FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Perversions of Power: Trump’s Hedonism vs Pence’s Puritanism

Since the nation’s founding there’s been a peculiar tension between the president and the vice president.  This tension was first established in 1796 when John Adams became president and Thomas Jefferson the vp.  The two men could not have been more different.  Adams was a Northern Federalist, pro-British and morally upright, puritanically married to Abagail; Jefferson was a Southern Democratic-Republican, pro-French and worldly, intimately involved with his slave, Sally Hemings, with whom they had four surviving children who he set free.

Over the intervening two-plus centuries and nearly 50 administrations, a host of different president and vice-president tag-teams have occupied the White House.  Drawing only upon some recent examples, the nation’s two top officials have reflected differences in age (e.g., Eisenhower and Nixon), geography (e.g., Kennedy and Johnson) and race (e.g., Obama and Biden).  Donald Trump and Mike Pence, the tug-of-war leaders who will soon occupy the headquarters of global power for the next four years, could not appear more different.

The shot-gun alliance between Trump and Pence seeks to bridge an (apparent) ideological contradiction at the heart of the Trump movement, a contradiction that may split the movement.  The contradiction is clearly differentiated – symbolized — in the sexuality represented by the two men.  It involves the tension between excess and restraint.  Their apparent “egos” — sexual personalities — represent two of the extremes in the history of American erotic expression, hedonism and puritanism.  Both are forms of repression.

Their political marriage seeks to contain the divide between the big city and small town as well as the boastful businessman and the cautious political operator.

Trump signifies all the false pomp and bullying swagger of New York big money, capital of the second-half of the 20th century. (Shanghai will likely be the capital of the 21st century, reflecting the geo-political migration of capitalism over the last three centuries.)  Pence proudly considers himself a “lifelong Hoosier,” born and raised in Columbus, IN, and a born-again Christian.  During the presidential campaign, he proclaimed that he was “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.”

Trump projects the swagger of a “self-made” “billionaire” and TV celebrity; he appears as the classic hedonist, a man of excess, of three marriages and innumerable sexual engagements (many of them unwanted assaults), of narcissistic power and self-indulgence — one who seems never satisfied.  Pence embodies all the restraint of the heartland, “true” American values; he appears the classic puritan, small-town caution, whose been married to the same woman (a divorcée) for over 30 years and of sublimated desires — also one who seems never satisfied.

Since the nation’s founding, these two conflicting tendencies in male identity – the hedonist and the puritan — have shaped patriarchal self-hood.  Much of American culture has been defined by the way men experience themselves as physical, sexual creatures as well as by the way they engage with and/or treat other males and females.  It’s a masculine culture based on social power and never being truly satisfied.

Since his election, Trump has given mixed messages about abortion rights (opposing it except for the health of the mother), gay rights (recently dropping his opposition to same-sex marriage) and some protections for transgender people as well as with regard to non-documented immigrants and foreign-born Muslims.  However, he’s said that he will sign the First Amendment Defense Act if passed by Congress; the legislation would make it legal for employers and other organizations to discriminate against LGBTQ people in the name of “religious freedom.”

With all this said, Trump seems less “culturally” reactionary than Pence and many others within the Republican-controlled Congress.  Pence will likely lead to the resurgence of the Christian right and redraw the battle lines laid down Phyllis Schlafly during the first-round of the culture wars of the 1970s.  As Governor of Indiana, four term Congressman and earlier radio talk-show host, Pence has long championed a religious- or faith-based (white) agenda.  Facing a likely failed reelection campaign, Pence opted to be Trump’s running mate and – surely to his surprise – will become vice president.

Pence has long taken a hardline stand against a woman’s right to an abortion, even signing a law banning abortions in cases where a fetus could have a potentially life-threatening condition.  He supported a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and, in March 2015, signed a law allowing merchants and others to discriminate against gays and lesbians for religious reasons.  As VP candidate, he adopted the classic dodge arguing that “the transgender bathroom issue can be resolved with common sense at the local level.”

Pence also sought to cut state HIV/AIDS funding and increase spending for “conversion therapy” programs (by which gay youths can be “cured” and made straight).  He opposed condom use by teenagers, insisting, “The only way to stay safe from premature pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases is to practice abstinence and pray to God, that’s the only real way to stay safe.”  Pence even opposed the local Catholic archdiocese over the settlement of Syrian refugees in Indianapolis.

The renewed round of the culture wars will be relaunched as the U.S. is being reshaped by a 4th sexual revolution, one that is pushing further the revolutions of the 1840s, 1920s and 1960s.  Today, the sex business has become a $50 billion industry with more people watch porn, buying sex toys (often from Amazon) and arranging sexual liaisons via the internet and smartphones.

Over the last quarter-century, the boundaries of the “forbidden” have eroded.  Among consenting adults and age-appropriate youths, anything goes, including commercial sex – if its consensual.  Sex has shifted from a moral issue, “sin,” to a legal concern, “consent,” whether public or private.  Today’s only true sex crime is the violation of consent, whether involving rape, pedophilia, child porn, intimate partner violence, sex trafficking, knowingly infecting someone with HIV/STD or lust murder.  Psychologists have reclassified long-labeled immoral or deviant sex practices as “deviance without pathology.”

Calls to restrict a woman’s right to an abortion and birth control — along with anti-gay and anti-transgender activities — will likely increase, shaping state and local policies.  The Christian right will push these policies even though a growing majority of Americans are accepting of this practices.   Sadly, racism — in the form of anti-immigration harassments, anti-Muslim policies and the ongoing police killings of unarmed African-Americans – are also likely to increase.  Cumulatively, these and other battles will drive the renewed culture war.  It’s going to be a long and bitter next four years.

More articles by:

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail