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Khalil Gibran, author of The Prophet, once noted, “Exaggeration is truth that has lost its temper.”
Donald Trump is a living exaggeration and in no area has he lost his temper more than with those who question his authority, his masculinity. He swaggers like an old-fashioned “man’s man,” wandering through the political landscape like a reincarnation of a drunken John Wayne caricature, toting his sagging two-gun holster, ready to blindly shoot anyone who challenges or disagrees with him – or he can use as a target to assert his potency.
His current target is Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), a Muslim woman he’s using as a talking punching bag. He – but really his artful message twisters at Fox and the New York Post – morphed her comments about the targeting of Muslims in the wake of 9/11 into a coded “dog whistle” pronouncement affirming a white nationalist anti-Islamic politics. Trump has also singled out other targets, including Robert Mueller and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), each representing a different message to his supporters.
These targets are a side-show, like an old Coney Island freak show, when measured against the horror Trump and his administration is inflicting on asylum-seeking migrants, whether at the Mexican border or hiding in cities and towns throughout the country. The process is simple: first, seize; then imprison, try and deport to a birth-nation which few of the deported remember, let alone speak the language.
Trump has long singled out yet another target, transgender Americans serving in the U.S. military. In July 2017, he twitted that the U.S. “would not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military” because of the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” they allegedly require. Then-Sec. of Defense Jim Mattis insisted that the new policy would only apply to individuals with a history of gender dysphoria or when a person’s biological sex and identity does not match.
A year-and-a-half later, in January 2019, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to grant the Trump administration authority to ban certain transgender people from the military. On April 12th, the transgender ban took effect.
In response, the American Medical Association (AMA) released a statement strongly critical of the imposition of the ban. It stated: “The AMA has said repeatedly that there is no medically valid reason — including a diagnosis of gender dysphoria — to exclude transgender individuals from military service. Transgender service members should, as is the case with all personnel, receive the medical care they need.”
In the U.S. today, more than 300 states and municipalities have adopted what are known as sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws. “Sexual orientation” typically refers to a person’s attractions, thoughts, desires, intentions, actions and sexual self-identity; “gender identity” refers to a person’s internal sense of gender, whether or not it corresponds to one’s biological sex at birth. These laws are intended to protect the rights of homosexuals, bisexual and transgender – intersex or non-binary — people in such areas as education, housing, employment and public accommodations. Violation of these protections can lead to lawsuits, fines and other actions.
Sexually speaking, Trump likely feels his very self is being challenged by those who challenge traditional notions of gender identity. His masculinity seems grounded in a one-dimensional notion of gender identity: a man is a man! Such a belief is an anchor concept of patriarchy, in which the power of the male is rooted in his ability to impregnate a female. No wonder Trump, and others among the religious right, oppose a woman’s right to an abortion, to terminate her pregnancy.
Like a lumbering, retired football lineman, Trump stands at 6’3″ and weighed in at 239 pounds and must be an imposing man’s-man. He appears to conceive life as a zone of combat over interpersonal power, with victory fulfilled in ever-increasing wealth and erotic pleasure. For him, life seems a war terrain aimed at both the men he battled (actually or imaginarily) and the women he courted (willingly, commercially or otherwise). His self-distorting pathology transforms all engagements into pyric victories.
One can only imagine how Trump sees himself as a person, a man. He proudly claims to be the son of real-estate hustler and Klan supporter. He learned the real art of the deal at the knee of Roy Cohn, the Rosenbergs’ prosecutor and aide to Sen. Joseph McCarthy. He also learned the art of his masculinity hanging with Cohn at two New York hot-spots for those on the make, Le Club and Studio 54.
The American public got a remarkably revealing glimpse of Trump’s misogynist prowess when he stalked Hillary Clinton during an October 2016 presidential campaign debate. Sadly, stalking his prey likely contributed to his victory. One can only wonder what-if Clinton, during the debate, turned the tables and had actively parried, mocked, her stalker? What if she had deflated the puffed-up predator, revealing him as nothing more than an empty suit, thus showing that she was “tough”? Would the election have turned out differently?
Trump’s gender-grounded predatory notion of masculinity was evident in the now-famous 2005 NBC’s Access Hollywood tape. As the 2016 election got closer, on October 7th, The Washington Post released a video (and accompanying transcript) about Trump and TV host Billy Bush in which the candidate brags about his sexual exploits. In it he proudly claimed,“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them,” Trump admitted. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything…. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
The same sexual arrogance was displayed in Trump’s extramarital affairs with two sex workers, Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) and Karen McDougal, the Playboy 1998 Playmate of the Year, that occurred when his current, third, wife was giving birth to their son. Equally revealing are the nearly two dozen women who’ve alleged that Trump sexually abused them.
Trump presents himself as the leading man in the greatest of all soap operas, the American nightmare. He reputedly knows little of history but likely measures his place in the nation’s history comparable to Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy or a 21st-century Ronald Reagan. They faced historic challenges: the first overcame a Depression and won a world war; the second sent a man to the moon; and third championed the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Trump likely perceives his war against migrants as having the same historical significance as the three previous presidents. Fortunately for the nation, the issue of migrants is not equal to a world war or landing someone on the moon. But it does reflect an historical moment comparable to the end of the Soviet Union; this one involves the eclipse of what was once dubbed the American Century.
Trump’s targeting of migrants, like his assailing of Rep. Omar and transsexuals, reflects a profoundly insecure man who knows how to appeal to his political supporters. However, he clearly doesn’t know how to deal with the historical challenge confronting him and the nation. The U.S. is being restructured as the world order is increasingly globalized and his one-dimensional gender identity is facing fundamental reconfiguration. Sadly, Trump will continue to target those who threaten his weak self-identity, his masculinity.