Penile projection is one way to characterize this presidential election cycle. Castration anxiety another. As testament to his frontrunner status, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has perfectly tethered his nationalism to his misogyny. Frankly, his popularity is no surprise given that this is the first presidential election cycle where a woman’s nomination and presidency are more than just a passing fancy. While women have run for POTUS before, no one has been as remotely close as Hillary Clinton to actually getting there.
In Clinton’s current commanding position to win both the nomination and the general election, it is almost as if America spewed forth Trump as a figment of its cultural anxiety about castration. If a woman becomes the leader of the United States, what happens to the sense of our national virility?
Cue the penis jokes. Amirite, “Little Marco”?
Have no fear, folks, Trump is here—and he will “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.” His nationalist slogan implies that the nation was “great” before—a time he never locates but one evocative of a pre-Obama America: one more racist, one more sexist, and one more hawkish. But the idea of “nation” is conceptually not a material thing. To conjure the image of a nation, you need material evidence. For Trump, who wants to “make America great again,” what might that evidence look like?
It will look like Trump’s wall.
The preeminent sign of virility in this election cycle, it will be no ordinary wall but a “great, great wall.” It will be so great, Trump bellowed to an audience in New Hampshire last summer, that someday it will be renamed in honor its benefactor: “I want it to be so beautiful because maybe someday they're going to call it the Trump wall,” he was quoted in the L.A. Times.
The seemingly robotic iteration in which he champions this “great wall” exemplifies how Trump’s empty rhetoric is both a cipher and a projection. As John Oliver explained during a segment on "Last Week Tonight" earlier this month, the wall is in no way a practical possibility. According to a variety of reports, it will not keep out undocumented immigrants or effectively combatant the traffic of drugs or crime. Rather, Oliver conveys, it is a symbol to help Americans to “feel safe.” In this regard, it doesn’t matter whether the wall is 30 or 40 or however-many feet high. The point is that the idea of an actual physical wall somehow gives lie to the belief that we as a nation are safer than we have been previously. It’s the same logic used when we see armed police patrolling the streets as a way to suggest to the public that we are safer. Or the incredible logic that giving guns to teachers will somehow make schools safer. We take comfort in the physical symbol; it placates us and soothes our fears. Seeing is believing, the saying goes. Yet, at the same time we know “ocular proof” can actually mean nothing.
For Trump, as well as for his millions of followers, the wall is proof that Americans will become safe — safe from the nefarious, ambiguous “Other,” who apparently is identified as some kind of hybrid monster combination of terrorist and “illegal alien.” As stated on his website, Trump’s position on immigration reform reads: “A nation without borders is not a nation. There must be a wall across the southern border.” (Apparently, the northern, western, and eastern borders don’t matter?) Here is the key: The fantasy that the wall represents reinforces the imagination of America as a limited yet limitless, pure nation. The irony is that the United States as a nation has never been one fixed entity. Our borders, our people, our culture have been as continuous and impermanent as time itself.
In this regard, the permanence of patriarchy relies on the perpetuation of myth, stereotype, and slander against women. Sexism is the hierarchal system of difference between men and women based on power. Acts of misogyny—which Trump is abundantly skilled at executing—are intended to keep women down, oppressed and powerless. These acts simultaneously trumpet male virility as the ultimate symbol of power. But these descriptors must be revealed for what they are: myths, lies that elevate men and denigrate women.
These are the same myths that illustrate how patriarchy is connected to the concept of nationhood. Both patriarchy and nationhood are imaginary, yet become imbued with incredible power through the reiteration of gender myths and stereotypes—which keep both patriarchy and nationhood alive. Trump’s campaign strategy has been to harness the power of these myths that tie male virility to national security, conveniently, at the dawn of our first female presidency.