Back in August, I admitted with some shame that I had an initial guffaw at the placement in several cities of naked Trump statues by INDECLINE, a group billing themselves as an "anarchist art collective."
But it didn't take long for me to start feeling uneasy and then a bit gross and soon enough frankly enraged about these art pieces. Humiliating Trump because he has an aging flabby body was hardly a relevant critique of his many repeated lies, his disqualifying ties to hate groups, his ignorance of and disinterest in actual policy, his many dangerous conflicts of interest, his terrifying bad temperament, and the rest. And it is hard to see how policing unrealistic bodily norms through proliferating "unflattering" public Trump monuments seems obviously more damaging to the rich and insulated Trump than to the millions of other Americans who know all too well not only who but what is being exposed to ridicule in these public works, who are aging and flabby and grim themselves and without Trump's millions and sycophants to protect them.
I am disgusted by Trump's body shaming of other people, and I am disgusted by sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton's appearance in particular, which were rampant throughout the campaign as they have been throughout her career of public service. I can see the appeal of thinking that such public projects are simply a matter of turnabout as fair play, puncturing the pretensions of an infantile over-compensating sexist and celebrant of serial sexual assaults (that is why I laughed at first, too), but I fear that this particular mode of Trumpian critique is at best superficial and at worst is exacerbating a deeply American disgust with the aging vulnerable "imperfect" body. This disgust of vulnerable bodies is about self-hate and denial, and it is compensated by cruelty, conspicuous consumption, and acquiescence, all of which actually enable Trumpian politics.
While the artists in last summer's attention-grabbing pop spectacle were right to notice that Trump's boastfulness is more likely an expression of insecurity rather than confidence this is hardly a radical insight or a trenchant critique. Many avenues for such critique were available, of course -- although maybe these critiques were not as available to self-described "anarchists" who, for all we know, don't finally care about the many ways Trump threatened vestiges of good governance while Clinton would facilitate better alternatives. Ultimately, the naked Trump statues were a distraction from the substance of the actual politics at hand. But, worse, the statues themselves have a politics one might describe as Trumpian in their cruelty and denial, working to police body norms and stifle diversity in ways that fuel fascism.
I bring all this up now because I have been reminded of my initial seduction and eventual qualms about the substitution of body-shaming for substantial critique of Trump in recent weeks, here and now in the worst aftermath of the election and with worse to come. I find that I am a bit demoralized at how readily how many liberals now warning about Trump-Putin ties are mobilizing what seem to me to be damaging homophobic conceits in making their points. Even if we concede (and I do) the obvious danger of Trump's palpable and rather terrifying attraction to Putin's authoritarian methods or recognize that dangerous secret ties and debts to Russian interests may well account for Trump's unprecedented and what hitherto would be disqualifying refusal to release his tax returns, why is it the literalization of the metaphor of "Trump is in bed with Putin" that becomes the go-to frame to communicate these critiques?
I must say, I am now fifty-one years old, my days of being even remotely suitable for an underwear ad are long behind me, indeed I am essentially a walrus in bottle-thick black-rimmed spectacles and plaid these days, and while Eric and I have sixteen years of happy cohabitation to show for ourselves, I can't help but wonder if a mural showing us kissing would occasion the same visceral disgust as the endlessly re-circulated image of Trump and Putin kissing now does... and I wonder if the reasons they would are too similar for comfort? When people critique Trump being "in bed with" Putin I worry about the way these critiques seem so quickly to extend the metaphor with exclamations to the effect that "and we know which one is the woman!" heh heh heh "and you know which one has to take it!" and so on.
Quite apart from the fact that there is everything glorious and nothing the least bit humiliating about getting fucked as a bottom if that is what you are into (endless panic, disavowal, paranoia, aggression on the subject by straight men on this subject notwithstanding), the connecting point here is that criticizing the authenticity of Trump's leadership through his figurative "feminization" in respect to Putin is sexist in a way that comports quite directly with the sexism that undermined Clinton's bid for the Presidency and ultimately benefited Trump. That Trump has filled his cabinet with rancid anti-gay bigots and that Putin's Russia is a hell of anti-gay bigotry and torture and despair just adds insult to injury.
You know, I never cease to be amazed by the rhetorical ineptitude of the Democratic left -- so busy pointing out the flaws in every hard-won accomplishment and so eager to move on to the next issue that we never celebrate our accomplishments ourselves and thus give people something to root for, never give a reliably winning majority of people a sense that we are fighting on their side, leaving an empty space for Republicans to fill with lies and alarmism about those harmed by change or, even better, to take credit themselves for accomplishments Democrats have moved on from while Republicans fight to destroy them, repeal them, undermine them with obstruction, and the rest. And the readiness with which Democrats will also frame their own cases and critiques in Republican terms (still speaking of tax "burdens" instead of responsibilities, still speaking of "government spending" instead of public investment, still speaking of innovation instead of commonwealth, and so on) is more self-defeating still.
But the worst may well be that people in and of the party of sustainable equity-in-diversity, the Democratic Party, my party all my voting life, would make so glib, so comfortable, so ready a recourse to sexist, ageist, ableist, homophobic, racist -- and, yes, every argument foregrounding an appeal to "white working class voters" as against working class voters is indeed racist, every single one -- frames and conceits in pitching their critiques of the execrable unprecedented catastrophe of the Trump GOP to come. This is utterly flabbergasting and disgusting to me. Whatever the initial adrenaline hit mobilizing such cruelty affords, these appeals turn out to be more and more bricks added to the Trumpian wall we will have to demolish if we are ever to get anywhere in the work to make the shared world sustainable and equitable-in-its-diversity. Stop doing the work of the bigots and fascists for them.