Pence wasn’t a “p*ssy” for standing up for democracy. But Trump’s been a “pr*ck” as president.
President Trump put it to Mike Pence straight up. Overturn the election and be remembered a “patriot.” Or fail to do so and be remembered as a “p*ssy.”
It was an absurd choice. But one that I imagine may have caused the veep to think twice, to consider helping his boss cheat and stage an anti-democratic coup.
Because Trump’s vulgar vaginal threat went for the jugular vein of those who subscribe to a conventional view of manhood.
Being called a p*ussy is the ultimate insult to many men. This sexist term viscerally connotes all of the feminine qualities that are traditionally taboo for guys: physical weakness, submissiveness, sensitivity.
By employing an anatomical, emasculating attack in the context of election results that have been proven accurate and fair in the course of many recounts and court decisions, Trump revealed just how morally mangled his masculinity is. In framing the choice to back him as the only manly thing to do, he defined masculinity as purely about power, not at all about principle. About might, not right.
An immature, confined masculinity
Trump’s is an extreme, juvenile version of what my co-author Ed Adams and I call “confined” masculinity in our new book. Confined masculinity boxes men into certain roles and attributes, including physical strength, stoicism and domination.
Trump is obsessed with winning and appearing strong. “We will never concede,” he says.
The irony is that to most of America, he seems ever more pathetic for being unable to lose gracefully.
Joe Biden’s victory is a sign that Americans realize masculinity must evolve to allow men to express vulnerability, to collaborate rather than just compete and to show compassion.
In the light of such a “liberating” masculinity, Mike Pence was anything but a “p*ssy” in certifying the electoral college count.
Pence, Cheney and ballsy moves
In keeping with genitalia references, it took balls for Pence to acknowledge reality. I realize it is risky to connect courage with a body part only men have. Plenty of women have plenty of courage — Liz Cheney comes to mind as having more balls than all the Republican congressmen who tried to overturn the election results Jan. 6.
The unique thing about testes is that they are exposed, in a way, sitting outside the rest of the body in the scrotum. By confirming that Trump and he lost the election, Pence knew he was exposing himself to ridicule and attacks from former allies. Those attacks came perilously close to threatening his very life, as Trump’s violent mob overran the Capitol and chanted “hang Mike Pence.”
Trump was partly right in framing how Pence will be remembered. But wrong in the interpretation. Pence may have waited too long to choose the right side, but when he chose truth he chose patriotism.
In the end, Pence put the country and the Constitution first. He resisted Trump’s taunt to prove his manliness in a show of raw power. That’s not an easy thing for men with a traditional male mindset. In fact, research suggests that when men find their masculinity challenged, they tend to overcompensate by playing up their manliness — at the expense of the truth.
An overcompensating America
This phenomenon may itself help explain Donald Trump’s significant support across America. Men, many of them working class, white men who have felt a loss of status amid stagnant wages, manufacturing job losses and the growing power of women and people of color over the past three decades, are in effect doubling down on a retrograde, immature version of manliness. These men, and women drawn to a dominant expression of masculinity, treat Trump as their champion.
This is so even though Trump’s is a Potemkin masculinity, an empty spectacle, as Megan Garber’s excellent essay in The Atlantic puts it. Indeed, Trump conveniently retreated to his fortified White House Jan. 6 after telling his deluded followers he’d be marching alongside them to the Capitol.
If Pence is more a ballsy patriot than p*ssy, I think another potty-mouth moniker is appropriate for our president.
Trump is a pr*ck.
A politically impotent pr*ck
Although it’s a term used almost exclusively for men, that may be an accurate usage at this point in our history. Pr*ck conveys a set of traits that I suspect are found more in men than women, because they correspond to features that easily arise from a conventional, confined masculinity: selfishness, self-aggrandizement, hypocrisy.
One cutting aspect of the pr*ck label is that it emasculates as it insults. Calling a man a pr*ck effectively shrinks his impact. It likens him to a pin, a needle, rather than a mighty spear or sword.
Donald Trump has proven to be politically impotent in important ways. He cost his party the House, the Senate and now the Presidency. After promising people that they’d grow tired of so much winning, he is defined by loss.
One problem with calling Trump a mere pr*ck is that his self-serving lies, his incompetence and his cruelty have had a significant, if poisonous, impact. He has botched the response to a deadly pandemic, emboldened right-wing extremists and shredded our social fabric. By trying to cheat his way to victory, Trump incited a riot that led to death and threatened our democracy.
Perhaps it’s more fitting to call the Donald an STD. Maybe he’ll be remembered as political syphilis, damaging the brains of millions of people with his demented words and deeds.
There probably are lots of labels historians will slap on the man who remains our president for the next three days.
But there’s one thing I’m pretty sure Trump won’t be remembered as.