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On the psychoses that animate the most powerful man in the world

Why didn’t Donald Trump just piss on the bed himself?

Everything else about the story makes sense; it doesn’t really matter whether it’s accurate or not. The rest of the allegations against Trump—that he’s a long-standing Russian asset, that his entire campaign was run from Moscow—are unscourced and could well have been made up. But the bed-pissing story is already a kind of grand cultural myth. Like the fable about David Cameron fucking a dead pig in the mouth, it’s truer than truth itself; it says something important about the man and our entire society, it’s the kind of narrative on which entire cultures are grounded. Hitler had one ball and a catastrophically misplaced urethra; Catherine the Great was fond of her horses, and just about every ancient Greek polity traced its founding to the terrible union between an innocent woman and an immortal god in the form of some barnyard animal. Perversion is mythopoetic: it makes stories for itself, and all of them are, on some psychological level, true.

Of course Trump is petty and jealous enough to want to stay in the same Moscow hotel room that once hosted the Obamas; of course he’d want to generously saturate the place with piss. But why didn’t he do it himself? What’s with that interposition, the shift from action to scene—the hired women pissing on the bed, for his gaze, for the scopophilic look of the FSB camera, for the pleasure of the entire world?

In a footnote to Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents, we might find the root of an answer. It’s one of the good doctor’s few comprehensive exegeses on the subject of pissing (along with the oft-quoted line from St Augustine that we are inter faeces et urinam nascimur, born between piss and shit) but a rich one. The human mastery of fire, he writes, was only possible once men could restrain themselves from the pleasure of pissing all over any fire they encountered and putting it out. Men is the operative word here—for the woman, whose “anatomy makes it impossible for her to yield to such a temptation,” this urinary pleasure is inaccessible. A faint image emerges of women frustrated for thousands of years, constantly discovering fire, drawing themselves to the precipice of a long steep slide into advanced technological civilisation—only for the men of the tribe to arrive, honking and hollering, extinguishing the germ of all future society with joyful streams of piss.

We’re used to thinking of Donald Trump as an unrestrained male id, a big, bleating, phallic presence—but he’s nothing of the sort.

“Extant legends,” Freud writes, “leave us in no doubt about the original phallic interpretation of the tongues of flame stretching upwards. Extinguishing a fire by urinating on it ( . . . ) was therefore like a sexual act performed with a man, an enjoyment of male potency in a homosexual rivalry.” He concludes, in words that almost reach out across the eighty-seven years separating Freud from ourselves in tones of uncanny prophecy: “It is remarkable too how regularly analytic findings testify to the link between ambition, fire, and urinal eroticism.”

All the ingredients for Donald Trump are here. The tawdry TV game-show host who decided that he’d like to gain dictatorial power over the life and death of the entire planet, and got it. The leader who threatens to set the whole world burning. The man who—allegedly, of course—likes to watch women pissing. The tycoon who covers everything he owns, which is quite a lot, in streaky shiny marble and drippings of fine piss-yellow gold.

When I visited the Trump Tower last year, I noticed that absolutely everything in the building was decked out in an obscene façade of luxury—except the basement-level toilet facilities, which were cheap and drab, all plywood, greasy tiles, and cracked mirrors, looking like they belonged in a rust belt Burger King. If all this ostentation is only a psychosexual signifier for piss, this is the one place where there’s no need.

Donald Trump, locked in a one-sided homoerotic struggle with his predecessor, plays out his neuroses in the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel. He fucks Obama with a piss-dick, but it can’t be his own. He inverts the gendered labor of fire-pissing, because he can’t do it himself, because the healthy enjoyment of male potency in a homosexual rivalry is something he can never achieve. Because Donald Trump is the least phallic president in American history.

In J.G. Ballard’s brilliant story Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan, he mimics the language of a psychological case study to sink into the sexual undertones of mass-media politics: “Faces were seen as either circumcised (JFK, Khrushchev) or uncircumcised (LBJ, Adenauer). In assembly-kit tests Reagan’s face was uniformly perceived as a penile erection.” It’s hard to place Trump anywhere on this scale. We’re used to thinking of the man as an unrestrained male id, a vulgar explosion of infantile sexuality and adult braggadocio, a big, bleating, phallic presence—but he’s nothing of the sort. Watch him moan, see how he constantly kvetches, see that horrendous wet flap of a mouth pronounce its indignity. A queasy, quivering pile of folded flesh; walking gynaecomastia, hermaphrodite rage. 

It’s all there in the undercurrents, the background, the forgotten textual detritus. The same day that the piss papers were leaked, another disturbing nugget of Trump-iana was plopped out in front of our collective gaze. Trump’s inauguration, Politico reporter Tara Palmeri informed us, would “have a ‘soft sensuality.’” Or a less famous segment from the famous pussy-grabbing tape, in which Trump describes a seduction strategy far more petulant and just as grim. “I did try to fuck her,” he says. “I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping.”

Donald Trump can’t piss on the fire, and he can’t set it either. All he can do is watch.

Donald Trump is, to put it crudely, a soppy old bitch. Everything he dislikes is “nasty,” every time he doesn’t get what he wants it’s because of people who “aren’t very nice.” These are the politics of civility and decorum, petit-bourgeois manners refracted through his own particular neurosis. In his mannerisms, his gesticulating hands, his New York whine, Trump looks nothing like the conquering strongman of alt-right fantasy and liberal fears. He’s turned himself into a living caricature of a garrulous Jew, the mother from a Philip Roth novel. (His own mother, Mary Trump, ran away from the prim and chilly Scottish islands to marry a rich American; she wore, in her later years, an enormous curl of golden hair that looks exactly like Donald Trump’s own.) 

This is—to be clear—not an attempt at kink-shaming of the sort that so many inversely uptight worthies were so quick to condemn after the story leaked. Don’t laugh at the powerful fascist’s embarrassing piss story; playing around with piss is perfectly fine, and must on no account ever be laughed at. And it is fine—although it’s not really clear that what Trump (allegedly) did even qualifies as a kink. It’s also perfectly fine to not conform to the bizarre standards of normative masculinity, to be fussy, to have been a bratty kid, to have had an awful mother. But all this must mean something. “Character-traits,” Sandor Ferenczi wrote, “are, so to speak, secret psychoses.” Shouldn’t we want to know what secret psychoses are ventriloquizing the most powerful man in the world?

Donald Trump can’t piss on the fire, and he can’t set it either. All he can do is watch. Freud traces fetishism back to castration-complex and the fantasy of the maternal penis: the infant boy sees his mother naked, and sees what she lacks; unable to process sexual difference, he becomes terrified that he might be castrated too. The only way to feel better is to interpose some other object in the place of mama’s missing dick. The women’s streams of piss are prosthetic phalluses, the missing things that make the world whole. Donald Trump covers his buildings with pictures of piss, he watches impotent as a few hired Russian women piss on each other, piss on his enemy’s bed, fill the room, the whole world, with piss and potency. And whatever happens next, however many people he kills or enslaves, that moment is the closest Donald Trump will ever come to the power he’s always wanted.