In Team America: World Police, the hero of the film, Gary Johnston attempts to infiltrate a terrorist group. The terrorist leader is skeptical until Johnston launches into an explanation of his “pain and sadness.” He says:
I was just a boy when the infidels came to my village in their Blackhawk helicopters. The infidels fired at the oil fields and they lit up like the eyes of Allah. Burning oil rained down from the sky and cooked everything it touched. I could only hide myself and cry as my goats were consumed by the fiery black liquid death. In the midst of the chaos, I could swear that I heard my goats screaming for help. As quickly as they had come, the infidels were gone. It was on that day I put a jihad on them. And if you don't believe it, then you'd better kill me now, because I'll put a jihad on you, too.
The terrorist replies: “I like you. You have balls. I like…balls.”
Welcome to the Donald Trump campaign.
Trump’s supporters disproportionately like that Trump has balls. Mark Cunningham of The New York Post correctly surmises that the rest of the field and the media are “only now realizing that much of what Trump’s been doing is just busting balls…It can be a test of manliness, a sign of respect, a way of bonding, and much more.” And so far, all of the Republicans have failed at the ball-busting game. Trump has been telling them to get their shineboxes, and they’ve been struggling for comebacks.
Americans are looking for a candidate with balls because they feel castrated. President Obama has spent eight years telling Americans that they are racist imperialists who have to get their testosterone in check. Hillary Clinton says that America must curb its mannish impulses, which result in anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-minority tendencies; Bernie Sanders says we must override our impulse toward economic explosiveness in favor of a kinder, gentler redistributionism – utilizing the government gun, of course. The media and Hollywood tell us that strong women don’t need men, that strong men are universally villains.
Trump’s candidacy represents a visceral response to all of that. He plays like an extra from a gangster movie. He makes ridiculous, over-the-top promises, then stamps them with his personal guarantee. He has never crossed paths with humility; he’s never seen a deal he couldn’t make, a project he couldn’t build. His opponents aren’t opponents – they’re enemies. Everything Trump does, he does big. Everything Trump does, he does bold. Trump is Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, and if somebody tells him to get his shinebox, he’ll call them a “motherf***er” and them beat them to death. He’ll call Ted Cruz a “p****.” He'll talk about Megyn Kelly bleeding from her wherever. He’ll talk about beating up protesters at his rallies. He’ll win for us because he’s willing to do anything. The more vulgar he gets, the more we like him. The brasher he gets, the more we like him. The more outrageous his promises, the more insulting his tone, the more he shouts over his political opposition, the more we like him.
He has balls. Voters like balls.
There are two problems with the balls-only version of American politics. First, balls are necessary, but in service of an actual ideology. All balls and no brains makes Johnny a stupid bully. That’s what Trump is. He’s the unbridled id of American politics, unmoored from principle. Which means that, like Pesci in Goodfellas, you never know when he’s going to snap and shoot Spider for no reason.
Second, American politics wasn’t supposed to be a gangster film. It was supposed to be checks and balances to prevent anyone from consolidating all power. The goal of every gangster flick is monopolistic dominance of turf. The goal of American politics is avoiding such dominance so that Americans can be left alone.
But after a decade of testosterone-free politics, the pendulum is now swinging back the other way. And there are a lot of Republican voters – and Americans -- who want an unapologetic pair of balls more than a Constitutional conservative. After all, at least the balls won’t back down in the face of a fight.