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Trump Tries To Humiliate Pelosi: New Target, Old Techniques

President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, May 24, 2019, before boarding Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md, and then on to Tokyo. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, May 24, 2019, before boarding Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md, and then on to Tokyo. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Remember when Hillary Clinton had “stamina problems”?

That’s all I could think yesterday, as the president once again attempted to smear an older female politician who makes a habit of publicly besting him.

This time, his target was Nancy Pelosi, the indomitable House Speaker, whose caucus holds the power of investigation and potential impeachment over our scandal-in-chief.

Trump knows that Pelosi — along with the courts — will eventually make public his financial records, which, in turn, are likely to reveal what most Americans already suspect: that he’s not nearly as rich as he claims, that he’s been kept afloat by foreign investors (including Russians), that he’s more brand manager than mogul.

The prospect of being exposed in this way drives Trump crazy. And it does so in especially gendered fashion: He feels unmanned.

Trump, after all, is transparently desperate to appear young and virile and well-endowed, perhaps because he is, in fact, none of those things. His standard move with celebrities or beauty queens or female reporters is to body shame them.

But with older women, his approach dives more deeply into his own bottomless well of projection: He accuses them of being unwell.

Unwell, of course, is a rather gentle way of putting it. Our president, a “very stable genius” with a "very large brain," prefers to use more precise terms, such as “crazy Nancy” and a “mess.”

Trump has been widely accused of mental instability, of course, not just by mental health experts, but often by his allies and former cabinet members.

That’s not surprising, given his erratic behavior and that fact that he has, at times, had problems simply speaking.

His attack on Pelosi is both dismal and utterly predictable. As with his forays against Clinton, it is part of a calculated patriarchal effort to humiliate older women who cannot be reduced to sexual objects, or bullied into silence. It comes with its own pathetic fake news infrastructure: an army of conservative, mostly aging male demagogues, who are happy to spread conspiracy theories and doctored videos.

The whole idea is to build a campaign of innuendo against the women with the power to unmask Trump the Strongman as Trump the Wimp. In the case of Clinton, this campaign was allegedly coordinated through Roger Stone, WikiLeaks, and the Russian agents and bots whose stated mission was to spread disinformation about the Democratic candidate and boost Trump’s prospects.

The result was that these phony videos and unfounded allegations migrated, by design, from the fringes of conservative media to social media and eventually mainstream outlets. That’s the plan with Pelosi.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during a panel discussion at Delaware County Community College, Friday, May 24, 2019, in Media, Pa. (Matt Slocum/AP)
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during a panel discussion at Delaware County Community College, Friday, May 24, 2019, in Media, Pa. (Matt Slocum/AP)

Putin and his favorite puppet, it turns out, have more in common than economic interests and a desire to divide the American people. They are both part of an ancient patriarchal order that views female volition and ambition as criminal.

No wonder the rallying cry at the Republican National Convention was "Lock her up!" No wonder conservative propagandists suggested that Christine Blasey Ford — the woman who credibly accused Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault — actually hypnotized herself into this belief.

This is how the patriarchy deals with women who dare to speak their minds, whether about sexual abuse or reproductive rights or the corruption of a powerful man. These women are dependably gas-lit as not in their right minds -- old, senile, mentally disintegrating.

The more power they acquire to speak, the more desperate the patriarchy becomes to take them down. What matters isn’t the proof of their absurd claims, but the eagerness of so many Americans to cling to them.

The Trump con isn’t just a paranoid appeal to white people who feel they are losing cultural power. It’s aimed at all those who feel unsettled by the prospect of true gender equality -- especially men, like the president, who fear their own masculine powers are diminishing, and must therefore reach for a little rhetorical Viagra, just so they can perform.

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Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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