where they live, even in the middle of nowhere. It is not character, nor ideology, nor policy upon which Trump runs. He is running on his capacity to act. Against evil forces, you want the bully to have your back. In the eyes of tens of millions of American men, Trump's alleged sexual predations do not disqualify him; they qualify him to lead. Those who copulate with whom they want can fight where and when we need to.
Standing against the institutions, Trump is a man for our times. He is part of an illiberal nationalist wave surging through our world. He must be viewed amidst his kind, with the other religious and populist nationalisms from America to Russia, from Turkey and India to Hungary. In all of these it is not the abstract rights of citizenship, but of religious and ethnic membership that has primacy. There is a preoccupation with the boundedness of the territorial state, a promotion and defense of the duality of gender roles, an exaltation of male power, a sense that the collective territorial body must be purified of those who are other religions or races. There is the assertion of a higher power - whether God or race -- grounding sovereignty, a power beyond the law. Trump's long-time promotion of President Obama's African and Muslim paternity was the perfect blend of Christian and racial nationalisms. And there is a willingness to use the extraordinary powers of the state to invade, expropriate, kill, imprison and exile. The demands of God or ethnicity supersede law, democratic norms, human rights, property rights, and bureaucratic procedure. Trump, like Russia's Putin or Turkey's Erdogan, is willing to override property rights to get the economic outcomes he wants and press rights to get the news he wants to hear.
Trump derides the legitimacy of dominant institutions: the global market, diplomatic and military alliances, financial institutions, the stock market, the press, the Republican party, and certainly the state. He does not believe polls or stock prices; his followers don't believe government's economic data or the news.
Celebrating the purely personal capacity to act, Trump is part of the anti-institutional posture afoot in our land. His message is an out-loud version of the action of US Airways pilot Sully, whose thinking in an emergency was recently recounted by the director Clint Eastwood. In his appreciation of Trump, Eastwood recently spoke of the current "kiss-ass," politically correct, "pussy generation." Captain "Sully" Sullenberg dispenses with the rules, rejects the technical output of the machine sensors and the flight simulators, vanquishes the inquisitorial, procedural state after saving 155 lives by landing on the Hudson in winter. You could hear the same tropes in Trump's ironic dismissal of the policy-experts in the State Department: "I'll take the Admirals, and I'll take the Generals any day over the political hacks that I see that have led our country so brilliantly over the last 10 years with their knowledge."
Trump reflects America's anti-institutional mood. The signs have been proliferating all around us. Kinship as the core of identity is eroding. The link between birth and marriage is dissolving. Erotic pleasures are unhinged from love, marriage and reproduction. When I ask my students to anonymously write down what love is, they almost never mention sex. Love, women students will say, is "cheesy." There has been a meteoric rise of adult bodies living alone, a flood of fatherless babies and "single ladies." No wonder we see tattoos indelibly etched all over bodies, of biography, remembrance and other marks of singular identity: These are what the French sociologist Emile Durkheim called personal totems, not inherited, but chosen by their bearers like the names given to children having no reference to lines of kinship. The capacity to husband and to father are under threat. We can see its consequences in the accumulation of male muscle mass, ever-stronger arms bulging as men walk down the streets. And in the flood of guns of ever-greater penetrating power, and their murderous use on all manner of victims who assault, offend, resist or challenge the shooters. Both men and women look for male power in their sex. The eroticization of power, whether in the latest sex fad, the "facial," or the feminine thrill in total subordination in Fifty Shades of Gray, are signs of our times. The instruments to confirm manhood have dwindled: education, physical labor, fatherhood, marriage. For many men all that remain are the body, the gun, the game and, of course, God.
Increasingly we are primed to fight, to fornicate and to feel, not to disagree or accommodate, to love or to think. The chick-flick and the anti-Nazi war movie are nostalgic islets, mementos of a vaporized world.
As if that were not enough, the central institutions of the liberal order - the market, democracy, and the sovereign nation state -- are in question. First, the market has repeatedly failed. The global financialization of the capitalist economy and the crash it created in 2008 has disrupted the lives, destroyed the livelihoods, and crippled the chances of an entire young generation. Second, as the political party establishments weakened because of the demands for transparency, electoral competition not only failed to represent the victims of these transformations, it resulted in deadlock. Democracy these days can neither produce a collective voice nor a coherent policy. Third, the territorial sovereignty of the nation-state is under siege: We seem to be unable to control or regulate massive population or monetary migrations across our borders.
Trump is a charismatic figure; Clinton is not. An anti-institutional stance is at the core of what Max Weber meant by charisma, somebody who garners authority because of the extraordinariness, the exceptionalness, of his person. It is no accident that in his business the main thing he sells is himself. Clinton, in contrast, is the institutional candidate - backed by the party elites, the press, the darling and beneficiary of Wall Street financiers who have refused to back Trump's enterprises, the one who grounds her ability to act in her expertise, in her mastery of the rules, the evidence and the law. Hillary reads her script; Donald speaks his mind. He may lie, but it is his bullshit.
Trump represents a return to the masculine principle as the ground of the order of creation, and most importantly in the current circumstances, to the order of destruction. He has the capacity to kill and subordinate those who would do us harm, to smash the interest-groups who hobble American policy-making and convert their interests into our own. It is only such a man who can bring down crippled institutions and create new ones.
Trump is an action figure for our times, a strong man against a bad history. It's his dick that is calling many to his side.