Last weekend, the former local television anchor turned cringe Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake praised both former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for their BDE—a reference to the online discourse describing comedian Pete Davidson’s perceived “big dick energy” (as well as a popular 2021 song by the rapper Latto).
Lake said it is what she wants to see in every leader, characterizing it as a reference to “backbone of steel.” It was a special avert-your-eyes moment in GOP politics, which traditionally is something you don’t want your kids to watch because of violence, criminality or stupidity rather than the raunch. But sooner or later when referring to the “grab ‘em by the pussy” president, we were bound to get back to this particular kind of sleaze, and, in a way, we should reluctantly be grateful to Lake for taking us there.
That is because the phrase tellingly captures aspects of how Trump and DeSantis are perceived by their supporters—although almost assuredly those aspects are not what Lake meant to communicate.
Because face it, there are people with the “quiet confidence” of BDE because they know what they have going for them. And then there are people who are just fronting, trying so hard they actually give off what might be called LDE.
You know those people. The guys that need to make everything about them. The ones who need to show up in the flashiest car, have the most over-the-top homes, who talk about their way with the opposite sex (“when you’re a star, they just let you do it”). If they happen to be a world leader, they’d try to send the world a message about the potency of their missiles (“We have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97 percent of the time”).
Or they are just bullies, so insecure that it’s always their way or the highway for their opponents. They’ll even go so far as to try to intimidate children or they’ll try to flex their man muscles by abusing beloved children’s characters.
Now, we could spend a lot of time analyzing why Kari Lake may be drawn to that kind of energy (during her remarks she equated having BDE with being “gutsy” while noting that her staff told her not to use the word “balls”). But let’s not.
Instead, let’s observe that she’s not alone. The current GOP is so caught up in giving off and talking about WWE-style masculinity that most Trump rallies these days seem to give off a strong whiff of AXE deodorant.
Josh Hawley. JD Vance. Madison Cawthorn. They’ve all thumped their chests so much that we have pundits offering in-depth analysis of their rationales. Noted Texas macho man Ted Cruz revealed another aspect of this impulse when he argued that the “wokeness” of the left was so emasculating that it was even turning the U.S. Army into “pansies.” Trump regularly tried to give off the air of being the toughest beast in the forest (except when he encountered a real shirtless, bear-wrestling alpha like his compatriot, Vladimir Putin). There are even people who feel that Trump may have hung on to highly classified documents just so he could show off his immense power (which is to say desperately compensate for something that was missing from his childhood or elsewhere).
So, what are the shortcomings for which these manly men are trying to compensate?
I would argue it stems from the realization that they actually have none of the other things that political parties usually depend on to be successful. They have no ideology. They have no platform. They have no agenda. They have no accomplishments. And they are afraid that what they once had—power that automatically went to the white males who were the core of their base and the bedrock of their worldview—is actually gradually shifting in a more equitable direction—to the majority population (women) and the emerging majority population (non-whites).
“The current GOP is so caught up in giving off and talking about WWE-style masculinity that most Trump rallies these days seem to give off a strong whiff of AXE deodorant.”
In fact, among the very few things the GOP has actually gotten done in the past couple of years are efforts to strip away the rights of women (to control their bodies) and of people of color (to vote). And we know that Republicans’ next targets are the LGBTQ community, contraception, and affirmative action—all of which represent the insecurities of the white cis males who used to rule the roost, and therefore must be attacked through state power.
In other words, GOP BDE is a sign of weakness, not of strength.
Meanwhile, Democrats have taken a much different approach.
Indeed, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership are very much the antithesis of the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe approach of the testosterone-infused Republican Party.
They are often not flashy. They are often soft-spoken. They are often the nerdy students who studied hard. They include many women and people of color. In fact, they take being called inclusive or “woke” as compliments. (Note: Because they are.) They are just the kind of people that Mr. BDE-himself Donald Trump would call “low energy” or, in the case of the current president, “Sleepy Joe.”
All these Democrats manage to do in their dull gray way is the work of governing. All they do is produce, day in and day out, the kind of work of consequence that Joe Biden might well call a BFD—a big fucking deal.
Instead of greasing up their bodies and swinging into battle on the nearest vine, the Biden Dems have piled up real accomplishments. The American Rescue Plan. The bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. This week’s Inflation Reduction Act. The CHIPS and Science Bill. The most meaningful gun regulation in decades. Assistance for veterans who were victims of burn pits. Expanding NATO. Rejoining the Paris Accords. (Did I mention the IRA contains the largest initiative ever by the U.S. to combat climate change?) Restoring American leadership worldwide. Appointing more judges faster than any administration ever. Creating 10 million jobs in less than two years, more than any administration ever. Historic economic growth. Ending America’s longest war. Eliminating the leader of Al Qaeda. Leading the way to both a global and a national minimum tax for corporations. Reducing the cost of healthcare. Driving energy costs down despite global inflation. The most diverse cabinet ever. Healing the wounds and prosecuting those responsible for the first attempted coup in U.S. history—the largest investigation ever undertaken by the Department of Justice and the FBI.
The result is that one party has a very well-developed resume with bulges indicating big achievements in all the right places, while the other has poseurs and wannabes who make up for their deficiencies with big guns and oversized ammunition magazines.
The GOP is all talk but, in fact, accomplished little during the Trump era (with one exception being an ill-conceived bill that contributed almost exclusively to the bottom line of the already rich). And the Dems have managed to outsmart and overpower their big-talking opponents to get far more done than anyone predicted possible despite (as President Biden noted at the IRA signing ceremony on Tuesday) little to no GOP support for any of the major pieces of legislation that have become law.
So, that’s the choice: false BDE, driven by insecurities and inadequacies, that translates into a desire to strip away the fundamental rights of any who threaten them vs the BFD (big fucking deals) of a Democratic Party that cares far more about results than appearances.
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