Today’s news that there has been an arrest in the case of the mysterious pipe bombs sent to vocal critics of Donald Trump was accompanied by images of the alleged perpetrator’s white van plastered with layers of partisan political stickers. This immediately reminded me of other such vehicles that I have seen over the years. Specifically, I recalled the red pickup truck of a Trump supporter that I saw in Arizona last year.
The back of the truck was covered with a collection bumperstickers lashing out with the one-liners of a teenage argument at recess:
[giving someone the finger]
(It’s not) brain surgery
Miss me? (…miss me, now you gotta kiss me…)
Pulling up the image to share here, however, I was struck by something I hadn’t remembered—the truck had huge trailer hitch ball. It was a mystery object for sure!
It was a ginormous truck testicle.
Sure the ball is about masculinity (Maybe he is compensating for something!) That’s the easy surface read. But isn’t that ball also a partial key to the cypher of the bumper stickers? Isn’t this really the masculinity of the bully—the one that must perform on the playground and impose itself on the space of others. The owner of this truck doesn’t want friends or dialogue or to learn or converse. They want to demand attention by making others into an audience for their ego.
Isn’t this truck the automotive equivalent of manspreading? The guy who owns this Ford (for it must certainly be a man!) is taking up extra space (physically and rhetorically) and his ball is the sign.
And yet looking at the back of this Ford there is something more just beneath the surface of this display—a hint of menace and a threat to violence. This isn’t just a manspreader or a playground bully—this is a person who is armed. This truck is armed. Behind the taunts is a potential killing machine.
And isn’t it all the more frightening if we read the teenage vocabulary of the bumperstickers seriously: it is an adolescent with a gun.
White van owned by a man making pipe bombs. Red truck with an armed owner taunting with a gun. It might be a bit of a stretch to link the two together, but in both aren’t there expressions of violence?
Of course, hasn’t the masculinity of the United States has always had an aspect of violent takeover to it—an entitled settler-colonist masculinity of space which insists on homesteading over the protests of others who were there first? Hasn’t it always had a gun at its hip advertising a hair-trigger threat to violence?
There are other masculinities that care and listen and support and defend. The types that build families and friends and communities—that make kin. Those are the kinds of masculinities that are needed to deal with our current crises.
…and at the very least I hope that the arrest of the pipe bomber will make the public display of excessive amounts of mean-spirited partisan bumperstickers deeply uncool and that as a bonus this might include oversized ball hitches. Changing toxic masculinities needs to start somewhere.