How revealing that some in Donald Trump’s party use the term “impotence” to criticize the Biden administration’s handling of Russia’s Ukraine invasion. Because when you think about it, you realize their idol’s outdated definition of strength, like Vladimir Putin’s, has a lot to do with male virility and the region of the body with which impotence is normally associated.
Don’t we know by now that strength is not about a man’s below-the-belt measurements or state of arousal?
Last week, a pair of GOP House members—Armed Services Committee ranking Republican Mike Rogers and Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Republican Michael McCaul—called the Biden administration’s sanctions against Russia “the definition of impotence” and called for tougher measures.
Maybe if Biden had announced them while sitting on a horse, shirtless, Rogers and McCaul would have been more impressed.
Among the many issues surfaced by the Russians’ invasion is contestation over what it means to be strong. Putin cultivates an image of “strongman” strong: autocratic, undeterred by innocent bloodshed, brave enough to be brutal, driven by ego and bound by medieval notions of his and his country’s honor.
Since Donald Trump began his political career, we have grown accustomed to these antiquated expressions of “strength” between our own shores. One form it’s taken is Trump’s consistent fawning over Putin, which was back in our faces in recent days with his profuse commendations of Putin’s morally corrupt attack on Ukraine. “Smart” and “savvy,” Trump called it.
With both of these toxic figures, the absurd and embarrassing have developed into something truly menacing.
Putin has gone from riding horses in southern Siberia to riding tanks and bombers into Ukraine. Trump has gone from testy exchanges with Marco Rubio over penis size—from getting Marla Maples to testify to his supposedly awesome sexual prowess—to undermining the very foundations of America’s law and democracy.
Putin’s Russia, James V. Wertsch writes, has become a state that “rejects representative democracy and the rule of law as direct threats to Russian purity. Instead, what’s needed is an indomitable leader, fortified by strong Russian Orthodox spirituality, who is unafraid to take brutal action to repel foreign enemies and root out domestic ones.”
In Trump’s worldview, Mike Pence lacks “courage” if he refuses to perform one of the foulest deeds in American history and attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election on Trump’s behalf. To Trump, “strong” is to resort to lawlessness and violence—to attacking police officers—out of loyalty to him.
“You’ll never take back our country with weakness,” Trump said in his exhortations to his loyalists on the day they attacked the Capitol. “You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”
If that is strength, give me weakness.