Those Trump Statues Aren’t Funny, And They Sure Aren’t Progressive
I hate y’all for making me defend Donald Trump.
Yesterday, statues of the Republican presidential candidate popped up in major cities across the nation. Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Cleveland all found themselves the new owners of a 3D depiction of a naked Trump with an intentionally miniature penis, aptly named “The Emperor Has No Balls.” News outlets, major figures — and even the NYPD itself — had a good time poking fun at the statues. Once again, Donald Trump’s penis is making headlines. INDECLINE, the activist group behind the statues, had this to say:
“It is through these sculptures that we leave behind the physical and metaphorical embodiment of the ghastly soul of one of America’s most infamous and reviled politicians.”
To be clear, I love good jokes. I love crude jokes. I love jokes that do what comedy does when it is done well: expose (no pun intended) an oft overlooked and harsh reality in our world. But these statues and the joke around them aren’t funny. In fact, they’re harmful. And the desire to attack Trump on baseless, superficial, personal grounds — in conjunction with similar attacks on his base — seems to have more to do with privilege and posturing, than actually paving the way for a world where the marginalized are centered and cared for.
These statues and the ensuing praise of them say more about the people laughing than they do about Trump himself.
Lord knows I don’t like Trump. Besides being an awful candidate, he’s also personally threatened me and tweeted out campaign ads that compare me to ISIS. It’s also true that I’m not one for unnecessary civility or respectability politics. Hell, I’m even a member of the Church of High Petty, and I once had a photo of Bernie Sanders and Killer Mike with the “Crying Jordan” meme as my Twitter cover photo. My issue with these statues isn’t that I’m sensitive, or that I’m prudish — or even righteous.
The joke itself is bad. It relies on body-shaming, fatphobia, toxic masculinity, and transphobia to take jabs at Trump. The “joke” behind the statues is twofold:
One is that it makes fun of Trump’s body, and likely his weight. He is depicted completely naked, rolls and all, and his skin is intentionally blemished. Beyond clearly relying on beauty standards most progressives would normally reject, it seems pretty fatphobic. Even if the artist didn’t intend it that way, it has certainly made space for fat shaming.
The second part of the joke is about Trump’s dick, or rather, his “manhood.” The title itself is an attempt to emasculate Trump in the same way that his shrunken penis is intended to. The implication is that people with a small penis, or lacking testicles, are not real men and are therefore worthy of scorn. Not only does this joke rely on the tired assumption that a big dick makes one “a real man,” but it’s also transphobic. Not all men have large penises; not all men have penises at all. By undermining Trump’s manhood solely on the basis of the appearance of his genitals, it perpetuates the belief that gender is reducible to genitalia and that anyone lacking the “proper genitals” by cis-binary standards deserves mocking.
The joke itself is in poor taste. It’s a tired and abusive trope that not only fails to push back on Trump’s political power, but also promotes the evilness that is fatphobia, body-shaming, and transphobia itself.
Progressives in particular “going for the low hanging fruit” — attacking someone whose politics have dangerous implications on personal, oppressive grounds rather than political grounds — felt eerily familiar. It felt like the kind of personal attacks, in fact, that are often lobbed at his base; that they are “dumb,” “uneducated,” and “poor.” It felt like the classist and elitist remarks that are often used to ridicule the far right. It felt like a conversation amongst privileged white folks, where calling out the Right is more about positioning oneself as the “good white folks” than it is about actively resisting the political system that is, for one, killing Black and marginalized folks every day.
If Trump is so awful and progressives are so upstanding, then why would you rely on hurtful and damaging punchlines to fight back against a man whose behavior terrifies even his own party? What could possibly be more important than sticking to your progressive values around fatness and body positivity and trans-inclusivity in the face of his genuine offensiveness?
This joke, masquerading as political commentary, is what happens when the desire to “win” — and more importantly to be “better than those folks over there” — becomes stronger than the desire to transform the world’s hierarchies. It shows that progressives are willing to uphold clearly oppressive behavior as long as it serves a partisan purpose against those they have deemed “the bad guys.” This behavior is less about addressing the real destructiveness of these entities and their politics, and instead resorts to self-serving personal attacks. Because these attacks seem to come out of people’s desire to “beat that guy at any cost,” and are not serving a specific political outcome, it seems to be more an internal conversation among mostly white folks where white progressives paint themselves as “better than those white folks over there.”
Not to mention the fact that most Black and marginalized people do not have the luxury of spending efforts on hurling offensive personal attacks at the far right, in part because we have much more dire political concerns, and in part because Trump’s base is comprised of precisely the people we will need to organize with in order to get free.
Beneath the partisan language and intentionally seeded fear of brown people and foreigners, the concerns of those on the far right bear great political similarity to those on the far left. In both camps there is a fundamental understanding that the government is corrupt, nonrepresentative, and consistently exploiting the poor. Trump has built his entire platform off of speaking to these fears, and any true resistance to capitalism will require solidarity amongst the working class. Trump’s base will be an important part of any nationwide revolutionary work moving forward, and ostracizing them on the basis of elitist ideas of “intelligence” undermines the political work of tying modern social movements to the larger class warfare taking place in the world right now.
Additionally, ridiculing Trump and his base doesn’t make marginalized people safer. In fact, such open ridicule of Trump can have violent consequences for Black people even if they aren’t the ones doing it. Just this week a Black man was stabbed in Olympia, Washington, by a Trump supporter who felt like he needed to fight back in the midst of increasing racial and partisan tensions.
Escalating these tensions through mudslinging doesn’t serve any political purpose. It does, however, have the potential to endanger the most vulnerable people in our communities. The only people who can engage in such meaningless and potentially lethal “joking” are those whose bodies enable them to feel relatively safe in a world where Trump supporters roam freely.
So, no, your joke isn’t funny. In fact it’s dangerous. It reinforces the same oppression that we say we are above. It, along with the superficial attacks on Trump’s base, not only unnecessarily increase tensions in our already violent world, but deepen the divisions between the working poor that stand as obstacles to true revolution.
The war against the white supremacy and xenophobia that grows even more public in this country won’t be won by throwing the marginalized under the bus for the sake of an easy joke. You are not convincing anyone that you are truly more caring, more just, or more equitable by mocking a terrifying man in a manner that perpetuates the same common beliefs that we are trying to change, beliefs that he himself perpetuates. Instead you are foregoing the hard tasks of increasing political education and building solidarity with people you deem beneath you.
This joke didn’t reveal that the emperor has no balls — but rather that the progressives have no grounding and no truly transformative strategy.
Those naked statues didn’t expose the ugliness of Trump, which we already know on political grounds, but the ugliness of partisanship and privilege — where Black and marginalized folks end up the losers.
Lead image: YouTube