Author Preston Grant hung out with one of the naked Trump statues. Here is his biting commentary.
People in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities awoke recently to an unexpected piece of street art: life sized and decidedly unflattering statues of a naked Donald Trump. The piece, titled “The Emperor Has No Balls,” depicted a fleshy and pale trump with an extremely small male member that was little more than a pink dot, and a scrotum that, if it existed at all, got lost somewhere in the field of flesh. Snarky responses across the internet were instant and relentless, but the prize goes to the official statement from the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation on the renegade installation: “NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small.” Every word there is a gem.
Once seen, the image of Mr. Trump standing boldly exposed is seared into the viewer’s mind. As one commenter joked: “It can’t be unseen: some jarring statues of a nude Donald Trump began appearing in locations across the country Thursday, including New York City’s Union Square. FEMA has begun around-the-clock airlifts of Brain Bleach to all of the disaster sites. The Red Cross is urgently appealing for donations to replace their rapidly-dwindling reserves. Residents are urged to shelter in place until licensed psychotherapists arrive on the scene.”
Funny as it was to see the self-inflated Mr. Trump brought down a peg, the statue raises questions around issues of body shaming. The intent of the work was clearly to shame a man for his body – the pasty white skin with visible green veins, the great folds of fat, the droopy old man buttocks, the flamboyant hairpiece – all on full display for public mocking. The biggest shaming of all is saved for the genitalia. As the title makes clear, the very point of the work is to mock Trump’s manhood. Yet judging a man’s worth by his penis size, even in jest, is deeply wrong.
According to our current social ethics, we do not judge people’s validity by physical attributes like skin color, breast size, height, hair type, disabilities, or any other physical criteria. Humans obviously vary, and we each have physical attributes we find most pleasing in others. What we work to overcome is the temptation to judge more deeply based on those superficial factors. We may find little button noses cute, or prefer strong Roman noses, but to use nose size as an indicator of a person’s character would be offensive and rather bizarre.
Penis size remains an exception to this rule. Somehow this physical characteristic slipped through our filter of respect. Jokes and popular culture commonly refer to a larger penis being more manly, correlating size with a more confident masculinity. Given the prevalence of this meme, it may even be self-fulfilling. The owner of a larger male member may acquire a sense of confidence and self-identity that is more masculine, in much the way someone tall may feel more confident in groups. Deep down, of course, these are false constructs, as physical attributes tell you nothing about a person’s character. Presuming that penis size, or height for that matter, are indicators of who a person is at their core is specious at best, and offensive at worst, which brings us back to Donald Trump.
The statue is intentionally body shaming. From the little nub of a penis to the absent gonads, the artist presents a prominent candidate for President of the United States as a naked and exposed man with a little dick. The implication is clear: Donald Trump is portrayed as less of the great man he repeatedly tells us he is. Something about this depiction resonated with the public, and photos of the statue saturated the internet while mobs of people surrounded the statues for the obligatory selfie with The Donald. Left behind was the deeper question of whether this kind of body shaming was appropriate within our broader political free-for-all.
Because this piece is so focused on one man, and one specific aspect of that man, it is worth considering the man targeted. This is not just any political candidate. This is a man who has made other people’s body’s parts integral to his discourse in highly negative and bullying ways. Women in particular have been disparaged for their looks, their weight, their monthly bleeding, and the fact that they go to the bathroom. He taunted a fellow candidate for his physical size, crudely mimicked a disabled reporter, said he would date his daughter, and called out a Gold Star mother for being silent because of her religion when it was her grief that left her speechless. The list of examples goes on, as they are seemingly endless. Each one of these was a taunt of a person’s physicality, of their body shapes, functions, and presentations to the world. In a historic first, Trump made his own genitalia part of the Presidential race during a debate broadcast around the world. (Fellow candidate Marco Rubio started it, but Trump took the bait and made it something definitive.)
Beyond his abusive stance against anyone who disagrees with him, Trump is a notably grandiose figure who uses braggadocio to silence critics, whether there is truth behind his self-promoting claims or not. He repeatedly places himself on a tall and fragile pedestal, supported by factually challenged statements camouflaged with an abundance of bling. It was easy to feel like it was Trump who declared himself Emperor of the World for being the best, the ultimate, and the right answer to every question. Rarely has a public figure so effectively set himself up to be exposed as a paper tiger, an empty suit, or the Emperor with no clothes.
As political art, the project succeeded: Trump was mocked. The artist gave the world an indelible image useful for anyone who believes Donald Trump may not be all he pretends to be. Yet even while successful as theater, the ethical question remains: Is it acceptable to shame a bully in the ways he bullies others? Doesn’t this action lower everyone in the process?
This has been an exceptional election cycle, and Trump has shaken up the norms of proper behavior, often through crude belligerence. Yet lowering the national discourse to his schoolyard levels of taunts and counter taunts is something few of us want. The equation of penis size with virility, manliness, or social standing is a sad vestige of Junior High locker rooms inappropriate in a national discussion over who should be elected to the most powerful office on the planet. This is not something we want to see more of. Innocent souls across the land cringe at the idea of naked Hillary Clinton statues, complete with the usual female-shaming visual tropes, showing up on street corners across America. At the same time, when reasoning and rationality don’t stop the school bully, sometimes you have to haul back and punch him in the nose. And if you can’t reach his nose, you go for whatever tender parts you can hit. Like going to war when peace talks fail, it is a bad solution to an otherwise unsolvable problem, as letting the bully rule is not acceptable. Because bullies operate by a far different set of rules from the rest of civil society, hitting back at their level may become the only effective response.
Trump’s supporters celebrated this degradation of the political discourse, calling it “anti-political correctness” and “Trump just speaking his mind. We can only hope this crudity and offensive back and forth will end soon, and a more civilized and productive debate ensue. Our nation deserves better.