gender, language, politics

Shlong Diplomacy

 

According to an article in the New York Times, many of Donald Trump’s supporters, especially women, are dismayed at his bullying and misogyny. But

 

Kathy Potts, a Trump supporter in Iowa who is a former chairwoman of the Linn County Republican Party, called Mr. Trump a bully and said she was offended by his insults of women. But with a son in the Army about to be sent to Iraq, Ms. Potts stands behind Mr. Trump because she believes he will be strong on national security. “He’s the one I’d pick to best protect Jason,” she said.

 

In other words, Trump’s female (and some male) supporters see the Donald as two Trumps, one of which has problems that are not serious and can be ignored (the misogyny and bullying), and the other, the “real” candidate, who is “strong” and can be trusted to keep us safe. One has nothing to do with the other, and if the latter is the one that means the most to you (as it does to many otherwise rational Trump supporters), you can safely ignore the former. This analysis might put you in mind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but neither of them ever sought political office.

 

And it would be a false analysis for many, more important, reasons. First, in making that distinction, a voter is ignoring what the candidate has done in favor of what he merely says. Among the most futile and dangerous things a prospective voter can do is take a campaign promise – an augury of future action, but no more – as the equivalent of doing something. The only rational way to estimate what a candidate is apt to do if elected is to look at what he or she has done in the past, and even then, since electoral success changes context and context makes meaning, it’s dubious to assume that what someone running for president did under other circumstances bears any close relationship to what they will do once in office.

 

You campaign in poetry, said the late Mario Cuomo, and govern in prose. So when you encounter a candidate spouting poetry (metaphor, metonymy, alliteration, assonance, hyperbole, and anaphora are just a few of the Donald’s favorite tropes), you need to recall that the glamour and the glory will not persist, or at least had better not persist, once the candidacy is over and the reality sets in. Plato noted that poetry was not “real” history, and therefore poets would not have power in his ideal state – their utterances were unstatesmanlike and could not be trusted. Trump is a poet, and for that reason alone we should worry about his ascension to a more serious level of discourse. Today as in Plato’s time (and a very scary time it was, as our time is) we need a sober Thucydides, not a thrilling Homer, and especially not a Homer Simpson.

 

And even though we ought to put our trust in acts, not words, Trump’s repeated misogynies – though they look verbal and therefore, perhaps, meaningless (“only words,” as we say) — are actions (that is, speech acts) that illustrate how he would govern, and we should see them as diagnostic and very disturbing. Even those of us who are not women, even those who don’t want to be called “feminists,”even those of us who value “strength” above decency, should see Trump’s casual slanders against women as causes for concern.

 

Trump’s repeated dismissals of the charge of misogyny, without evidence for his argument, make it clear that the man has no self-reflective capacities – a very scary prospect in a presidential candidate. He has repeatedly, and without any indication of ironic intent, made comments like his most recent, “No one has more respect for women than me.” The disconnect between his self-promotion and his actual public utterances is staggering.

 

It is disturbing too because , in a president, it is likely to embarrass the country he represents (if not himself, since he is beyond shame). A president has two kinds of responsibilities: domestic and international. Trump’s misogyny goes beyond mere interpersonal oafishness and demonstrates that he is unlikely to be successful in either the domestic or the international aspect of his duties.

 

  • Domestically, it is the president’s job to be president of all the people. His job is not to represent only ½ of us, and see the rest as either eye candy (i.e., a way for one man to show another that his is bigger) or as contemptible beasts;
  • Globally, the most powerful person in the world’s most powerful nation must not represent himself (and the nation, metonymically) as a bully, since bullies may seem intimidating but are really weak and everyone knows it. Trump’s kind of bully swaggers around with words, showing his inability to act decisively when the time comes. Trump proudly calls himself a “dealer,” but dealers of Trump’s kind use verbal hyperbole and swagger and razzle-dazzle in order to shlong their adversaries. Trump’s art of the deal, bragging about how he will handle ISIS and other global threats he has never encountered, makes his beliefs clear: he (that is, the U.S.) is the man, and the other country is the the woman, so he can disparage and dominate any other nation (and its representatives) that he wants. Misogyny is misogyny. This world-view is deceptively simple, attractive to many, and very dangerous, for any “deal” made on this basis will leave the other side resentful and waiting for a chance to undo it.

 

So Trump’s misogyny is not just a harmless foible the voter can overlook because he has so many admirable qualities. Just as personal misogyny is a symptom of weakness, the sign of a man who cannot tolerate equality because he is afraid of being less than equal, so global misogyny is the hidey-hole of someone who is afraid to act and can only threaten and bully.

 

Trump is not alone in the Republican Party in his disparaging treatment of women – he’s just more open and honest than his colleagues. But they can be tempted into the mud – observe Cruz’s people attacking the Donald’s wife and the continuing rumpus about who is more infantile (it’s a tie). Gail Collins’s New York Times column, about the fact that all the Republican candidates are women-disparagers if not outright haters, demonstrates that you don’t need to be vulgar to be a misogynist. All you need to be is a scaredy-cat. Overt misogyny is directly related to shlong diplomacy, and both are surface manifestations of terror, that just maybe mine is not bigger than his.

 

That is one reason that we need a woman in the White House, because her presence as the locus of power will make misogynists quake and make their “logical” arguments about the second-class status of women harder to take seriously. (This likelihood naturally strikes fear into the misogynistic heart of darkness, so this eventuality would surely lead to a lot of blowback. We should be prepared for all the nasty manifestations.) Secondly and maybe more importantly, a woman in the Oval Office will be less tempted to engage in shlong diplomacy than a man, for the obvious reason. She will not have the need, the ability, or the desire to play “mine is bigger than yours,” so she will negotiate better, more lasting and more satisfactory deals. Good dealing with an adversary is more about “I’ll give you X if you’ll give me Y,” a discourse of equals, and less about “mine is bigger than yours so you better give me Y or I will shlong you.” The non-Trump kind of dealing takes longer and is more complex, demanding courage and real ability, but in the long run, it works better and lasts longer. Shlong diplomacy is what got us into the quagmires into which we are sinking around the world. Why vote for Trump and create even more of them?

 

 

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