Donald Trump may well have achieved the long-awaited apotheosis of Republican misogyny. He came close, in any event. His bleeding out of her wherever comment about Megyn Kelly got two segments on Weekend Edition Saturday, one of them in a prime :07 past the hour slot, when Scott Simon traditionally discusses items more timely and important to the business of the republic than classical music or Benedictine chants or (I don’t think this was his interest so much as that of the string-pullers behind the scenes) the Kardashian family franchise formerly known as Bruce Jenner or #SPORTS. Linda Wertheimer sat in for Scott this week, so I won’t be spending the coming week failing to follow through on my plan to use the internet to catch up on the previous week’s #SPORTS. Provide your own topical and narrative coherence in the comments if you need some; I remain several years behind on learning about #SPORTS, while the GOP has regressed decades on #DECENCY, and NPR–well, Linda Wertheimer is all right, and I can’t say that about the host of hosts (heh) and correspondents who have been assimilated, Star Trek-style, into the NPR house voice.
Freddie DeBoer has proposed that “over a long enough time frame, all political movements become indistinguishable from the parodies their opponents make of them.” In the case of the GOP, I’d say that the time frame has been fairly short. In two or three generations, well within living memory, the Republican Party has gone from nominating Barry Goldwater as a presidential candidate at a time when a wide swath of the left and the center considered him a dangerous extremist, to Goldwater encouraging Christians to “line up and kick Jerry Falwell’s ass” in his new capacity as a marginalized moderate within his own party, to Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” disgrace, and finally to Donald Trump’s intramural insurgency against the menstrual instability of women who challenge him, with the hearty support of those on the grassroots right who wish to neutralize the “cuckservatives.” Maybe the pace of this descent into indecency is accelerating; these are just four data points, illustrative but not necessarily probative of the overall political climate at each time in question. In any event, much about today’s GOP would have floored the average midcentury GOP hardliner. The current importance of abortion as a political controversy would have mystified, alarmed, or alienated many loyal Republicans well into the seventies or even the eighties. The notion of a leading Republican presidential candidate trying to gain unfair advantage over a debate moderator in the aftermath of an on-air pissing match by accusing the moderator of being emotionally destabilized by her period would have been beyond them. For that matter, the very candidacy of a man as vulgar as Trump would have amazed midcentury political observers from across the spectrum. Goldwater may have been a dangerous extremist with no traction outside Arizona and the Deep South, but he was a gentleman of good manners. LBJ had atrociously crude manners by nature, but he had the tact to keep his tactlessness to private settings among men of roughly his own stature.
Trump’s open, wanton cruelty may not be unprecedented in US presidential politics, but it’s close. Very early presidential politics included accusations of incest and Andrew Jackson’s habit of battery on his fellows, and repulsively demagogic mudslinging on policy matters in campaign literature has come and gone over the decades. Trump is, however, exceptional among presidential candidates in his blatant disregard for universally accepted rules of public deportment and in the general ridiculousness of his stature prior to his campaign. Ronald Reagan went into politics as a B actor who had dabbled in redbaiting, but looking back on his career in the context of Trump’s current run, two things are clear: that Reagan had quite good public manners and that he had minor success in the craft of screen acting, even if it was in consistently daft productions.
Many of our politicians have been incorrigible hypocrites. Some of them have been provably evil, and many others have been provably derelict of their duties. Very few, however, have ostentatiously refused to be gentlemen. Even if they didn’t strive to set a good example for lesser men, they set a good example by publicly treating their opponents, even their sworn enemies, civilly. Reagan caused a sensation by saying, “There you go again!” That was his idea of bluntness. He, George H. W. Bush, and Gerald Ford were all scrupulous about being gentlemanly, at least in public. Bush was hardly any less scrupulous in private, according to White House FBI agent Gary Aldrich, who wrote that he was consistently polite to the permanent White House staff and developed very cordial relationships with a number of Secret Service agents, including the sitting director. Aldrich described the Clintons as the polar opposite in their treatment of permanent staff: cruel, haughty, arbitrary, treacherous, contemptuous of men who would take bullets for them in a heartbeat. But a key thing to understand about the Clintons is that they knew how to keep this shit behind closed doors and make the accusations of private misconduct look like partisan smear jobs whenever they finally emerged. Aldrich made himself look partial to Bush and to the Republican Party in his own overwrought contrasts of the Bush I and Clinton White Houses. Bill Clinton was an exceptionally gifted communicator, at least as gifted as Reagan when the latter was at his best, and a better, more cunning, more amoral triangulator in aping the stolid mores and manners of Middle America. Bill was a smooth gentleman to George I’s clunky gentleman: no pork rinds, no inspiration from country music, no impatiently looking at his watch during debates, no references to Nitty Ditty Nitty Gritty Great Bird. And he knew how to cede the moral and aesthetic high ground to whiny, moralizing opponents who salaciously fixated on his private sex life.
