Masculine insecurities are driving Trump’s train of lies — according to science
Despite evidence that Donald Trump is a serial liar, the man continues to lie about his previous lies. While the origin of the oft-repeated joke is disputed (and perhaps funniest when told by the late, great Richard Pryor), Donald Trump treats America as if it were the wife who has just caught her husband in bed with another woman, “Who you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?”
Media pundits have expressed concern that despite incontrovertible evidence that Trump lies, and he knows that he’s lying, the Trump cultists will vote for him. Trump has bragged that he could murder someone and his poll numbers would not take a hit. The Donald seems to be made of the same material as Ronald Reagan–teflon–the non-stick coating that repels any kind of dirty scandal from harming a politician’s poll numbers.
All politicians fudge the truth, exaggerating their successes and minimizing their failures. Trump, however, takes it to a different level. He’s a contemporary version of Baron Von Munchausen, an 18th century literary character whose wildly exaggerated military exploits—riding on a cannonball, voyaging to the moon—made him a comic-heroic favorite for generations.
While psychiatrists recognize Munchausen Syndrome as a disorder, it is associated with the faking of medical symptoms of disease in order to garner sympathy. Trump claims to be a vigorous, virile man who suffers no physical weakness to disqualify him from being president. But he is still a serial liar. Why? Why would Donald Trump lie?
Sports fans were surprised to learn that Kevin Durant is not 6’9″, as his official stats say. He’s actually 6’11”. He says he lied because he wanted to be thought of as a “small forward” rather than a “power forward.” But, Durant says, he tells women that he is 7’0″, because some women express a preference for tall men. Durant’s lie to women may be more revealing of the personality flaw behind Trump’s lies.
A study released in 2015 revealed something about braggart men who lie, a confirmation of something that many women have intuited. Men lie when they feel that their masculinity has been questioned or they fear that they do not measure up to other men. It turns out that the joke about men driving expensive sports cars to compensate for other shortcomings is true.
In the study, men were asked to take part in a “grip test” to determine what the average man’s grip measure was. After squeezing the fake sensor, each man was given a fictional reading, some of which indicated that the man had a stronger grip than the average man and some that told him he was weaker. After being given this information about their strength relative to other men–and with some being told that their grip was weaker than that of an average woman–the men were then asked a series of questions.
Time after time, the men who had just been told that they were “less than” some fictional measure of masculinity proceeded to exaggerate the number of sexual partners they had had, to make themselves taller, to heighten their athletic accomplishments, to talk about how aggressive they are, and to denigrate activities that they perceived to be “feminine.”
The study highlights the pressure that men feel to conform to gender stereotypes and measures applied in defining “masculinity.” Even someone like Chris Kyle, the real-life hero of American Sniper, lied about the number of medals and commendations he had received during his military service. While it’s not clear what drove Kyle’s need to exaggerate, something about the way Kyle felt about himself as a man may have been at the root of it.
In the case of Donald Trump, who seems to react most angrily to taunts about being the short-fingered vulgarian, Donald Trump the man is afraid that he’s just not man enough to measure up to other men. Spy magazine exploited Trump’s weakness for years, and they did so by diminishing Trump. They made fun of the size of his fingers, a taunt that was picked up during the 2016 campaign, and which led to the moment when Trump declared during a presidential debate that he had a big dick.
No one is denying that women don’t lie. But the studies of female lying indicates that women do it to protect someone’s feelings, or to protect themselves. At its root, gender differentiation is rooted in notions of power. In our culture, masculine is privileged over feminine. For women, who despite cultural progress are still extremely vulnerable to male violence, lying is offered as protection against harm. Or women lie to protect the feelings of someone they love. Of course, women lie for other reasons, but women are also conditioned from an early age not to think that they are better than they are. Ask a smart woman about her experiences in school, for example, and you will frequently hear tales of being told not to show up boys by being smarter than they are. Still, women do lie in order to get things they want.
While men lie for some of the same reasons that women do (“no, that dress does not make you look fat,”) and don’t want to hurt folks they love with the truth, they also lie as a means of making themselves bigger than they are–or as they perceive themselves to be. It’s about power and who has it. Being a biological man or a woman often has nothing to do with gender.
While many assign masculinity to men and femininity to women, we frequently label those who we see as “less powerful” as feminine: think of how the epithet “pussy” is applied to anyone who is seen as not measuring up to a standard of masculinity. Any sign of weakness is seen as some feminine flaw within a man. And men who are terrified that they themselves do not measure up to this mythical standard of masculinity are often the biggest bullies toward other men they perceive to be weak. It has become a truism that the biggest “anti-gay” pastors turn out to enjoy sex with other men. During the Clinton impeachment brouhaha, the same men who expressed outrage about the president’s adulterous relationship because adultery should disqualify a man from holding public office, were exposed themselves as being adulterers or child molesters. Fear of being exposed as a fraud often drives the persecution of others, and being outed as a “girly-man” drives a lot of lying.
Donald Trump’s fear of being labeled a pussy drives his “brutal, demagogic make-believe”. Trump will sue anyone who disputes his claims to be worth $10 billion (or whatever today’s figure is), he claims business success despite his bankruptcies, and claims to have opposed previous actions by the Obama administration that Trump actually supported at the time. He has actually used made-up proxy men to stand in for him, so that Trump could lie about himself while pretending to be someone else.
The other hallmark of the insecure male is the constant denigration of women. Men who are secure in their manhood do not feel a need to diminish a woman’s accomplishments or to bully her with disparagement of her physical self. And, as the recent study showed, men who feel a diminished masculinity inflate the number of “conquests” of women. Trump claims that he could have “nailed” Diana, the Princess of Wales. He spends a lot of time talking about his sexual prowess, the hugeness of his businesses, the height of the wall he’s going to build on the Mexican border, and just how great he’s going to be as president. He also mocks women who don’t meet his definition of fuckable. And his anger at Megyn Kelly led to him claiming that her menstrual cycle invalidated any questions that she asked of him.
Trump is a blusterer. Pop the wall of hot air that surrounds him and it turns out, “there’s no there there.” A visit to Trump’s website features declarations about what a Trump presidency would do, with no concrete steps to accomplish these promises. Or, in the case of some of his positions (such as those regarding China), Trump would abrogate treaties and arrogate power.
Donald Trump acts like the cock of the walk, strutting about, claiming access to all that he sees. But Trump’s insecurity about his masculinity is as obvious as the elaborate comb-over on the top of his head. It’s time for Trump’s followers to start recognizing that Trump’s rooster cockscomb is really the sign of a coxcomb–a conceited, foolish jester who makes real leaders laugh.