Trump is moving the Overton Window on public decency. He’s saying things as a presidential candidate that NBC would have fired him for saying on The Apprentice, itself a trailblazing series for coarseness in broadcast television. He’s guiding the country over event horizons into unimaginable frontiers of bad public manners on the part of its leading citizens. He has grassroots backup in this political adventure because he styles himself as a reformist leading the battle against an obviously corrupt and dishonest establishment.
The Cathedral (if we assume, perhaps prematurely, that the Donald is no longer a top-tier member of it) is thrilled to hear Trump lead the Republican Party into overt, undeniable misogyny. Maybe we should think of the Cathedral as an elite coalition, not a left-of-center monolith. Trump is too effective a blatnoy to be jettisoned out of embarrassment without a careful cost-benefit analysis. In any event, leftist power players are creaming their pants to hear this right-populist blowhard express open misogyny over a political enemy’s inferred menstruation. They couldn’t have said it better themselves. This donnybrook is a timely enough answer to that heavily edited video of the James O’Keefe-style sting on Planned Parenthood, the one in which PP officials were made to look like Mengele-grade slice-and-dice traffickers of baby parts, not jaded professionals using occasional gallows humor in an unpleasant corner of medicine and medical research. This Planned Parenthood scandal has all sorts of whinging milquetoasts jumping in and making categorical pronouncements about things having to do with life and death that they do not really understand. Is it really about the sanctity of life, or is it about the social control of sex? We’ll never know because they’ll never say, and some of them will never understand their own real motives or admit these motives to themselves. Certainly a number of the louder pro-choice elements have made efforts to conform to the worst assumptions of the pro-life lobby, that they’re callous baby-killers. It’s unfortunate and intellectually dishonest (most of them, I’m sure, feel some queasiness about abortion), but it’s understandable for people facing an opposition that is so dishonest, immature, treacherous, foolish, and prone to argue in bad faith.
One of the troubling things about the Trump-Kelly ragtime dustup is that it distracted news reporters from examining proven extremists in the Republican presidential race, including Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Scott Walker. Walker is the most dangerous of the three precisely because he is the most outwardly civil and softspoken. Carson is a religious lunatic, and Cruz is a notorious Senate blowhard with one of the oiliest manners in US politics. Walker is one of the most self-controlled high-functioning psychopaths in American politics today, and one of the most effective politicians, having presided over a mostly successful revanchist unionbusting campaign in Wisconsin, historically a moderately left-of-center state, especially on economics. It turns out, though, that he isn’t just a Go Galt yahoo. He’s also a religious extremist looking to lower the boom on abortion in all cases, or at least plays one on TV. He’s been carrying on about how there are never any medical indications for abortion to save the life of the mother because medical magic. This is total bullshit. I don’t feel like guessing as to whether Walker knows that it’s bullshit and is just pandering to the OMG precious babies wackos in the base, but it’s bullshit regardless. Realtalk, there are circumstances in which the only way to save the mother’s life is to abort the child, and that’s all there is to it. It’s tragic, but it’s true. Medicine is full of tragedies; having to sacrifice a baby’s life to save its mother’s from otherwise certain death doesn’t register all that strongly on the scale of medical tragedy. Not that this particularly matters: the current debate over abortion is not being led by reputable doctors or nurses, or even by medically literate laymen, but by batshit crazy extremists who know fuck-all about medicine. This is the same debate that peripherally corrupted Bill Frist, a reputable cardiac surgeon in his medical practice, to unethically diagnose Terri Schiavo as viable on the Senate floor, not having performed a good-faith medical examination of her.
Ben Carson, to his credit, seems pretty scrupulous about keeping his ethically and scientifically grounded medical practice separate from his unhinged thoughts about pretty much everything other than medicine. This is pretty common among Seventh-Day Adventists, it seems. They’re great doctors and nurses on Days 1-6, but if they aren’t on call on Day 7, get ready to get crazy.
There is a serious debate about medical ethics to be had over abortion, and some of the Republican candidates are trying to have it, some of the time. The problem is that the Republican base is too intractably fucking crazy to have an adult debate about the horrific tradeoffs that are sometimes necessary in medical ethics and medical care. A big part of this problem is the more fundamental problem of much of the American right wing regressing into a sexually repressed immaturity and doing its best to inflict this immaturity on the entire country. Not admitting the existence or possibility of pregnancies so high-risk that they pose immediate threats to mothers’ lives is exactly what an immature, sexually fucked up wedge-issue lobby with an extreme fixation on the cuteness of babies would do.
Functionally, these are children pretending to be adults. It isn’t just the pro-life lobby per se, either. Todd Akin is overtly interested in the sexual end of the process, not the labor, delivery, and postpartum end. These pathologies are probably of a piece with the increasing tendency of left-authoritarians to see a rapist behind every bush. As a country, we’re descending into complementary authoritarian hard lines that will make us wholly incapable of self-government. We’re constantly getting upset over diversionary shit: maybe babies as the cutest thing ever, maybe rape as something that will cause women to summarily shut down their reproductive systems if they don’t enjoy it, maybe rape as something that women hate so adamantly that they actually love it. The point is that the rest of us simply cannot trust any of these crazies. Why? Because they’re obviously out of their fucking minds. That should be reason enough. They can’t even have an honest discussion about the intrinsic arguments for and against abortion, so snow will fall on Dien Bien Phu if they ever talk forthrightly about the extrinsic arguments for abortion, such as it being preferable to war. I could write about the horrors of war right now, but I won’t. I’ll just say that it’s a common negative feedback to overpopulation and that overpopulation is a common result of sexual thoughtlessness. Bringing children into the world on principle doesn’t magically make the world into a place free of atrocious suffering and untimely death.
By the way, no, I’m not against children. I’ve been hanging out with three- to six-year-olds lately. I don’t wish that any of these kids had been aborted. But yes, abortion makes me less sick than war, and we do not get to say no to all needless death in the world and simultaneously say no to condoms because NFP papal magisterium OMG I wuv babies Catholic receptivity to life.
This is exactly where the abortion debate is heading, if I’m reading the trends right. The goalposts are moving, and much of the energy behind the pro-life movement comes from implacable wackjobs with baroque obscurantist arguments against condoms, prostitution (gonna involve condoms, son, or you’re blacklisted as a client), marital handjobs, vasectomies, and all other forms of sexual expression deemed imperfect by the Catholic Church. Sometimes it’s about the welfare of babies, and sometimes it’s about sex and general social control. The thing is, if you haven’t been around the crazies, you have no idea just how crazy they are. I’ve spent time with them, in the real world and on Facebook, and some of them are totally fucking nuts, but not in the sense that they’ve got their cocks in a jar of cashews. Some of these people want to crowdsource The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s even scarier in the context of the mesh of resentments, many of them sexual, that make up so much of American politics.
There’s a war-of-the-sexes element to this mess, certainly an element of distrust between the sexes. This helps explain much of Donald Trump’s popularity and the fervor with which his (mostly male?) supporters have doubled down to defend him even after the bleeding-out-of-her-wherever thing. What I can’t tell is how much of this distrust is organic and how much of it is contrived by demagogues. Winston Churchill’s comment about the war of the sexes never being won on account of consorting with the enemy comes to mind. This is probably one reason why the authoritarian left and the authoritarian right are both so hostile to prostitution. It’s the Junior Anti-Sex League by another name. By the way, #TeshTips: Big Brother was against sexual relations in the flesh for exactly the same reason that Stalin tried so doggedly to subvert and destroy the Ukrainian family. Both of these were private arrangements that nurtured private relationship, ones unmediated by the state. Consequently, both had a tendency to subvert the totalitarian state. I’m not kidding in the slightest when I say that prostitution and the family are complementary institutions. Both are checks and balances on raw state power.
Raw state power of a sort that might be exercised by a President Donald Trump. I’m not sure that the comparisons to Hitler are apt, but I’m not sure that they aren’t. Trump is almost certainly benefiting from a constituency of sexually and socioeconomically marginalized men. These guys wouldn’t care for his bleeding out of his eyes about Megyn Kelly’s possible menstruation if they were getting laid. If they were so much as having occasional trysts with meth whores in the alleyways of inner city Reno their support for his petulant misogyny would cool off noticeably. Which would any normal, healthy man prefer: to listen to some loudmouthed putz with an Amish bachelor’s haircut yell about how one of his enemies was on the rag, or to titty-fuck a thicky trick in a massage parlor? Maybe this is what American society gets for simultaneously suppressing prostitution and dispossessing a growing swath of its young men, just as St. Thomas Aquinas warned.
It could be worse: the national destitution of Germany after the First World War yielded Adolf Hitler. But can we expect any outcome other than a Donald-Hillary showdown in a society whose youth are cleaving into mutually resentful and distrustful enclaves of incel porn bros and lesbians of convenience? Maybe the less this shit is a widespread reality and the more it is a marginal freak show blown out of proportion for clickbait, the less we’ll have to see of our most obnoxious demagogues.
Firehat is absolutely right: what this country needs is more T&A. But we need it in the flesh, not as another spectacle of the hologram. Otherwise we’ll become C. S. Lewis’ society of moviegoers salivating over steak porn in theaters. Shit, we’ve already become that. Unfortunately, that’s just the ridiculous prelude. The really scary part is what comes next. The Donald is waving the bloody rag to show us the way.
Don’t expect to find anything so scary in a whorehouse.